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Kunstmuseum Basel presents the work of self-taught photographer Karlheinz Weinberger
KHW Hardau Zurich circa, 1960.

BASEL.- The exhibition presents the rarely shown work of the photographer Karlheinz Weinberger (1921–2006). Together with magazines and a selection of vintage apparel, the pictures document a youth culture in Zurich that emerged after World War II whose members sought to subvert contemporary notions of “Swiss correctness.”

Weinberger spent the largest part of his life working as a warehouseman for Siemens Albis in Zurich. In his free time, he was a self-taught photographer, portraying his lovers and people he met in the street. From the late 1940s on, he frequently published his pictures in “Der Kreis,” a homosexual magazine produced in Zurich from 1943 until 1967 that garnered international attention, pseudonymously signing his work as “Jim.” In 1958, he launched a major project for which he would photograph a group of teenagers, the city’s so-called “Halbstarke,” over an extended period of time. Weinberger’s unfailingly respectful approach allowed him to capture the non-conformism of these “rowdies” with regard to social convention and their play with stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, most readily evident in the way they dressed.

Wearing embroidered denim jackets and oversized belt buckles adorned with the likenesses of idols such as Elvis or James Dean, Weinberger’s adolescent subjects present themselves to his camera in public settings like members of a gang. Photographs such as those taken at the Knabenschiessen, a target shooting competition held at Zurich’s Albisgüetli, show them sprawling on the ground between fairground stalls and compact vans, illustrating the “Halbstarke”’s refusal to fit in with the traditions surrounding this Zurich folk festival. In addition to the photographs in public settings, Weinberger also took pictures in the improvised studio in his living room. Scantily clad, some of his subjects, mostly young men, strike confident poses showing off their denim shorts and hats, while others cower, their eyes glancing at the camera with a vulnerable expression. Weinberger’s role is that of an Intimate Stranger: he records the attitudes of a generation and its marginal social position in unvarnished pictures and develops the photographs capturing the objects of his fascination in his own photo laboratory.

In an oeuvre that spanned many years, Weinberger portrayed what lay behind the curtains of 1960s bourgeois Switzerland, finding ways to document deviancy without ever putting his protagonists on display.

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