Without Words

Icons of Press Photography

EXHIBITION Mar 8 — Apr 23, 2003

What characteristics do the furrowed trenches of Verdun, the crash of the airship 'Hindenburg', the astronaut Edwin Aldrin on the moon, the fully occupied landing crafts of the G.I.'s in front of the Normandy coast, the 'Rosinenbornber' above the Berlin crowd of children, the burning monk in the Saigon street or the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima have in common? Correct! These historical events have shaped the 20th century. Photography has captured them and preserved them in pictures. In our collective memory, precisely these photographs often represent the captured event itself. The question 'What stays in one's mind of the last century?' was the starting-point for the new exhibition at the Kicken Berlin Gallery: "WITHOUT WORDS - Icons of Press Photography". The approximately 60 black and white photographs of the exhibition come for the most part from The New York Times Photo Archives and are completed by a number of loans from other sources. Already in 1996, the New York Times had begun to digitalize its photo archive and started to sell the original prints. With this orientation towards the digital picture and the accompanied vanishing of the original photo in the press it becomes apparent (even more so than with the challenge of television) that the 20th century was the actual epoch of (press) photography. Admittedly the invention of the photographic image is over half a century older, but only by
linking it with the printing press, photography could become a mass medium. It was only possible at the turn of the 20th century to bring photographic half-tone productions by means of screens onto the newspaper pages. Although the photographs had to be brought personally to the editorial department until the introduction of the radio photographs (at the New York Times in the mid-1930s), already World War I could be experienced as a media event in the newspapers.
Since then it has been difficult to distinguish whether the events themselves or rather their images are shaping our view of the world. The exhibition "WITHOUT WORDS - Icons of Press Photography" offers the rare possibility to have a close look at the original production of press pictures. Often, the back of the pictures is as interesting as the actual motive. Ultimately, the date of publishing, the title and legend define the event.
By naming place, time, names and the circumstances of the events, these facts give the photograph its sense. Often, the photographer is not mentioned. Only a few photographers succeeded in transforming their name into a trademark outside the editorial office. With Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Marc Riboud, W. Eugene Smith and many more Kicken Berlin exhibits some of the most famous press photographers. War pictures and cruelties dominate the archive in accordance with the journalistic motto 'only bad news are good news'. A naked girl running away after a napalm attack in South-Vietnam in 1972, the deadly injured John F. Kennedy, the gaunt faces of the liberated KZ-prisoners in Dachau or the suicide plunging into the depth - the press lives on those "shocks and thrills" since they are often imprinted more strongly into the memory. Susan Sontag has recently commented on this fact (in the "New Yorker"}, stating that the problem is not "that people remember through photos, but that they remember only the photo". There are, however, photographs which go beyond the depicted occurrence. In these rare images a change has taken place from the mere documentary to the historical testimony, to a creative monument of history. This is the case with the photographs shown in "WITHOUT WORDS - Icons of Press Photography". These pictures stand out against the endless mass of banal press images. These are photographs, which by means of artistic intuition or by lucky circumstances create scenes, enable insights or deliver views, which constitute this difficult to define surplus value, when a picture without words says more than a thousand words could say.

Parallel, a choice of Péter Nádas series "The Tree (from: "Der Eigene Tod /the Own Death") is shown in the small exhibition space Kicken II.