Heinrich Zille was a German illustrator and photographer, mostly known for his comical sketches and drawings of working-class Berliners.
Born at the end of the 19th century, his work centred mostly around the city’s working-class milieu at the beginning of the 20th century. He was one of the first to portray the desperate social environment of the Berlin tenement buildings, depicting with scathing humour the harsh life conditions of consumptive prostitutes, menial labourers, and especially their children.
But while his bawdy illustrations are justly famous, the photographs he took around the same time are less known. As a trained lithographer he possessed the technical know-how for using early cameras and his observational prowess was easily transferred to the mechanical realm.
As with his drawings, Zille’s photos also concentrate on subjects and people often overlooked at the time, everything from dilapidated courtyards, trash dumps and children playing in the mud to the toilets at the fairgrounds and fine art nudes.
Hence Old-Time Berlin Photographs 1890–1910 is an important chronicle of the darker side of the ‘booming’ Wilhelminian metropolis – and perhaps further evidence of Kurt Tucholsky‘s claim that Zille is “the purest incarnation of Berlin”…