“Berlin made me a photographer” – Gundula Schulze Eldowy
The upstairs of C/O Berlin was assigned to host Eldowy’s retrospective exhibition, approximately 120 photographs. Classic images from series such as ‘Berlin in einer Hundenacht’ (Berlin on a Dog’s Night) and ‘Tamerlan’, accompanied the entire series ‘Der große und der kleine Schritt’ (The Big and the Little Step). Each room represented a particular series of work and took the viewer on a different journey each time.
Eldowy was born in Erfurt in 1954 and moved to Berlin when she was 18. She documents life in Mitte, a district in the centre of Berlin, and later also in Dresden and Leipzig. She captures loneliness, sadness, misery and moments of happiness. Whoever her subjects may be, she is both fascinated and repelled by the social diversity and the harshness of the city. Her images are metaphors of social criticism and push the limits of what can be endured. They show affection yet no shame whatsoever, she re-experiences her subjects’ stories and subsequently becomes part of them. Her photographs arise from relationships rather than observations and are comparable to works by Nan Goldin, Boris Mikhailov and Nobuyoshi Araki.
“My meanderings through Berlin were nothing other than excursions into my inner unknown world” – Gundula Schulze Eldowy
The series that spoke to me the most was ‘Tamerlan 1979-87’, it documents the last years of an elderly woman whom Eldowy met on a park bench in Berlin. It follows her from her lonely one room shabby apartment to hospital where she eventually has both legs amputated, to her death. Although initially strangers from different worlds, the emotional journey the two women experience together over 8 years is documented beautifully and thoughtfully in black and white. Eldowy writes of her initial meeting with the woman “The intensity of her speech had a frightening effect. It lamed me, I was no longer able to concentrate on the photos and had to give up”.
Other works are somewhat more harrowing. The series ‘Der große und der kleine Schritt’ focuses on the ups and downs of life. It features images of childbirth, still born babies, nude portraits of families, destroyed buildings, the ill and dying and theater performers. This richly evocative and carefully curated series of images in colour and black and white takes the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster. Although often faced with uncomfortable subjects, we all can in some form relate to the lives of these everyday people whether we want to or not.
On this series, Eldowy writes “The existential experiencing of symptomatic life situations defines the character of the series. In existential situations each individual suffers what he in a deeper sense actually is. He gets to know himself through pain”.