Review: Die Stadt/The City by Ostkreuz


Book Reviews, Photobooks


You take a topic that’s more or less well defined, you unleash a group of accomplished, diverse photographers, and you assemble what you get back in a book. Not a bad idea for a book, albeit one we don’t get to see as often as you’d imagine. Of course, you’ll remember Magnum’s Georgian Spring, which involved some of photography’s heaviest hitters. Now there is Ostkreuz’s The City (the original title has the German version, Die Stadt, in its title, which I’ll omit in the following for reason of convenience), showcasing photography taken by the eighteen members of that German photography agency. (more)

I’m sure the combination of the words “German” and “city” will trigger ideas of a Becherthon of sorts: How could you possibly fill a whole book with semi-architectural photographs of depopulated cities? Worry not - there isn’t a single such image in the book. How oddly disappointing that you can’t even trust photography’s most beloved stereotypes any longer! But seriously, the photography in The City is as diverse as the one in Magnum’s book, covering cities on all continents except Australia, including the usual suspects (Berlin, Detroit, Las Vegas, Shanghai, Dubai) and some unexpected ones (Gaza City or Ushuaia). What is more, some photographers decided to approach the idea of city by not restricting themselves to portraying one city but, instead, people or situations in different cities.

I will admit I was surprised to see some of the work in The City. Dawin Meckel’s portrait of Detroit is centered on people and not ruins, with some stunning portraits (the man on the cover, that’s an image from Detroit). I’d love to see more of that: Dawin, please go back to Detroit and do more work there! Ute and Werner Mahler went looking for young women in the suburbs of five different cities and took their portraits - shockingly beautiful portraiture, and different from what I would have expected knowing their earlier work. Heinrich Vökel went to Gaza City - in the news just recently again - to document the indescribable. Those three portfolios alone make The City a book you want to own.

All in all, I found The City to be more engaging and more interesting than Magnum’s Georgian Spring. I find it hard to pin it down what it is, but The City seems a bit more coherent and more engaging.

Since it’s that season right now (not that I care about soccer, but it’s so tempting to do this): Ostkreuz - Magnum 1:0.

Die Stadt/The City, photographs by Sibylle Bergman, Jörg Brüggemann, Espen Eichenhöfer, Annette Hauschild, Harald Hauswald, Papa Hristova, Andrej Krementschouk, Ute Mahler, Werner Mahler, Dawin Meckel, Thomas Meyer, Julian Röder, Frank Schinski, Jordis Antonia Schlösser, Anne Schönharting, Linn Schröder, Heinrich Völkel, Maurice Weiss, essays by Felix Hoffmann, Marcus Jauer, 296 pages, Hatje Cantz, 2010