Berlin: The color of Gundula Schulze Eldowy
Since the beginning of her career, Gundula Schulze Eldowy has chosen her subjects independent of commercial concerns, unlike the majority of East German photographers. She photographed East Berlin in black-and-white starting in the late 1970s before switching to color in 1982. She would later leave Germany to enjoy an international career.
C/O Berlin – International Forum for Visual Dialogues is currently exhibiting her early work, featuring series from 1977 to 1990.
The majority of the exhibition focuses on Berlin. Her photographs are unflinching depictions of human tragedy. We see men and women, wandering about as if straight from the pages of Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz. The photographer exchange glances with them, prying into their lives, listening to their stories.
From 1979 to 1987, Gundula Schulze Eldowy photographed Tamerlan, an elderly woman she met in a park in the Prenzlauerberg neighborhood of Berlin. Having taken a few portraits of Tamerlan, Schulze Eldowy sat down on the bench listened closely to the woman, setting her camera aside. Their conversation lasted three or four hours, and when Schulze Eldowy finally had to leave, she noticed how much anguish it caused the old woman to be left alone.
If you have no story
You’ve had no experiences.
If you’ve had no experiences
You’ve nothing to tell.
If you’ve nothing to tell
(Gundula Schulze Eldowy)
She took down Tamerlan’s address and paid her a visit three days later. Their story would last eight years, told through the images in one series that sees Tamerlan’s health gradually decline, first at her home and then at the hospital. The story is as brutal as it is touching, a common trait of the photographer’s work.
The photographer looked back on East Berlin in the 1980s:
“Just in time I got to know Berlin in its last days. And it was this milieu which captivated me. The blend of art, subculture, workers, refugees and dreamers gave the city an unexpected magic. Life was not under anyone's control. It was like water making its on way. I found the official histories were something abstract. My experiences in the streets of Berlin were living history. The spirit of Berlin is like its soil, hard and ossified. Whereby the fractures of the city do its nature justice most accurately. Here surviving means starting from scratch. Just as day drifts into night, there are cycles vibrating in this city, controlling it. In Berlin, nothing lasts long. Sooner than normal, everything vanishes without trace.”
Gundula Schulze Eldowy was born in Erfurt in 1954. She arrived in Berlin when she was 18, studying first at the Academy of Advertising and Design, and then photography at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig from 1979 to 1984. In addition to her photography, Eldowy writes poems and directs audio and video montages.
Her work first earned her international attention in 1988 at the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie d’Arles. Two years later, she left Berlin for New York at the invitation of Robert Frank, whom she first met in 1985. Since arriving in the United States, her career has taken her across the world, to Italy, Russia, Egypt, Japan, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Gundula Schulze Eldowy
The Early Years – Photographs 1977-1990
Until February 26, 2012
C/O Berlin, International Forum For Visual Dialogues
Oranienburger Straße 35/36
Exhibition curators: Felix Hoffman, Mathias Bertram
Gundula Schulze Eldowy’s work is available from Lehmstedt Verlag.