Alan Luft Takes on Berlin Art Scene

Posted: November 11, 2010 in Arts and Culture, Profiles

Lisa Kaminski

More than 10,000 negatives later, Edgewood art professor Alan Luft is showing 25 years worth of photographs during the European Month of Photography in Berlin, Germany.

Luft’s show at the Photoplatz Gallery in the Hotel Bogota opened October 17,and he as among the hundreds of artists showing in cities across Europe, including Paris, Rome, Moscow, and Vienna during the monthlong celebration of the arts.  His exhibition consists of 40 black and white portraits taken in Berlin.

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Receiving positive feedback from the nearly 300 individuals that attended the show’s opening, Luft said, “I was very moved by the interaction with all these individuals.”  He attributes much of this support to the Hotel Bogota’s extensive network of artists, but especially to the Rissmann family, owners of the hotel and generous supporters of the arts.

The Hotel Bogota itself is is a hub of artistic expression in Berlin, with a long history of actors, filmmakers, writers, and artists taking up residence there.  Luft explained that this is not without reason: “Art hangs everywhere, the rooms are old with 14 foot ceilings including the original furniture and fixtures.  The light is beautiful.  It’s very quiet and peaceful.”

It was this atmosphere that initially attracted Luft to the Photoplatz Gallery in the hotel.  Although he had been offered a show at Mitte, a smaller gallery in Berlin, Luft felt that the space was not quite right.  He continued to look for a more fitting location to show his portfolio, and upon a friend’s suggestion, Luft contacted the director of the Photoplatz Gallery.  Luft said he “had an instant connection, not only with the space, but Joachim [Rissmann, the director] as well.”  It was then that he was offered a show as a part of the European Month of Photography.

Beyond his instant connection with the hotel and Rissmann, Luft knew Photoplatz was the perfect fit when he discovered it was the former studio of photographer Yva in the 1920s and 30s.  Yva was an avant garde fashion photographer in her time and played a role in establishing the concept of a modern German woman.  Upon learning of the gallery’s history, Luft was very excited.  “When I was a young man  starting in art school, Yva was one of my favorites.  I just loved her work,” Luft said.  He expressed what an honor it is to show in the same studio as one of his idols.

Although eventually he found the perfect space in which to show his work, Luft explained that the process of showing in a foreign country is not without its difficulties.  He said that one needs to establish many personal connections and must continue to build on them.  The process is similar for finding people to photograph.  “I meet most of my subjects from word of mouth connections,” he said, although he does encounter some individuals by chance while walking in Berlin.

Growing up on a farm in rural Wisconsin, Luft was compelled to seek diversity to counteract the restrictions placed upon him as a child in a German-American household.

The show is a culmination of Luft’s years of work in Germany.  Beginning the project as a student, he had not anticipated pursuing the concept for so long.  Rather, his art grew organically out of his growing interest in the city and German studies.  As he continued to visit  the city, his interest in German history and politics snowballed.

Luft attributes his inspiration for his project to his upbringing.  Growing up on a farm in rural Wisconsin, Luft was compelled to seek diversity to counteract the restrictions placed upon him as a child in a German-American household.  Yet, it was those same restrictions and the German spoken at home that made him want to explore his ethnic identity.  Luft knew that over time these traditional perspectives had changed, especially in Germany itself.

With a background in history and art from the University of Wisconsin, Luft recognized that Berlin was the ideal location to explore the changing German archetype.  Historically, the the city had a progressive reputation, and Luft recognized it as “one of the major art capitals of the world.”  This combined with the city’s growing multicultural communities, made Berlin the perfect location for Luft to simultaneously explore his German identity and the diversity he sought as a young man.

Through the lens, Luft has captured the changing face of Berlin.  With his photographs of regular citizens, he has captured the city’s growing multicultural population and the United States’ influence on other countries.  This is exemplified through one of Luft’s choice portraits of a young Turkish girl holding a blonde doll.

Luft likes the idea of “sending photographs into the future.  They become visual history, and I think that’s quite a radical concept.”

Beyond the political and cultural tones of his art, Luft simply says that he loves portraiture and photography.  All his work comes from film negatives, and he prefers the medium to digital as “film really captures the best sense of a three-dimensional space, the light, and the depth of the physical world,” he said.  And how the world is portrayed is especially interesting to Luft.  “I have a very strong desire to make a visual record of the city,” he said.  He also likes the idea of “sending photographs into the future.”  He said, “They become visual history, and I think that’s quite a radical concept.”

With this in mind, Luft would like to continue documenting Berlin in the future, providing images for generations to come.  “I hope that I can photography in Berlin for another 25 years,” he said.

  1. Joe Wehry says:

    An excellent show of portrait photography, and helped make the trip to Berlin well worth it. I was new to Hotel Bogota’s Photoplatz, but it is a gem of a location, too.

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