The best photographer of Wartenburgstraße. Michael Schmidt was born in Berlin in 1945 and has photographed the city for nearly twenty years. Schmidt’s work maintains a dialectic relation to thousand pictures populating Berlin, many of the most memorable are those by Schmidt. Schmidt continues to photograph Berlin and the viewer continues to see Berlin with his eyes. But now something happens: Photographer and viewer see Berlin as if it was for the first time.
Schmidt is an artist of protean intellectual energies. Furthermore, he is an artist of the fragment, of complexity, of contradiction. His work is consistent and versatile. In Waffenruhe he is also passionate, which makes this collection of photographs his most intense and poignant to date. Not only does this mean that Schmidt is a better artist now, but also that he has become an entirely different artist. He has - except for the most rudimentary - cut all ties with the traditional documentary style and replaced it by an aesthetic of immediate experience. There is no confusion, no hide and seek in Waffenruhe. Schmidt’s work is full of self-confidence and authority now.
Questions of space and time. The protagonist of Waffenruhe is the Berlin Wall or more precisely the city limits and some of the things happening with them. A fifth of the photographs show the Wall; another fifth alludes to its presence; almost all imply its existence. The Wall is Berlin’s dark symbol of itself, the most representative landmark of the city, a kind of sinister Eiffel Tower. However, as the Eiffel Tower somehow “naturalizes” Paris (Barthes), the Wall reinforces Berlin’s artificiality and elusiveness. The Wall is Europe’s most atrocious landmark, yet it is also the one where use value and symbolic value are most closely linked. Michael Schmidt lives in Wartenburgstraße, near the Wall. Everyone lives more or less near the Wall in Berlin.
The photographs in Waffenruhe have probably been taken over the course of a year, maybe even several years, but with the exception of just few pictures, they all convey the feeling of a certain specific season when a severe winter makes way for spring. This feeling stems from the iconography of the images, but it also is a quality of their color and temperature. Yet as these photographs are black and white and do not have a specific temperature, this is either a paradox or a misconception of the critic.
A Norwegian photographer friend of mine said Waffenruhe was the most important photobook by a contemporary European photographer. This is impossible to prove or disprove, but it is an opinion worth taking seriously. Waffenruhe does not resemble anything that preceded it. The most striking quality of the book is its intensity. Schmidt’s images and their sequence have a rigor that makes them hard to look at and impossible to wipe off the table. In his earlier works Schmidt had documented the social artifacts of contemporary Berlin; with Waffenruhe he created an autonomous work, a new cultural artifact standing for itself, something whose existence changes the world it records. If the ask Waffenruhe the same question we asked Schmidt’s earlier works: “Does Berlin really look like that?” The most appropriate answer would be: “Yes, it does now.”
From: Lewis Baltz, Notes on Waffenruhe, 1988
Published in: Lewis Baltz Texts, Steidl 2012
The text originally appeared in Camera Austria, German trans. W. Prantner, No. 26 (1988)