Berlin Nach 1945.  Photographs by Michael Schmidt. Essay by Janos Frecot.

Berlin Nach 1945.

Photographs by Michael Schmidt. Essay by Janos Frecot.
Steidl, Gottingen, 2005. 144 pp., 54 duotone illustrations, 9½x11".

Michael Schmidt's subtle images depict a vast psychological stasis. Photographing in the 1980s, Schmidt toured the in-between places of Berlin, a city that embodies Germany's spiritual temperament. The 55 works that comprise Berlin nach 45 (Berlin after 45) present a uniform and unrelenting emptiness. These mid- to long-range, eye-level views show a tortured landscape where ruined buildings left over from WWII rise out of deserted lots and fields of cracked asphalt. Newer, non-descript concrete structures also appear to be in the early stages of decay, apparently abandoned to become part of some forgotten history. The photographs' beautiful tonal range visually murmurs in all the shades of gray that can hang under a sky where the sun never shines hard enough to cast a real shadow.

Only a handful of people turn up in Schmidt's photographs; merged into the landscape, these humans are dwarfed by the enormous scale of the silence that surrounds them. More than by their physical presence, people make their mark on this landscape by what they leave behind, in half-rebuilt apartment buildings, parked cars and trash that decorates a vacant lot. Perhaps the inhabitants of this wasted terrain have fled to greener pastures, have taken a vacation on a farm, as the graffiti on the side of one building wistfully suggests.

Fittingly, no captions serve to give these non-places a distinct location. Janos Frecot's informative introductory essay assigns the images almost exclusively to Kreuzberg, a neighborhood in central Berlin where Schmidt has lived and worked for the past 40 years. Kreuzberg has moved on in the twenty-plus years since these images were first taken; the large tracts of emptiness seen in Berlin nach 45 have largely been filled in with new construction, making it even harder to see through this landscape. Schmidt's chilling book chooses 2005 as the year to look back on sites whose topographical ambiguity serves as a reminder of a loss of identity and utility; this malaise seems as once both personal to the photographer and an indicator of a nation's historical psychology. MARY GOODWIN

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