Search for content, post, videos

Akademie der Künste : Gundula Schulze Eldowy & Robert Frank : Keep a Stiff Upper Lip!


The Berlin Academy of Arts reveals the stimulating relationship between the East German photographer and the Swiss-American artist. An exhibition of crossed perspectives celebrating the free and absolute artistic practice of Gundula Schulze Eldowy.

Large black and white photos hang from the ceiling. Through these faces, resonates the story of an East Berlin marked by war, of a city engulfed by its fate. The portrait of this elderly woman, with her unclothed bust and harsh gaze, manages to pierce the silence. It comes from the series ‘Tamerlan’ produced by Gundula Schulze Eldowy between 1977 and 1989, in which she documents the journey of Elsbeth Kördels – nicknamed ‘Tamerlan’ by her husband -, through the ordeal of illness until death. amputation.

‘Tamerlane’ is one of three series that Schulze Eldowy revealed to Robert Frank (1924–2019) during an informal meeting in East Berlin in 1985 with other photographers. She also presented him ‘Aktporträts’, a series of portraits of those around her, of her neighbors,  striped bare full of dignity.

Only around thirty years old, the subversive look that Schulze Eldowy has on her town marks Robert Frank, who is already one of the greatest photographers of his time. An artistic love at first sight between two photographers almost thirty years apart that seem to irremediably share the same language. Against all odds and from worlds apart, they began an epistolary relationship until the young photographer was able to join him in New York.

Keep a Stiff Upper Lip! : these words from which the exhibition takes its title are those of Robert Frank addressed to Gundula Schulze Eldowy in response to a poem of a few lines written on a piece of paper. When the Wall fell, a new era started and Schulze Eldowy was one of the first photographers from the East to go to Manhattan. For her, it was the first step in a roaming life that continues to this day.

Like a family album, photographs of Robert Frank, some of them with his wife, the sculptor June Leaf, are alongside images showing the young photographer, notably with Pablo, the son of Robert Frank, who died in 1994. She makes resonate the photographs of his cacti that he had a habit of bottling with those of the ‘Morning Glory’ flowers of which Pablo slipped seeds in the letters he sent to her in Berlin.

If it is perilous to put into words what unites Robert Frank and Gundula Schulze Eldowy, their sincere and mysterious relationship can be enjoyed like a road movie: Frank’s gaze in the rearview mirror resonates with the innocent face of Schulze Eldowy behind a windshield, shattered into a thousand shards.

The three years in New York opened up, for the German photographer, the field of possibilities that she explored through various media such as video and Polaroid. She experimented with the power of double exposure in her series ‘Spinning on My Heels’, halfway between painting and photography. Manhattan in an incredible play of mirrors, where passers-by blend into reminiscences of the past and where the combinations of colors take on a profound musicality.

Through words and images, Gundula Schulze Eldowy evokes the events and encounters that shaped her life with a characteristic aesthetic of the intimate, regarding both her own intimacy and her social photographs. The images of which she is in turn the author and the subject parade punctuated by the writings taken from her diary and give this exhibition a narrative fury.

Noémie de Bellaigue


Keep a Stiff Upper Lip! at the Akademie der Künste until April 1, 2024.

Kunst Academy
Pariser Platz 4
10117 Berlin-Mitte

Create an account or log in to read more and see all pictures.

Install WebApp on iPhone
Install WebApp on Android