Berlin en vogue was the title of the catalogue and exhibition that grew out of a research at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin about three years ago. It was the first project of its kind to explore fashion photography in Germany. Although many histories of fashion photography have been published in other countries, such as the United States and, of course, France, no such documentation of German fashion photography existed at that time. Since Berlin had followed Paris as the second most important center of fashion and publications from the 19th century on, this shortage of historical attention seemed odd. Thus, I was very glad to accept the invitation of the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations to curate an exhibition about the subject of German fashion photography after 1945.
What exactly is mean by the term “German fashion photography”? The images chosen reveal a broad interpretation of this question. There is no attempt to define German qualities historically or geographically. Instead, the extremely contradictory and compelling cultural identity proves to be anything but coherent.
This means that foreigners or emigrants who have made major contributions to the subject and who have dealt with German fashion or lifestyle trends in their work have been included. Neither the nationality of the photographer nor the location of the shoot were important criteria for choosing many of the photographs in the exhibition. I was guided by the strength of each image’s pictorial language and the stylization of its contents that might assist a discussion about cultural identity in a time of complete internationalization. Is there something about the vision of a photographer that reveals his or her inner critical dialogue with the culture of a particular nation? I have tried to choose images that were innovative and left their mark on contemporaries.
The title of the exhibition Zeitgeist Becomes Form implies the close affinity between photography and fashion. Both fashion and photography live for the moment; both are examined critically by their audiences for the artificial character and relevance as a more temporary statement.
We have learned to interpret fashion as a manifestation of the Zeitgeist. There is no object, no material, no gesture that can escape from becoming fashionable, as long as it is capable of being condensed to a symbol and can function as a form of self-representation.
Zeitgeist Becomes Form: German Fashion Photography 1945 – 1995 is an international travelling exhibition presented by the Goethe-Institut Manila.