GDR, DDR, RDA: three abbreviations—English, German and French, respectively—that refer to the German Democratic Republic, commonly known as “East Germany,” where, from 1949 to 1990, a part of Germany was reconstructed according to the rules of a communist state.
Back then, children were happy, women were skillful and sexy, the elderly worked without tiring and food was plentiful—or so it seemed. The exhibition Colour for the Republic – Commissioned photography on life in the GDR at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin brings together the color photographs of Martin Schmidt and Kurt Schwarzer, who were commissioned to shoot many series of photographs during this period.
Martin Schmidt (b. 1925) and Kurt Schwarzer (1927–2012) were independent photographers working for the press, institutions and businesses. They also helped strengthen and disseminate the official discourse. Magazines, industries, farms and other social organizations were usually led or at least closely monitored by the regime. (One of the two photographers was a member of the security service.)
The photo essays on display show the daily lives of the different age groups and social classes in the GDR, from the publicly owned companies (VEB) to the agricultural collectives (LPG), all symbols of a strong economy and a promising future. The products (toys, textiles, cars, food) had to look good both domestically and abroad. As we know, however, by the end of the 1980s, the GDR was on the verge of bankruptcy.
More than the publicity used for consumer products, what’s most striking today is the photographic propaganda ordered by the State. Internal communication and other “corporate” actions now used by large companies were applied by a State with a reach that extended into every home. Photography proved to be the perfect tool.
Read the full article on the French version of L’Oeil.
Colour for the Republic – Commissioned photography on life in the GDR
Until August 31 août 2014
Deutsches Historisches Museum
Unter den Linden, 2 10117 Berlin
« Farbe für die Republik. Fotoreportagen aus dem Alltagsleben der DDR »
Published by Stiftung Deutsches Historisches Museum
Hardcover Quadriga Verlag
304 pages, 29,99 €