Lichtenberg 1

by jonnywhitlam


I consider myself an artist. In fact it’s from this art that I hope to one day make a living, somehow. Photography is perhaps the most common medium for creating an image; just about everyone has access to a camera. So what makes art, commercial and personal photography so different?

I decided that it must be a combination between the way we as consumers of photography view an image, and the way the photographer has intended the image to be consumed, is it by friends, by a ‘boss’ or by an art lover?

I’d define ‘personal‘ photography as maybe ‘normal’ or ‘everyday’ photography. Taking pictures with friends and family at birthdays, on holiday, at a bar or in a club or wherever the occasion happens to be. ‘Commercial’ photography then is different, it comes from a place for the photographer that isn’t always so personal. It can still be to capture that perfect memory for somebody else, as is the case with wedding photography. It could be for much more outwardly commercial purposes, think adverts and food photography. As Bill Bailey said “who photographs kebabs?” by which I think he shows the disconnect between an outwardly artistic medium and the fact that the end product is less than inspiring. He also puts this in a much funnier way than I have so watch the clip.

This leads me to the ‘art‘ side then. I do not dispute that all photography can be viewed as art. Maybe the way we collect photos of drunk people and show them all over Facebook isn’t necessarily considered artistic, but I suppose it’s all in the presentation. Sharing photos through the internet from parties and so on serves as a function, rather than as an art medium, so that’s a debate for another time. The kind of ‘art’ I’m referring to is the one that I display on this website and often simultaneously through my Flickr account.

So the definition of photography as art that I wanted to focus on is the category that I feel my work falls into: photographs that have been taken with the express purpose of being considered art. The definition can’t be so simple though. Photography as an art medium is of course by its nature an incredibly accurate way of portraying the world. It doesn’t have to be, especially with the advent of digital photography, but largely this is its purpose. At least it’s my purpose.

So, with my photography I largely try and show people Berlin as I see it. However my view of Berlin is as tainted by opinion, socialisation and misconception as anyone else’s. The reason that my trip to the district of Lichtenberg made me think this is because Lichtenberg has an absolutely horrendous reputation:

If you go to Lichtenberg you will be mugged and beaten, all whilst viewing the absolute worst of Plattenbau architecture that East Germany ever had to offer.

This is largely what I have been lead to believe. So setting off with my camera in my bag and my head full of preconception that is unsurprisingly what I captured. Consequently that means that this is what you the viewer and reader of this page are going to see.

So already I’ve a warped view of Lichtenberg – a place where I’ve spent little to no time – and now through photography that is likely to be the opinion you have of Lichtenberg as well should you have never been there.

It made me think;

I am guilty of not only hearing what I want to hear but seeing what I want to see.

This means then, that the images on this page, and perhaps all of the ‘artistic’ images I have created are far more biased than I either realised or anticipated.

Which leads me to the real question: “Is this a problem?“. If you want to view what I consider well composed and aesthetically pleasing images, no. If you want to be made to think about the images you want to see, then no as well, you can do that regardless of bias. If you want to learn about a district of Germany’s capital, about a part of the former Eastern Bloc, then I think the answer is yes, there is a problem. These images serve only to feed the stereotype.

So, while I might not be happy with the place these images have come from psychologically, I am happy with their aesthetic content. This is why I have titled this page ‘Lichtenberg 1’ I intend to go back and hopefully see another side to the place. Maybe I got it right first time, maybe everyone is right and Lichtenberg is a place that may as well be wiped from the map, but without trying to see and find something else it will never be found.

Part of the former Stasi (GDR Secret Police) headquarters.

The doorway to the above building.

These two photos are from the former headquarters of East Germany’s most feared and loathed institution; the Staatsicherheitsdienst or ‘Stasi’ (State Security Service – the Secret Police). Again; should you head to a part of the world and expect to see the worst, then the worst you shall see. The realities of the Stasi and the crimes they committed is a subject for another time.

Lichtenberg Klingeln

Look how many people live in the one building! In my experience this is not common, not only in Europe but in Berlin most definitely. On top of this the above photo is cropped. I suppose this is the reality of the larger building projects undertaken by the GDR. Having never even been inside of a housing project of this scale, let alone lived in one I guess I can’t really judge it properly, though it would seem that the entire experience might not be the most positive.

I do look forward to my challenge then, to return to Lichtenberg and see the good in one of Berlin’s most maligned districts. The worst communism had to offer, or a hidden soul? Or both?