Laurenz Berges’ Cloppenburg & an air of misery and grief

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

Who is Laurenz Berges?

The photographer Laurenz Berges originated from Cloppenburg in Germany. He received his training at the Folkwangschule in Essen. His work has always been shrouded by cultural undertones and connotations deeply rooted in the Second World War and its impact on society.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

Like many other German artists of his day, Berges has created a reputation for himself for creating art pieces and works that are characterized by politics and political decisions.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

In particular, his pieces often seek to examine why the government makes the choices that it does and examine how these choices and decisions impact the future of society.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

Having studied under renowned master Bernd Becher during his time at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, Berges is known for applying different aspects of humanity and death in his works, and his Cloppenburg series was no different.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

What inspired Berges

In 1988, Berges left for New York, where he assisted German photographer Evelyn Hofer (1922-2009), who was best known for city books and portraits. Helping her, he met famous creatives such as architect I. M. Pei and painter David Salle.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

Upon returning to Essen, Germany, where he resumed his studies, he became discontent with his fellow students as well as his teachers, seeing a path for himself as an artistic photographer rather than a photojournalist.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

Consequently, he got in touch with other photographers, such as Andreas Gursky, Axel Hütte and Thomas Ruff, all students of Bernd Becher at the well-known Düsseldorf Academy.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

It was during this time that Berges started photographing his hometown. Freshly back from Manhattan, he was able to see the place he grew up in from new perspectives.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

Between 1989 and 1990, Berges created Cloppenburg, a collection of pictures taken in the artist’s hometown. The photos were made up of images of the cloudy and sleepy German city.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

Between images of lush planes and bricked buildings, the artist also made sure to add a touch of color, which consequently made the otherwise sleepy town appear a little more colorful.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

The project consists of beautifully distinctive and moody photographs. Each image, captured more than 30 years ago, is characterized by an air of misery and grief.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

When looked at by a complete stranger, the pictures of Berges’ hometown almost appear like non-places that do not exist. Yet, the audience cannot help but feel connected to Cloppenberg as there is also a certain familiarity to them.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

Cloppenburg, 2020 (movie)

In 2020, Markus Gertken released the movie Cloppenburg that references Berges’ photo book of the same name. Actor and filmmaker Gertken used the pictures to tell a story about belated insight into intransigence using green screen technology. The two artists, Markus Gertken and Laurenz Berges have been childhood friends.

1 min 57 sec

Technique

For this project, Berges relied on a medium format camera and color photography. He explained it as follows1:

I have the impression that the color means I am more on time. The themes I have worked on over the past few decades are not revealed by just a few pictures. By going so deep, I want to underscore the intensity and importance of the places and do justice to the matter. Visiting places more often enables a comprehensive experience, which should then be reflected in the pictures.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

Analysis

Berges’ Cloppenburg series was created to celebrate and share the stories of the various victims that found themselves in an array of barracks in such areas as Schönwalde, Wünsdorf, and other places during the World War.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

Thanks to this project, their experiences were made accessible by Berges’ pictures, allowing the audience to remember their place in history. As such, Berges said2:

These places tell their story in a very peculiar way, almost as if by themselves. In terms of atmosphere, a lot is inscribed in the buildings: in the surfaces, in the facades. It’s my way of reviewing history.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

When the photographic medium today seems threatened by digital technologies that are introduced on a daily basis, Berges’ project is vital for challenging the audience’s idea and understanding of time and place.

Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges - Cloppenburg, 1989–1990
Laurenz Berges – Cloppenburg, 1989–1990

All images: Laurenz Berges/laurenzberges.de unless otherwise noted.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.worpswede-museen.blog/laurenz-berges/
  2. https://www.wz.de/nrw/duesseldorf/kultur/der-duesseldorfer-laurenz-berges-ist-der-chronist-der-vergessenen-orte_aid-48848751

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