Back in the GDR
I am not a German citizen. I did not live in the German Democratic Republic (1949 -1990). But I am a historian. The past for me, is a country I continue to live in. The past informs my present and from the early days of opening an art gallery in Berlin, the GDR has deeply interested me.
In 2012, whilst visiting Berlin, I was most fortunate to view the incredibly profound exhibition, “The Shuttered Society: Art Photography in the GDR 1949-1989”. This was the first comprehensive exhibition of art photography, in relation to communist East Germany. Shuttered Society comprised hundreds of photographs from 34 photographers which critically reflected on the GDR. Shuttered Society was profound in its humanity. Profound in its documentation of how other people, Communist Germans, lived a low-tech life on the brink of dissolution. Profound in the way people can lead everyday lives, with humour and dignity, amidst a brutal ideological surveillance and yet remain at core people we recognise.
The Shuttered Society percolated into memory to the point that my colleague Laura Thompson, Director of the Berlin gallery and I have been collecting Flea Market photographs, depicting as they often do, personal moments and humorous images of life under the old GDR. These GDR images – are almost Polaroid moments – from a society that did not use the instant, throw away technology that was early Polaroid. The images are all black and white. This is not art photography, but it is people photography. They are photographs of moment and mood; of a time of some foreignness and collective dignity.
We do not know the photographer. We do not know the subjects. However, we believe these anonymous personal moments are deserved of further observation and another life.
Chairman Michael Reid OAM, 2020
on the online exhibition ‘Back in the GDR’, 2021