Photography in Munich (2)

The Münchner Stadtmuseum also had two substantial photography exhibitions around the middle of last year.

Bernd and Hilla Becher’s ‘Bergwerke und Hütten’ featured images of coal mines and mills from the Ruhr and beyond – the industrial machinery of whole sites/vast complexes. A number included workers’ dwellings, annotations to the principal text; some of the images from Wales, though, subverted this pattern with mine heads which were almost domestic in scale, vernacular, while rows of terraced houses stretched uninterrupted across the picture plane like ‘works’.

The ‘IndustrieZeit’ show was broader in compass, with photographs from the 1840s to the twenty-first century (principally from the museum’s own collection). It included international classics (Walker Evans’s Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 1935, Lewis Hine’s Power house mechanic working on steam pump 1920), but there was some very strong local work on show too, particularly among the nineteenth-century images. A tableau of tiny people, arrayed across an expansive, shingly river bed, a foil for the railway bridge behind them – so large that it had to be rendered miniature to incorporate it whole (Franz Hanfstaengl, Belastungsprobe der Grosshesseloher Brücke, 1857). A portrait of staff outside a locomotive factory, hundreds of men and boys clustered around a shining engine, some of them balanced on cogs or braving the factory roof in order to stand out, others massed on structures completely obscured by the density of human bodies (Joseph Albert, Belegschaft der Lokomotivfabrik Maffei anlässlich der Herstellung der 500. Lokomotive 1864). Salt prints and albumen prints of Munich’s Glaspalast, outside and in – another Crystal Palace, site of an industrial exhibition in 1854. Georg Böttger’s panoramic view of a Munich leather factory, taken in 1860, presenting a complex which had an almost monastic feel, with its long, cloister-like arcades (for work requiring good ventilation?); it seemed quiet and empty but must still have been operating, given the expanses of boards in a courtyard, covered in indecipherable items, angled towards the sun.

It might be inferred from these images that industry only became really dirty in the twentieth century – except that the earliest photograph in the exhibition was a daguerreotype of a landscape in which a factory sprays out smoke of varying shades from multiple chimneys (Choiselat and Ratel, c.1845).

Ludwig Windstosser’s post-war photographs included documentary work as well as more abstract imagery. His black-and-white photograph of a shower/changing room (Waschkaue, Rurhgebiet c.1954) was particularly intriguing – dense lines of chains hanging from the ceiling, a system of pulleys and hooks arranged so that sets of clothes could be hoisted over head height, boots and all. (Some of them looked disturbingly as if they were somewhere between objects and people, as carcasses on a chain are somewhere between animals and meat.) Presumably the intention was to prevent contamination of clean clothes by work gear? Some of the hooks were lowered, their clothes hovering over empty shoes, while pale, clean men changed in the background.