Michael Schmidt occupies a unique position in contemporary German photography. Born in Berlin, he found photography as an artistic means of expression as an autodidact in the mid-1960s. For each subject he has developed an individual photographic approach to reality.
The retrospective at Hamburger Bahnhof presented his entire life’s work for the first time. It was the photographer’s first survey exhibition in his home city in 25 years.
Michael Schmidt initially photographed exclusively in Berlin. Here, in the early 1970s, he produced commissioned works for district offices and the Senate on districts such as Kreuzberg and Wedding or on social issues. The book and exhibition project Waffenruhe (Truce), a visually powerful psychogram of the then divided city, which was first shown in Berlin in 1987, also made Michael Schmidt internationally known. He broke away from the concentration on the motif world of his hometown with the group of works Einheit, which refers to the reunification process of Germany and was presented to the public for the first time in 1996 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Michael Schmidt’s work includes portraits, self-portraits, cityscapes, landscapes and still lifes. In his works, he has devoted himself to the significance of urban space, the continuing relevance of history, the self-portrait, the self-image of women, the role of the province and the significance of nature. In his last project, he thematised contemporary food production.
The retrospective showed groups of works with original prints as well as working prints, book drafts and archive materials. As far as possible, the exhibition adopted the forms of presentation Michael Schmidt had developed and tested himself. Due to the photographic examination of reality that he constantly developed further and the various publication formats, his work has a model character.
In addition to the individual tribute to his work, which is considered one of the most important pillars of photography within 20th century German art history, the retrospective also took an exemplary look at the development of photography as a form of artistic expression since the 1970s.
The retrospective took place as a special exhibition of the National Gallery of the National Museums in Berlin in cooperation with the Foundation for Photography and Media Art and the Michael Schmidt Archive.