Visitors at one of the many openings and events that take place during European Month of Photography Berlin. Copyright Kulturprojekte Berlin.
What makes a city great for photographers? Is it sprawling history and influential names? Working artists of all ages and backgrounds or an abundance of artist-run spaces? Whatever the magic formula may be, Berlin has it all. Through it's turbulent past, a sizable and respectable avant-garde art scene has blossomed in the German capital. We've come up with a list of 11 of our favorite photo related spots in town, just the tip of the iceberg for the visiting photographer.
Here is ONWARD's list of 11 spots for any photographers traveling to Berlin...
Don't let C/O Berlin's size fool you. The expansive building and it's gallery, bookshop, and cafe still feel intimate and welcoming–Nozomi Matsumoto for ONWARD.
Post-War Institute Turned Vibrant Cultural Space
Once a cultural meeting place for Germans and Americans alike, Amerika Haus became a fortress in times of conflict. Fortunately for photographers, Amerika Haus is now open to everyone and houses one of the most prominent photography destinations in all of Germany. C/O Berlin, an exhibition center for photography and visual media, rejuvenated the building which is now once again a venue to gather and exchange ideas.
"Only invited guests could visit Amerika Haus – behind high fences, with rolling shutters in front of the windows and a security door system.”
It has welcomed over 1.2 million visitors since its inception 15 years ago and since its grand re-opening in 2006, C/O Berlin has presented the work of celebrated artists from all over the world. Notable artists include Peter Lindbergh, whose black-and-white photographs were inspired by the art scene in 1920s Berlin. A bookshop, closely tied in with the center’s exhibits, has numerous books on major past exhibitions, as well as limited-series prints for sale from established and up-and-coming talents. The café serves light meals specializing in regional delicacies using seasonal ingredients.
A clean, bright gallery space makes for a rewarding experience with the artwork at Wagner+Partner–Nozomi Matsumoto for ONWARD.
A Gallery Focused on Artist Growth
In contrast to its location on the historic socialist boulevard of Karl-Marx-Allee, this gallery focuses mainly on contemporary photography alongside painting and installation art. Indeed, for Wagner, the director, the artists and his work should be inseparable. Since its founding in 2008, the gallery has hosted numerous high-profile exhibitions with themes relating to space, time, and identity., including the famed Erwin Olaf and his “Homage to Berlin” exhibition. To get a deeper understanding of the exhibits, regular talks are held by the artists themselves discussing their work and the artistic process.
“I pay attention to the medium- or long-term perspective and do not follow short-term trends. For artists there are high and low points of their developments. The idea is also to go along with the low points.” –Cai Wagner, Director
Two of the sixteen Photoautomats scattered around Berlin, frequented by locals and tourists alike in need of an analogue fix–Nozomi Matsumoto for ONWARD.
Cultural Icon for the Berlin Wanderer
A photographic journey in Berlin would not be complete without getting a photo (or rather a strip of four photos) taken in one of the 16 black-and-white Photoautomats (or photobooths) around the city. Its long history and development began with its inception in 1888 in the United States. It was not until it was refined by Germans, who built an actual working prototype in 1890 and later refined the negative and positive process that the photobooth became a cultural icon, well before the digital age.
“You’re not a Berlin Hipster if you haven’t taken your picture in one of these machines.”
Despite its seemingly antiquated machinery, the mysterious processes behind the two-and-a-half-minute wait rewards as the innards that make up the photolab come to life to churn out the photo strips. The allure of the Photoautomat has been projected onto the big screen in the French movie Amelie, in which the photobooth itself is as important as the human characters. It has also crossed borders and now its progeny can be found in other European cities, including Vienna, London, and Florence.
A few of the meticulously curated selections on 25 Books' displays. The shop and gallery packs a huge amount of quality into their compact space–Nozomi Matsumoto for ONWARD.
Minimalist Bookstore with Limited Editions
This bookstore defines Germany’s 1960s minimalism. The books, with 25 thematic photography works often on rotation, are lovingly hand picked and displayed on shelves that are accentuated by the store’s Spartan surroundings. Visitors looking for a unique photobook will not be disappointed with its special and strictly limited editions, including only 100 numbered and signed copies of Andreas Trogisch’s Desiderata (an exploration of longing, home sickness and wanderlust). At the front of the store is the showroom which regularly exhibits work of known or undiscovered photographers, while book presentations give its patrons (frequently professional photographers and students) an opportunity to talk with artists and publishers.
“…the sole retailer in the entire city for some of the more special editions.”
One of many stalls offering vintage cameras at Berlin's flea market, this one features an array of early Polaroid models–Nozomi Matsumoto for ONWARD.
Vintage Cameras Looking for New Homes
Flea markets have been a long-standing tradition in Berlin. For photographers looking for antique cameras and accessories, the Flohmarkt am Mauerpark is the ideal place to hunt down vintage East German and Russian cameras to add to their collection. Often held on weekends, various flea markets in and around Berlin offer other antiques and collectibles, including clothing, furniture, handcrafts, and many art items. The markets also attract a variety of people from all over the world. Indeed, as German photographer Thomas Henk Henkel once noted: “It was like holding a mirror up to the world.”
“One can find Soviet hats and East German kitsch, but also products from a bygone era when things were built to last for an eternity.”
There's always a friendly and knowledgable face behind the counter at Fotoimpex, ready to help you find the perfect film, camera, or accessory–Nozomi Matsumoto for ONWARD.
Mecca for Analogue Photography Supplies
On Schönhauser Str., with many low-rise buildings that straddle both sides of the street, there is a nondescript shop. Inside, there is a stockroom with shelves that are lined with blue plastic containers, each number-coded and containing an assortment of bottles and boxes. For about 16 Euros, you can get a bottle of ADOX Neutol Eco 1000ml. Or what about a liter of Tetenal: Eukobrom AC Liquid? Like wizards preparing magical potions and spells, analogue photographers require no less their own special ingredients of developers and film to practice their own esoteric knowledge of days past. With over 4,000 items in stock, Fotoimpex is one of the largest producers and distributors of all things analogue.
“One of the largest retailers of analogue materials in the world today”
Visitors peruse a number of installations at Berlin Art Week, like this one by Tobias Rehberger. Neugerriemschneider, Installation view Photo: Marco Funke
Celebrations of Art All Year Long
In Berlin, no matter the time of the year, visitors can immerse themselves in various art forms with sprawling art festivals. Of particular interest to photographers is the analogueNow! Festival (January), devoted to analog photography in the modern digital world. Indeed, as the organizers profess, “Analog photography is not about nostalgia, but a conscious aesthetic decision.” Another festival that caters to the photographic art form is the European Month of Photography Berlin (October-November), the largest German festival for photography which takes place once every two years. No wonder with the sheer numbers that participate: 500 artists and 500,000 visitors! The month-long event is host to various events, including exhibitions, workshops, lectures, and presentations.
“London has its pubs, New York its delis and in Berlin, it's impossible to fling a currywurst without hitting an art gallery of some kind.”
For art aficionados interested in other mediums, including photography, two particular festivals stand out. On Gallery Weekend, held in May, more than 50 galleries open their doors for over 1000 visitors from all over the world to see the latest experimental and contemporary art scene. In September, Berlin Art Week percolates with activity with exhibitions, art award ceremonies, gallery nights, performances, screenings and talks.
Sabine Alex's photography studio at BLO Atelier, where the Mobile Darkroom truck is parked when off-duty. Sabine also runs photo workshops from the studio here–Nozomi Matsumoto for ONWARD.
Developing Black-and-White Photography On the Run
Without a tip, most visitors may never spot this orange Mercedes bus fully equipped with its own darkroom as it makes its way around Berlin to festivals, museums, and schools. But it’s on a mission. The mobile darkroom takes black-and-white photography to the community and gives participants a first-hand experience of developing their own film and to answer the question of what exactly makes up an analogue photo, if not the zeros and ones of the digital medium. Sabine Alex, art educator and photographer is in the driver’s seat as she leads the classes, from beginners to professionals, using small to medium format. For those less mobile than Sabine, she can be found at her permanent studio BLO Ateliers in central Berlin where she parks the mobile darkroom.
Kominek seeks to reach a higher level of artistic experience and display with their photobook publications, displayed here in the gallery space–Nozomi Matsumoto for ONWARD.
An Illuminating Shared Gallery Space
Kominek Publishing occupies a bright and exciting space shared with LUMINAIRES-MODERNISTE, a gallery focusing on rare and antique lamps. Exhibition in the space often feature both photography and these vintage light sources. For Kominek the focus is not only on the photos themselves but also in its presentation, the ultimate narrative achievement found within the pages of a photobook. Indeed, with its own online publishing house, Kominek has already published dozens of photobooks by various internationally known photographers of various themes.
“The photo book is for us an art piece.”
Particular focus is placed on Eastern Europe, including Van Manen Bertien’s Let’s Sit Down, an intimate portrait of the people she met in her travels to Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Siberia. Each photobook is specifically designed with careful attention to the paper, layout, typography, and sequence of the photos. Selections from their online bookstore can be viewed in the shared space.
Polaroid cameras and instant film line the shelves at Sofortbild, sure to excite any analogue aficionado–Nozomi Matsumoto for ONWARD.
Where Instant Polaroid Lives On
A digital-free life starts here. As the only shop in Berlin specializing in instant photography, Sofortbild Shop has it all for Polaroid fans, from the special film to the classic Polaroid 600 cameras themselves. Workshops are regularly held to help beginner and advanced photographers further master the art form. The gallery “Instantland”, where the workshops are held, also showcases the possibilities of instant photography while offering space to talk and exchange ideas with other enthusiasts. The shop serves as conduit for The Impossible Project, a larger company that is trying to bring about a renaissance in instant photography. Started in 2008 and now with over 140 employees in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, France, the USA and China, The Impossible Project and its success could be considered somewhat “instant” in some business circles.
“The Polaroid Wonderland in the centre of Berlin: make an analogue-wish, press the button and it'll come true!”
A full house in attendance for a lecture organized by Picture Berlin, one of many programs the organization runs for photographers–Nozomi Matsumoto for ONWARD.
A Residency Program that Explores the Arts in Berlin
For photographers interested in both a visit to Berlin and developing their work as a resident photographer, Picture Berlin offers 6-week or 10-day residencies that explore both alternatives through lectures, panel discussions, one-on-one reviews with local artists and curators, and opportunities to exhibit as well. To complement, tours that focus on what’s going on in the art scene around Berlin, and hence Germany, may inspire and motivate student photographers to help develop their own projects. Indeed, the hands-on, on-the-street approach allows many of the international participants to be removed from their own environments to become keener observers.
“Individual meetings with artists were the best aspect…”
Berlin is a fairly expansive city, the largest in Germany and 7th largest urban area in all of Europe. So what's the best way to explore the city? We recommend taking the town by foot to get the full experience. You'll find an array of parks and gardens like the the famous Tiergarten in the center of town, not to mention all of the amazing local food and beer to be sampled at venues indoors and outside.
To trek larger distances the German capital has a highly sophisticated public transportation system, including the U-Bahn and S-Bahn urban rail systems, regional railway services, a tramway system, a bus network and a number of ferry services. For someone looking to travel on a budget, you can hop around town without spending all your Euros! Get the full run-down of where to go and how to get there with our downloadable PDF Map and Guide!
The ONWARD Global Mentorship Program is a brand-new program, even for us, with a lot of ambition and expectation. As the course progresses, we will be tweaking the format so it stays as beneficial for participants as possible.
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