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Rudi Meisel . Compatriots 1977 – 1987

Two Germanys

Germany at the end of the 1970s. The post-war period has been overcome, the economic miracle has been accomplished and the division into West and East has finally been completed. Capitalism and Socialism have a deep impact on the daily life of Germans and the differences between the political, economic and social systems are constantly growing. Divergent customs, mentalities and ideologies in both German states seem to be solidifying. Yet despite the wall and the barbed wire, the FRG and GDR are in fact extraordinarily similar in terms of their petit bourgeois nature, their uniformity, architecture and habituality. Conservative comfort, inhospitable residential developments, neighbourly chit-chat, boozy get-togethers in bars, youth rebellion, entertaining folk festivals, streets in disrepair – over a period of eleven years, the West German photographer Rudi Meisel captured the everyday life of the common people on both sides. His photo-journalistic documents merge to create a unique, historical archive, causing the viewer to be confounded and amazed by the similarity of the subject. What is really particular to the West or to the East? Often it is the captions that first enable classification with certitude.

Rudi Meisel travelled to the GDR several times a year, one of the few West German photographers to do so at that time. Commissioned by numerous different media, he was able to photograph everyday life there, a special opportunity at that time. In the tradition of street photography, he was interested in what was happening behind the state-manipulated propaganda and staged events. His perspective on the socialist state is open, inquisitive and free of any polemics, malice or condescendence. Rudi Meisel’s reportages appear to show things unadulterated, even though the results were controlled by censorship – he was always assigned an International Press Centre overseer. In principle already valuable, visual primary sources and authentic illustrative material, these photographs are given an additional level of meaning when shown in juxtaposition with his photographs from West Germany. This interaction and comparison provides information about the features that characterize what could be called “German” or the “German Nation”. 

With his empathetic gaze on the desires, pleasures and sufferings of the Germans, during the last few years Rudi Meisel has sifted through his archive of black-and-white photographs, re-arranged them and made a selection. For a long time Rudi Meisel did not realize that his photographs from West and East Germany belong together: “It was only with distance that the similarities became clear to me. There was the same stuffiness in the West as there was in the East. Only that the stuffiness of the West had a few chrome strips and was spruced up”. These everyday stories from the years when Germany was divided have long become legends. Some of them live on in Rudi Meisel ‘s photographs.

For the first time in Berlin, C/O Berlin will present 80 photographs from the complete works of Rudi Meisel, some of which have never been exhibited before. The showcase of works was curated by Felix Hoffmann. With this exhibition of Rudi Meisel’s works, C/O Berlin will continue its series of modern historical photographs, which has already included the life’s work of Roger Melis, Fritz Eschen and Will McBride.
A publication will be produced by Kehrer Verlag on the occasion of the exhibition.  

Rudi Meisel, born in 1949 in Wilhelmshaven and raised in Osnabrück, studied photography in the class of Otto Steinert at the Folkwangschule Essen and in 1975 founded the group collective of photographers VISUM , together with André Gelpke and Gerd Ludwig. From 1971 onwards he worked as a freelance reportage photographer for magazines including Spiegel, ZEIT, stern, Time, Newsweek, Merian, GEO, ZEITmagazin. From 1982 to 1991 he photographed for projects together with Otl Aicher and from 1991 to 2005 he was responsible for the architecture and reportage photography for projects by Norman Foster. He has received many awards for his works – ranging from the Deutscher Jugendfotopreis in 1971 and 1972, Photokina Obelisk in 1972 and 1980, the Kodak Photographic Book Prize in 1979 and the Kulturpreis Lotto Brandenburg in 2014. His reportages have been presented in publications and exhibitions, for example in Museum Folkwang Essen, at the phototrienale Hamburg, in the gallery argus fotokunst in Berlin and in Goethe Institutes worldwide. Rudi Meisel lives and works in Berlin.

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