" The people in this city, the Berliners from East and West, were much more similar than imagined."

Artist: Marc Volk
Project: Passengers

Text: Matthias Harder

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"Everywhere the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is celebrated, especially in Berlin. There, these black and white photographs were taken, in 1990 and 1991, in the months after the peaceful revolution in Eastern Germany. Marc Volk commuted regularly from Hamburg to Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall, where he was hired shortly before reunification in the Kreuzberg photo agency Paparazzi and where he published his first journalistic pictures in the taz. The photographer felt that Berlin was a new and exciting place so he also looked around at a variety of everyday situations, as a free project, without assignment, such as passengers in the Berlin subways, men and women, young and old, from East and West, but also tourists, engrossed in their city maps. We do not see in the pictures between which stations - to the east or west of the city - they were driving along, where they had entered and where they wanted to go. The so-called ghost stations, which were closed by the GDR regime in East Berlin and where the trains always passed at a reduced speed, were reopened soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Neither a single portrait nor the overall project reveal anything about the intentions of the passengers, but define a kind of intermediate state. To this day, Berliners are commuting, both professionally and privately, in and out of the city, either with buses, trams or their own car, such as in other metropols. It is this constant state of movement that has been frozen visably in his photographs."



"As we can see, at the beginning of the nineties there was not much communication in the railways, everyone stayed by themselves, the joy and the ecstasy of the reunification ceremonies had disappeared, a new normality arose. Marc Volk was out and about with his camera day and night; We rarely know the time of day the photographs were taken and only occasionally discover daylight behind the window panes, such as the subways of the U 1 and U 2 which cross the city on steel stilts. This seems to be an unreal and timeless place.

At that time, the public traffic did not seem to be bursting at the seams, as we are used to today - but the gigantic tourist flows were to flood the city later. Meanwhile, everything seems to have changed: the fashion of the people in East and West, the equipment and the design of the subways and especially the media world. Only in one picture do we see two boys staring together at the small monitor of a gameboy - in the meantime our everyday life has become explosive medialized. And this becomes particularly clear to us when we compare Volks photographs with the situation of today. Incidentally, no passenger then held a coffee-to-go cup in their hands.

A subway defines a transitory intermediate state, it is a closed, public space full of chance encounters. People show us people contemplating an idea, dreaming about it, listening to music - at that time the players were called Walkman or Discman, even the iPod was still a long way off - or reading a newspaper. A middle-aged lady is holding the BZ, a tabloid newspaper, open in her hands, and we read on the front page "Die Ossis & die Wessis"; This curious title gives the entire sequence of pictures a certain direction of reading as reflected in the arrangement of the photographs. At the beginning of the publication, Marc Volk places each of the untitled individual pictures on a right-hand side, while the opposite left-hand side remains free and the view of the person being portrayed opens in this direction. The following center section has several double pages, each with photographs on the left and right side. The arrangement is then reversed with the portrait on the left and the white room on the right. A subtle narrative trick, which could be purely formal or symbolizes the two directions of travel or sight, namely east and west."



"Most passengers are shown by Volk with individual expressions, leaving room for an (unconscious) self-expression. In a slightly fuller subway he exclusively focuses on the legs of the sitting passengers, but also here all people remain anonymous. Only the friendly Christian, who stands like a missionary with his Jesus suitcase in the corner of a wagon, is certainly still known to some who were traveling in those years also in Berlin with the public transportation. And so the silence of the pictures is interrupted again and again by a narration that is underpinned by our own associations and imaginations: a young man, probably a student, may be studying for a test on the way to college or the young couple with the rolled up carpet, who may be just setting up their first apartment together. Finally, the man in a suit and tie, by the way, the only one in this series of pictures that is so officially dressed: He could imagine him as a former member of the SED Politburo. But nobody is cast here, everything is real. Volk sends us with his "Passengers" on a journey through time and on a journey into our own emotional memory of those Berlin times, no matter whether we are "Ossis" or "Wessis", in order to extend the mentioned heading of the BZ into our later thoughts.

These are natural and autonomous portraits, quick but accurate observations of ordinary people and "real types" that the photographer, then in his early twenties, created out of pure curiosity for the different ways of life. Captured with flashlight, the portrayed people knew about the creation of their image, and nobody protested, remembers Marc Volk. The result was a fascinatingly realistic series of pictures that at the time was not included in the application form at the Folkwang School in Essen, where he studied in the following years.

There is a famous precursor in the history of photography, who came to similar pictures, namely Walker Evans. In the late 1930s, he took pictures of fellow travellers on the New York subway, albeit with a hidden camera, and published the portraits decades later. Marc Volk did not know Evan's subway portraits in 1990 yet. 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall he now brings back the historically valuable sequence from his archive in this exhibition at the renowned Neue Schule für Fotografie, where he has been teaching for many years, and in parallel, in a slightly larger selection, for this publication. Anniversaries conjure something out of the shadows, as in the present case, and we can learn something again with the time interval: The people in this city, the Berliners from East and West, were much more similar than imagined."



© Marc Volk

Curator / Editor : Ecaterina Rusu

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