Anne Pfautsch

Research Group: Contemporary Art Research Centre
Award studied: PhD

Project title

The Tradition of Social Documentary Photography in the GDR and its Impact on a Contemporary Documentary Photography Practice


I aim to research and discuss the tradition of social documentary photography in the German Democratic Republic. Thereby, I want to scrutinise why documentary photography has become arguably the most prolific form of photography in East Germany between 1949 – 1989, how photographers worked within and beyond state limitations, and what its prevailing topics and modes of execution were. Many of the documentary photography series depict the urban – often the photographer's direct – environment with a particular focus on 'the ruined landscape or the mundane activities of day-to-day survival' in the GDR (1). These works juxtapose the state's propaganda images in opposition; creating a significantly different image of the socialist state.
I intend to emanate from the images: Their study will help me to identify characteristics and particularities of East German documentary photography which in a second step can be applied on contemporary documentary practices to scrutinise whether an East German documentary photography tradition survived the collapse of the GDR, and furthermore, particular photographic features have been passed on and are still active. Thereby, I will look closely at the Ostkreuz Agentur der Fotografen (Ostkreuz photography agency) in Berlin which was founded in 1990 by seven former East German photographers and which is today the most successful photographers' run agency in Germany as well as the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig, as it was the only photography school in the GDR.

(1) Ihle, Astrid, 'Wandering the Streets of Socialism: A Discussion of the Street Photography of Arno Fisher and Ursula Arnold', in David Crowley und Susan Emily Reid, ed., Socialist spaces: sites of everyday life in the Eastern Bloc (Oxford: Berg, 2002), 85.


Anne Pfautsch