John Gossage/ Berlin In Time Of The Wall

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John Gossage, Potsdamer Platz 1987.



John Gossage, The border line, Prinzenstraße 1984.


After shifting my meandering focus back to Michael Schmidt’s work, and especially to his “Waffenruhe”, I got curious about John Gossages projects dealing with Berlin, this formerly divided city. The beauty of his book “Putting Back THE Wall” made me order “Berlin In The Time Of The Wall”, an expensive book regarding my financial situation, without knowing what I would get.
Here it is now, this weight tome, and I don’t regret my frivolous spending spree.


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John Gossage/ Monumentenbrücke 1982


John Gossage writes in his foreword to his book(excerpts):

464 PHOTOGRAPHS, MADE IN BERLIN, 1982-1993

What I Remember

I was invited to the city, more than I chose it.
(…)

I arrived in Berlin (…) (Then) something happened that would redirect my interests for the next decade. I came to the Wall.

My reaction to the most famous historical monument at that time was not what I had expected. For one thing it was funny. Funny in the sense that it was phenomenally stupid. I f the Russians hadn’t thought this up we might have done it for them, or maybe we did. Some guys from Langley over coffee thinking, “What could be the worst PR for communism possible, and how can we con them into thinking it’s their idea?”

It was also beautiful, Beuys had been wrong on this one. It didn’t need an extra 5 cm. It was the best public art project I had ever seen.

And, “And” with a capital “A”, it was as I always had bee told. It was evil.

History and present visible in the same moment.

I was always sure that it would soon be gone. Something I had to photograph quickly, or I would miss it. What I didn’t realize until I got going – was how much being surrounded by a wall changes what it surrounds. If I knew the Wall from the first, then what I learned through the shooting was the nature of its city.

(…)

There was one thing odd about the photographers in Berlin, at least when I first knew them No one photographed the wall or even near it. Oh there was one picture by Michael Schmidt from about 1980 worth looking at, but nothing else. It was like it wasn’t there.

(…) the Berlin you see in this book is of another time, a time when the Wall defined the city, its people, their thoughts and mine. A time I hope I have done some justice to, but we will never know for sure.

Everyone will tell you a different story. It’s all just memory now, a history book.

John Gossage, 2004
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John Gossage/ Bernauerstraße 1982.
My 24-year-old son never has seen “The Wall”. I am regretting this, he for sure doesn’t. This part of German history, The Wall and the division of Germany could have been for him a thousand years ago. It’s of no concern for him and never will be.

This is different for me. I was growing up in the outskirts of the Cold War. Sometimes, when a plane appeared above me in the sky, sometimes I was thinking, now they could drop some bombs, or even just one, the Big One.


Inspired by Michael Schmidt’s “Waffenruhe”, every time I was visiting Berlin, I took the opportunity the take a walk along The Wall”, an tried to take a look on the “other side”. Photographically I never managed to handle this thing.

History always was and still is important to me. Now, that THE WALL as a symbol for an epoch has disappeared almost without a trace, the possibility to go back in time through the presence of an historical artifact has forever disappeared too. This wonderful memory book (it is not a history book in my eyes) by John Gossage, remains…hopefully.

How much of an entrance to the past his book is for somebody who has not experienced the time, and hasn’t experienced the Wall, is questionable. Even a smart sequence of photographs, doesn’t make a book of history, doesn’t make a history book. Photographs may evoke memories, they can’t describe history, they just may feed and support its description.

The size of the book, as the size of “Putting Back THE Wall”, is too big for my small scanner. Thus I am very limited introducing these books.

Browsing “Berlin In The Time Of The Wall” I feel like on a walk through an unfamiliar city. I notice details, and I come across some noteworthy points to regard. A shadow is pulling me this way, a front garden again in an other direction. I never know where I will end up. In the dawn of the day I am full off impressions, having collected pieces of mosaics that I will put together or not.


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John Gossage/ Potsdamer Platz, 1990.


Maybe only photographers know this peculiar way to explore a city: disregarding the tourist guides and the to-have-sees. Gossages book mirrors this sort of perception more than any other I know of. Maybe this is also due to the immense number of images he has put together here.


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John Gossage/ Balcony, Hermannstraße 31; 1982.
But these explorations are not as aimless as it could seem. There are some never talked about preferences and yes, some ideas that lead photographer on their ways.


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John Gossage/ Behind the Japanese embassy, Köbisstraße; 1989.
His occupation with wastelands seems to be a recurrent, if not central theme of Gossage. No place was more fit to this interest of his than the shadow lands around “The Wall”, no place more perfect as the unused areas on the outskirts, in the center of Berlin. It’s also his quest for the traces history has left in the face of Berlin. Traces that are covered up more and more in the meanwhile by esthetic surgery and heavy make up.

Very often Gossages images are of an unbelievable beauty, a beauty that could become too much for me, if it weren’t a very individual one, and if there wouldn’t be always connected to a preoccupation with content.


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John Gossage/ Lohmühlenstraße; 1982.
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John Gossage/ Lohmühlenstraße; 1987.