the world as one

photography from germany after 1989
Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
June - July 2001

Photojournalism most comfortably finds its home on the pages of popular magazines, newspapers and journals. As part of our daily serve of current affairs and news, it plays an important role in shaping the ways in which we understand the world around us. Images of troubled hot spots from across the globe cropped and captioned, give us a neatly packaged and media sanctioned view of the world. Photos of war-torn Bosnia, Rwanda and Timor sit beside images of refugees in Australia-seeming equally distant from the comfortably cocooned world of the average viewer. Framed within the context of investigative journalism and reportage, these images offer up cultural stereotypes as a glimpse of 'how the other half live'. Feeding our sense of curiosity and provoking feelings of sympathy, photojournalism helps us contain the confusion and chaos that encapsulates our world.

lt is in this way that photojournalism, like other forms of popular media, can often have the curious effect of bringing the global community closer together while at the same time making us feel further apart. In an increasingly globalised world , photojournalism often gives us the impression that the world is both shrinking and expanding, unifying and dispersing. The World as One: Photography from Germany after 1989 investigates the ways in which photojournalism, freed from the commercial demands of popular media and repositioned within the context of contemporary art practice, can offer critical and creative ways of looking at the world. Asking us to examine the relationship between aesthetics and journalism, The World as One challenges the ways in which the mainstream media facilitates our easy consumption of images of horror and devastation.

Curated by Ulf Erdmann Zeigler, The World as One presents a selection of colour photographs taken around the time of the reunification of Germany in the late '80s and early '90s. Taking up nearly every available inch of floor and wall space at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, including the passage way to the toilet, the exhibition features works taken across the globe by a group of nineteen photographers associated with a number of German alternative/intellectual journals, including Siiddeutsche Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The exhibition includes original prints as well as a display case featuring magazine excerpts. lt is supplemented by a catalogue of images of more recent works by the exhibiting artists as well as a number of works by younger artists not included in the original selection which are projected onto the wall of the Helen Schutt Gallery.

One of the most striking works in the exhibition is Eva Leitolf's Forensic Tour of Rostock, Thale, Solingen and Bielefeld, 1992-1994. Forensic Tour documents the after effects of violent racist attacks on immigrant and refugee communities in Germany. Eschewing the photojournalistic imperative of 'being there at the right time', Leitolf turns instead to the less obvious, less sensational aspects of her subject, returning to the scene of the crime to document the ongoing effects of prejudice and hatred in her country. Combining images of both the victims and perpetrators of crime, the series takes us into the streets and homes of ordinary Germans. A photograph of a young Asian woman and her child sits next to an interior image of the home of a young racist, complete with portraits of Hitler and Riefenstahl and other Nazi paraphernalia. Returning to Solingen on the anniversary of the attack on the Geng family, Leitolf photographed the empty block of land surrounded by wire fencing stuffed with mementoes of sympathy from the surrounding community, where their home once stood. Another image portrays an elderly couple embracing in front of their house, the blackened window the only reminder of a Molotov cocktail attack by young racists. While Forensic Tour is investigative in tone it does not assume any privileged access to the motives of the perpetrators or the feelings of the victims. Focussing on the detailed scars and traces left behind, days, weeks and years after the original violence, Leitolf neither sensationalises nor stereotypes her subjects.

Like Leitolf, Wolfgang Bellwinkel is committed to documenting traces of violence tattooed onto the landscape. Returning to Bosnia-Herzegovnia following the signing of the Dayton Agreement in 1995, Bellwinkel produced a series of colour photographs, Post-war period, 1995-1996, that details the ongoing impact of war on the country's physical and psychological landscape. Contrasting Bosnia's picturesque beauty with evidence of mass murder, he gives us images of poppy-filled fields laced with mines, rural churches destroyed by time and mortar, and green groves covering mass graves. The World as One takes photojournalism out of its comfort zone in the popular media and attempts to negotiate a place where it can develop a relationship with contemporary art. In doing so, the exhibition demands that the audience focus more closely on the details and minutiae of human experience and take into account the broader global context in which they view such images. By doing so, The World as One avoids the moralising tone implicit in more mainstream photojournalism and presents a view of the world that embraces rather than suppresses the fault lines and fractures traced across any map of the contemporary world.