Work Aestethicism and the Poetry of the Private
Photopgraphs by H.R. Uthoff
The economic miracle, petticoats, Peter Krauss and the VW Beetle… we all find detailed images in our memories when thinking about the 1950s and 1960s - shaped by documents, the TV- and movie industries, and by tales from our parents and grandparents. But the pictures in our minds are only fragments of the period´s reality. And they need to be re-arranged over and over again in order to prevent them from becoming distortions of this reality. Hans Rudolf Uthoff´s photographs nourish our memories´ images with substance: His pictures carry this time into our own, revive those days anew for us, a modern audience. His black and white photographs of a changing society appear sometimes humorous-pittoreseque, sometimes timeless and modern.
Uthoff's pictures reflect a Germany captured between smugness and euphoria and, thus, create a powerful and multi-facetted panoramic collection of time and societyThe period is characterized by its people. And Uthoff is able to get very close to them. Born in Hannover in 1927, Uthoff, a learned glass painter, discovered photography as his real passion only late and only some detours eventually led him to Bochum. As a press photographer for the cast steel and ironworks “Bochumer Verein für Gußstahlfabrikation AG, Bochum“, he documented the everyday work and life of the employees from 1957 until 1967. Uthoff was particularly interested in the latter: His pictures show the people behind the machines, depicting their faces and passions within their own space and context.
Portraits of proud workers are evidence of the miners´ self-confidence: Their hard work had real value and was well-paid, the “Revier“, the coal-mining region, was up-and-coming. It is the time of great economic growth and the Ruhr region with its coal mining and steel industry is the driving force behind the growing German industries. Simultaneously, people again begin to find time and money to spend outside of work: they can afford to go out, to celebrate at fairs, to have a hobby, dine out and wear the latest fashion. Communities of garden plots follow, but also supermarkets and fashion stores, striving after their international examples – the people living in Kettwig and Castrop-Rauxel want to experience the life of the people in Paris and New York.
Hans Rudolf Uthoff portrayed people´s everyday lives and leisure activities: fairs, dance contests, concerts, men and women strolling around, walking along the street, waiting. His pictures reflect a Germany captured between smugness and euphoria and, thus, create a powerful and multi-facetted panoramic collection of time and society covering more than a decade. A young woman on the street or a disordered array of chairs at a trombone festival: Uthoff had a strong sense for the small occasions. His pictures tell us stories – but without a claiming to represent the majority– where other´s photography merely documents events. Portraying everything lively and realistic, he is never looking for the exemplary or extraordinary but tries to capture the individual, the average within a daily routine.
Uthoff´s pictures, however, go far beyond a romanticized image of the Ruhr region: his perspective is alert as well as aesthetically demanding. Scaffolding, bridges, and high-voltage power lines develop a formal appeal and design an image of industrial culture avant la lettre. In addition, he also keeps an eye on the rest of the country. A close look at the border fence in West-Berlin or the capturing of technological innovations at the industrial fair in Hannover – his causal shots depict perfectly composed scenes and clearly reflect what people are concerned with at the time.
The living environment suddenly offers so much more than just scenery. Life increasingly takes place within the city and Uthoff makes the urban a co-protagonist of his pictures: his travels to Berlin, England, and Paris start to influence his work. Working as a street photographer, Uthoff begins to include figures seen from behind, starts to experiment with details and perspectives. Legs in a suit surrounded by umbrellas, long shadows on broad sidewalks, queues of people waiting in a department store, dogs taken for a walk, traffic: glimpses of the everyday life in the big cities of Germany and Europe.
The end of the 1960s experiences the slow decline of the mining industry in the Ruhr region and opens a new chapter in Uthoff´s life. He moves to Hamburg, the city of the press and the publishers, where he starts to work as a photojournalist for numerous magazines and begins to travel the world. Here, Uthoff´s perspective remains one of a portraitist: in his numerous volumes of photography and documentaries he preserves images of faraway countries and cities, advances deep into Sri Lanka or captures the iconic image of the World Trade Center.
Uthoff portrayed numerous politicians and celebrities, creating snapshots that were not only fresh but also strong in character of stars like Robert Redford and Juliette Gréco. Suddenly, the people before the camera were no longer unknown. Uthoff´s sensitive portraits, however, still succeeded to add new sides and details to the images of the stars that we already had in our minds.
This authenticity and this sensitive, conscious and always poetic perspective are still characteristic of Uthoff´s pictures, still attributing them with relevance and charisma. Beyond the Ruhr region, beyond Germany: the golden post-war decades were never captured like this again.
Translation: Dr. Stefan Schustereder, www.hochschultraining.de