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Will McBride

I fell in Love with this City

There is life simmering between urban ruins. In the midst of the leaden post-war era, an initial economic revival begins to bloom. Despite radical, ideological conflicts there is a whiff of youthful freedom in this city at the front line of the cold war. A decade after Germany’s capitulation, Berlin can still be found in exceptional circumstances between piles of rubble and milk bars, people disabled in the war and beatnik, political demonstrations and boat parties, tanks and vespas. A self-confident young American can be found wandering among all these everyday contradictions, capturing people and their lust for life with his camera, unprecedented curiosity and a fresh perspective – Will McBride.

His early black-and-white photographs of the city in ruins, through to the construction of the Berlin Wall, fascinate viewers with their authenticity, intimacy and dynamics, which are a far cry from the previously familiar tristesse of the harsh postwar reality. As a chronicler of youth, the focus of Will McBride’s work is much more on the newly-gained spaces offering freedom and lifestyle, new beginnings and experiments – both in the west and in the east of the city. For Will McBride, Berlin at the end of the fifties was an inspiring, fabulous place and its varying shades of grey formed a complete contrast to his home country. The city is a source of inspiration for him, putting him in a state of feverish anticipation. While in his early photographs there is a sense of wonder and astonishment about this “insane” city and the surreal after-effects of the war, in the years that follow his distance makes way for a keen sense of closeness, generating emotional portraits and news reports that are full of vitality. As an outsider and young beatnik he slowly became part of the city and its inhabitants, observing their activities with his Leica at close range – non-conformist and without conventions. It is in particular this radical subjectivity that led to the unique authenticity of his pictures – this is the closest a photographer can get to an object, the deepest he can immerse himself in a situation. With this directness of a “personal documentary” style, Will McBride was an early forerunner of artists such as Nan Goldin, Antoine d‘Agata and Wolfgang Tillmans.

Will McBride was the first photographer whose works were shown in Amerika Haus, in 1957. For this reason, C/O Berlin will open the building in Autumn 2014 with his photographs, for the first time presenting around 100 photographs from his complete works that focus mainly on Berlin after the Second World War, some of which have never been shown before. The exhibition was curated by Felix Hoffmann. A catalogue has been published by Lehmstedt Verlag. With this exhibition of Will McBride, C/O Berlin will continue its series of contemporary-historical photographs, which has also included the life works of Roger Melis and Fritz Eschen.

Will McBride, born in 1931 in St. Louis, Missouri/USA, studied painting, illustration and art history in New York and Philology in Berlin. He worked as an internationally renowned photo-journalist for German and international magazines and published numerous photo books, including the legendary sex education book “Zeig mal”. Since the mid 1970s he has mainly worked as a painter and sculptor. He lives and works in Berlin.