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Martin-Gropius-Bau opens retrospective of Barbara Klemm's work spanning five decades
Barbara Klemm, Janis Joplin, Frankfurt am Main, 1969© Barbara Klemm.

BERLIN.- Probably no other German female photographer has followed the events of the past few decades as closely with her camera as Barbara Klemm. Her photographs show events of historic significance, encapsulating key images, turning points, and whole epochs. Now, specially for the Martin-Gropius-Bau, the famous photographer has put together a grand retrospective of her work spanning five decades and comprising some 300 exhibits covering the whole range of her oeuvre since 1968.

A daughter of the painter Fritz Klemm, Barbara Klemm was born in Münster in 1939 and grew up in Karlsruhe, where she trained as a photographer.

In 1970 she became a staff photographer specializing in politics and the arts. Her first major political event was the negotiation of the treaties with the Eastern bloc between Brezhnev and Brandt.

Klemm has a unique ability to combine the frame and content of a picture with such formal criteria as structure, composition and perspective. Her works generally bear neutral captions giving the name, place and date of the event, thus indicating her view of herself as a detached and disinterested observer.

From 1952 to 1999 there appeared the legendary rotogravure supplement of the FAZ, a magazine which came out every Saturday under the title “Bilder und Zeiten” (Pictures and Times), often with cover pictures by Barbara Klemm. The exhibition will feature about 70 of these supplements arranged by theme. They document a period of newspaper history.

Yet Barbara Klemm is not just one of the most significant press photographers of post-war Germany, but also one of the few representatives of her trade who turned photojournalism into an art in its own right. Her consistently black-and-white pictures are not meant to be ephemeral. They are shot with a feeling for the essence of things that makes them icons of our recent past. Nor is she interested in sensation – her work is more imbued with respect and discretion, with empathy and an unerring feel for the most expressive moment.

Barbara Klemm is curious, especially about people – whether in her press coverage, whose subjects we only do not recognize as portraits because we do not know the persons portrayed, or in the many portraits of artists to which she devoted herself in the 1980s. These are pictures made with detachment which at the same time allow the attitude, work and character of the artist to shimmer through. Barbara Klemm has photographed such renowned artists as Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, Neo Rauch, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Thomas Bernhard, Herta Müller and Joseph Beuys.

She photographed Beuys in the Landesmuseum Darmstadt and in the Martin-Gropius Bau in 1982 while engaged in assembling his legendary work entitled “Hirschdenkmäler” (Stag Monuments) for the “Zeitgeist” exhibition. It is a moment of stillness and yet charged with energy that she has captured: the calm before the “lightning flash”. Recognizing such moments is the art of Barbara Klemm.

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