Paul Sullivan rounds up some of the best places to see local and international photography…
While much ink is spilled over Berlin’s art and gallery scene, significantly less attention has been given to the city’s photographic spaces.
Yet as anyone who has visited the Berlinische Galerie will know, the city has a rich tradition of photography, and has birthed and hosted plenty of incredible photographers.
Starting with early pioneers like Waldemar Titzenthaler and Max Mismann, there has been a constant flow of visual chroniclers. To pick just one from each major era, Heinrich Zille, despite being more known for his caricatures, was a keen photographer and captured Berlin at the turn-of the-century; Willy Römer documented much of the Weimar era; Friedrich Seidenstücker photographed the aftermath of WW2, while Harald Hauswald reported on life in the former GDR.
The works of these photographers, and plenty more like them, are on more or less permanent rotation around the city at venues like the Märkisches Museum, which often puts on exhibitions of 19th century photography, and the afore-mentioned Berlinische Galerie, whose photographic collection comprises some 70,000 images.
The Helmut Newton Foundation, named after the city’s most famous fashion photographer, also showcases works – spanning the 19th-21st centuries – from the vast archives of the Kunstbibliothek’s Collection of Photography.
Of course much of the focus today for galleries is not on exhibiting photos of local photographers but on hosting international works. Venues such as C/O Berlin, Martin Gropius Bau and Camera Work (named after the legendary journal run by American photograher Alfred Stieglitz) are part of a network of global galleries showcasing contemporary works across a variety of photographic fields.
It’s well worth keeping an eye on the smaller galleries too, such as Fenster 61 and Photo Edition, which tend to mix local and international photographers, with a focus on emerging talent and niche themes.
Formerly housed inside a beautiful main post office (Postfuhramt), Berlin’s predominant photographic and visual arts space is nowadays in the West; Charlottenburg to be precise. With a heavyweight exhibition history (Annie Liebowitz, Gregory Crewdson, Robert Mapplethorpe), the space now inhabits the historic Amerika Haus and has exhibited everyone from Sebastiao Salgado to Robert Frank.
Museum of Photography / Helmut Newton Gallery
Opened in 2004 to provide a permanent legacy for Berlin-born fashion snapper Helmut Newton, this neoclassical museum-gallery space covers a whopping 2,000 square metres. The lower floors rotate works from the associated collection, along with occasional contemporaries, while the Kaisersaal on the 2nd floor is given over to the Art Library’s Photographic Collection, which runs broader exhibitions relating to how photography interacts with other mediums such as sculpture and film from the 19th to the 21st century.
Martin Gropius Bau
One of the city’s finest exhibition halls, this elegant Italian Renaissance building dates back to the 19th century and is named after the architect uncle of Bauhaus maestro Walter Gropius. It puts on a stream of excellent, international-standard exhibitions that range from painting and sculpture to photography, installation art and more – as with C/O Berlin, almost everything that’s on here is worth seeing. Previous exhibitions have included profiles of photographers like Barbara Klemm and themed exhibitions such as 2012’s Soviet Art and Architecture 1915–1935, featuring images by Richard Pare.
Showcasing art of all kinds that was created in from Berlin between 1870 and the present day, the Berlinische Galerie is one of the city’s most important cultural institutions. While much of the permanent collection covers painting, sculpture and multimedia, the photography collection numbers some 70,000 images spanning everything from portrait, documentary, fine art and urban photography.
Named after Alfred Stieglitz’s legendary Camera Work magazine (1903-1917), this discreet two-storey space is tucked away off the busy Kantstrasse. Accessed via a picturesque and peaceful courtyard, it shows vintage photography from the likes of Helmut Newton, Diane Arbus and Irving Penn, as well as new and innovative photographers – and even occasional painting and sculpture too. Their collection of photography books is reason alone to visit; and if West Berlin is too far for you, Camera Work have a second space inside Mitte’s Former Jewish Girls School Berlin.
Rudolf Kicken is an important figure for photography in Germany. His first gallery, opened in 1974 in Aachen, was called Galerie Lichttropfen (Drops of Light Gallery) and helped kickstart the careers of many photographic celebrities, including Helmut Newton. This Berlin space has been running since 2000 and has an emphasis on 20th-century photography from the German and Czech avant-garde (think Bauhaus, Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy, Rodchenko).
There are also works from the beginning of the 19th century, 1950s “subjective photography,” contemporary fashion and conceptual photography. Aside from the exhibition room, there’s a library and private viewing room. The gallery mounts four large exhibitions per year of museum quality.
Seven Star Gallery
Owned by artist and dancer Thorsten Heinze, this gallery is set in a highly atmospheric historic house in Mitte (check out the basement if you can) and features contemporary works from a private collection that includes works by Will McBride, Joachim Baldauf, Jürgen Loevenich, Peter Nuremberg and more. Images tend to show intimate, non-public moments of great pop and cinema icons from the past 30 years, such as Klaus Kinski, Hildegard Knef, Rainer Fassbinder, Jimi Hendrix, Claudia Schiffer and many others, all in beautiful black & white large format silver gelatin prints.
Photo Edition Berlin
Located in Prenzlauer Berg, this 200-square-metre space was established in 2008 and has gained prominence for its focus on innovative photography as well as video and multimedia work. The objective is to present and promote both Berlin-based and international artists, both established and emerging.
‘Fenster’ means ‘window’ in German, and FENSTER61 is indeed just that: a 2 by 2 meter shop window in Torstrasse used for monthly changing photo exhibitions, most of which deal with Berlin. There are no opening hours as it’s not a public space, though the window is lit at night so you can still see the images. The website also has a list of all exhibitions since 2005.
More a shop than a gallery, LUMAS Editions gallery is an oasis of photographic calm in the bustling Hackesche Höfe, Located in the second courtyard, it offering works that are deliberately affordable, including signed photographs in editions of 75 to 100 by the likes of Edward Steichen, Nan Goldin, Stefanie Schneider and more.
Another couple of places to keep an eye on in the city is new platform PiB (Photography in Berlin), which supports the local independent scene and hosts events in established institutions, non-commercial galleries and private collections alike. And if you’re looking to buy photography books, check out Bildband Berlin, which has an excellently curated collection from snappers all over the world.