Helga Paris: Berlin behind the wall

Self-taught photographer Helga Paris (German, born 1938) was trained in fashion design but began taking photos seriously in 1967, leading to life as a freelancer in the German Democratic Republic. She found her subjects in her immediate surroundings and is best known for documenting everyday life in east Berlin and the GDR. (Above: Winsstraße mit Taube (“Wins Street” with Dove, 1970s)

The Cold War meant that her remarkable work was for many decades almost unknown west of the Iron Curtain. While Paris enjoyed widespread popularity in East Germany, her photographs rarely reached the West. This year, she is on exhibition several places, including Amsterdam’s Huis Marseille Museum, here.

After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Paris took fewer photographs for a while, feeling that the new circumstances obligated her to rethink her position as a photographer in the world. She continued her work, but the focus turned to exhibiting her previously unknown portfolio. There is a long list of her solo and group exhibitions post-1989 at Photography Now, here.

This five-minute video (subtitled) gives you a glimpse into the photographer’s approach. It’s especially interesting at the end when she talks about how the people in the town of Halle were so ill-natured and resistant to being photographed, and how she handled it.

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