Spurred by the wonderful news over at The Impossible Project that Polaroid Film is getting a second chance, I delved (via its “friends” links) into Polanoid.net. Whereupon, I found this small and particular photo-series by Lars.blumen.
The Hohenschönhausen Memorial in Berlin is an active community/museum organization that fosters education and understanding with regards political imprisonment. The refreshingly transparent website even concedes crucial gaps in knowledge. “The history of the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen prison site has not yet been researched in sufficient detail. There is, as yet, no general overview detailing the social background of the prisoners, nor the reasons for their imprisonment, nor their length of stay. In fact, we do not even know exactly how many prisoners were kept here over the years.”
I am given the impression a precious sense of purpose & justice drives this shared project. Elsewhere on the site, their call for research is inspiring.
The reason this set fascinated me so much was that it seemed so immediately incongruous. It is wonderful incongruity. With Polaroid one expects sanctified family portraits (60s, 70s) or blurred disco memories (80s, 90s). Polaroid of the 21st century has been largely an indulgent affair. Lars.blumen has given us a rare treat. He ‘captured’ the most infamous site of Soviet Secret Police interrogation and detention within 10 single polaroid frames.
Lars.blumen’s project, done without fanfare nor nostalgia, uses the visual vocabulary of the past. Just to make things interesting, the prison (at he time of Polaroid) would never have been observed, nor documented, in this same manner.
The polaroids are remarkable for what they aren’t. They aren’t actual images from the era of the Stasi. And this era is that to which now all energy – as a Memorial – is focussed. The photos are a requiem for the stories and faces of the prisoners never recorded. I think this is why the Hohenschönhausen Memorial has such an emphasis on documenting oral testimony and experiences of prisoners.
No people, no prisoners, no players in these scenes. The hardware of the site and the illusion of time passed. Understated.
The texture reminds me of old family portraits in front of the brick of Yorkshire and Merseyside. In front of churches and on door steps.
Outside are cameras, inside is bureaucracy. Still lured by Polaroid nostalgia, the sinister reality of the images creeps up slowly. The minimalist composition of the Frankfurt school is at use here, but Lars.blumen uses a medium that predates the movement. It’s all very disconcerting.
Why do I respect these images? Because they are unique and, even to some degree, challenging. I cannot celebrate these images because of their history – they have no history. I cannot celebrate a familiar style – they are recuperations of contemporary German photography. They are idiosyncratic one-offs.
Is it really this intentional? I wonder now if Lars.blumen just had a reel of Polaroid film to burn and that day he happened to be at the Hohenschönhausen Memorial?
If anyone cane help me with Lars.blumen’s identity I’d be grateful!
Official Blurb: The site of the main remand prison for people detained by the former East German Ministry of State Security (MfS), or ‘Stasi’, has been a Memorial since 1994 and, from 2000 on, has been an independent Foundation under public law. The Berlin state government has assigned the Foundation, without charge. The Foundation’s work is supported by an annual contribution from the Federal Government and the Berlin state government.
The Memorial’s charter specifically entrusts it with the task of researching the history of the Hohenschönhausen prison between 1945 and 1989, supplying information via exhibitions, events and publications, and encouraging a critical awareness of the methods and consequences of political persecution and suppression in the communist dictatorship. The former Stasi remand prison is also intended to provide an insight into the workings of the GDR’s political justice system.
Since the vast majority of the buildings, equipment and furniture and fittings have survived intact, the Memorial provides a very authentic picture of prison conditions in the GDR. The Memorial’s location in Germany’s capital city makes it the key site in Germany for victims of communist tyranny.
One last thing. May I recommend you spend time with the lovingly assembled staff portrait gallery at the Impossible Project.