Picking up the pieces in postwar Germany
"A critic once said that Darchinger could think with his eyes. The photographs in the book Wirtschaftswunder prove that he can also feel and speak with them."
- SPIEGEL.DE, Hamburg
It was no more than eight years after the surrender of the Nazi government when Josef Heinrich Darchinger set out on his photographic journey through the West of a divided Germany. The bombs of World War II had reduced the country"s major cities to deserts of rubble. Yet his pictures show scarcely any signs of the downfall of a civilization. Not that the photographer was manipulating the evidence: he simply recorded what he saw. At the time, a New York travel agency was advertising the last opportunity to go and visit the remaining bomb sites. Darchinger"s pictures, in color and black-and-white, show a country in a fever of reconstruction. The economic boom was so incredible that the whole world spoke of an "economic miracle." The people who achieved it, in contrast, look down-to-earth, unassuming, conscientious, and diligent. And increasingly, they look like strangers in the world they have created.
The photographs portray a country caught between the opposite poles of technological modernism and cultural restoration, between affluence and penury, between German Gemu"tlichkeit and the constant threat of the Cold War. They show the winners and losers of the "economic miracle," people from all social classes, at home, at work, in their very limited free time and as consumers. But they also show a country that looks, in retrospect, like a film from the middle of the last century. Of his color photographs, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote, "they are exceptional contemporary documents indicating how swiftly the grayness of everyday life became infused
with color again."
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About the photographer:
Josef Heinrich Darchinger started working as a freelance photojournalist in 1952. Darchinger’s photographs began to regularly appear in reputable German print media starting in the mid-1960s. In his years as a photographer for Der Spiegel and Die Zeit, Darchinger had a formative influence on the magazines’ national news coverage of Bonn. He also presented his work at exhibitions and in collections of photographic portraits—for instance of Helmut Schmidt, Willy Brandt, Richard von Weizsa"cker, or Heinrich Bo"ll. Darchinger received numerous awards, among which was the prestigious Dr. Erich Salomon Award from the German Photographic Association.
About the author:
Klaus Honnef is honorary professor of photography theory at the Kassel Art Academy. He was one of the organizers of documenta 5 and documenta 6 in Kassel, and has been the curator of more than 500 exhibitions in Germany and abroad. He has written numerous books, including TASCHEN’s Contemporary Art (1988), Andy Warhol (1989), and Pop Art (2004).
About the editor:
In 1977, Frank Darchinger began his career as a photojournalist, while also assisting his father, Josef Heinrich Darchinger, with the classifying and updating of his legendarily vast and efficient photographic archive. It was through his endeavors that his father"s work has become accessible to the general public. Today Frank Darchinger works as a freelance photographer in Bonn.