I'd never been to Berlin before, but I'd seen a few films set there.
Forefront in my mind was 'Wings of Desire', Wim Wender's atmospheric tale
of an angel (literally) falling for a trapeze artist in 1980's Berlin. It
stars Bruno Ganz, Nick Cave and Columbo and it's all shot in the most
gorgeous black and white.
And that's how I thought I was going to shoot Berlin. I mean, this is
surely a monochrome city, right? Battle scarred buildings, grim brutalist
Eastern-bloc architecture, lowering skies, great concrete walls - one
amazing oppressive movie set. That's how my mind imagined it.
Turns out I'm an idiot. Berlin is tremendously colourful. I arrived on the
train from Schoenfeld airport greeted by some beautiful magic hour light. I
figured, "What the hell, let's capture a little colour at least," and set
the camera to Pro-Neg Hi colour film simulation. I never left that setting.
Whenever I confronted a crumbling ruin of a building, a concrete monolith
of a towerblock, it always seemed painted in lovely warm light and splashed
with the most vibrant graffiti. 'Poor but sexy' indeed and as splashed with
colour as a heaping of ketchuppy Currywurst.
With a friend kindly providing crash space and guided tours, for six days I
pounded the streets with the X-Pro1 and the 18mm and 35mm lenses. As ever
the 18mm saw more action. I became entranced by Berlin's transit system.
Each tube and overland station had its own distinct character. The train
and tram lines wove together in the most elegant way. It was a wonderfully
rational system humanised by a occasional grungy, knockabout visual appeal.
Lots of yellows, reds and the omnipresent tags and stickers and scrawls
upon any flat surface going.
I'm ashamed to say that I went to very few museums. I was just addicted to
the street photography. Berlin has a really comfortable, non-judgemental
feel. The people are friendly and the city lets you move at your own pace.
It's far less hectic and maddening than London and there's greater
tolerance towards the strange and the grungy. But you can see the rising
battle between gentrification, the Berlin Wall being a pale shadow of its
past and the renowned artist-squat gallery building Tacheles bought out and
boarded up by developers.
I flew back with enough photos to fill two blog entries. So here's the
first. I processed them all in Lightroom 5 using JPEG's created in camera
and a new filmic preset I created to try and get an alternating Bruce
Davisdson / Stephen Shore feel. I hope you enjoy and if you haven't been to
Berlin, you really owe it to yourself to go there.
We open with the rather nice Eastern-bloc apartment and base of operations
owned by my good friend Pimpin' Paulie. (Name may be fictitious...)
As ever, click images to embiggen...
I'd originally purchased the X-Pro1 due to it having an optical viewfinder,
which few cameras its size possess. However, I have found myself swayed to
the evil side of things with the EVF, which allows you to pre-visualise a
shot. Net result being far more crunchy blacks and much more shadow-play.
It really is a boon in helping you think about how light falls in a scene,
as well as composition.
Coming from a city without any tube or tram action going on, I became
rather giddy at the prospect of shooting street around the many Berlin
stations on offer. Combine that with a very reasonably priced five day
unlimited travel ticket within the city limits and it probably comes as no
surprise that a good chunk of my photography that holiday was done by
hopping on and off trains...
Honestly, it was all I could do not to hum Kraftwerk's 'Trans-Europe
Express' as I tootled around. By the way, for definitive subway photographs
check out Bruce Davidson's book, um, 'Subway'. In bringing you his
photographs he got mugged in the line of duty.
And now back on the streets. Berlin savvy folk may be able to instantly
clock my movements from these photographs, and will find the bulk of these
photos to have been taken in the West. The East, an entirely different
visual prospect, will appear in the follow up. Let's dive back onto the
surface level with a photograph of a sinister clone duo...
A little to the North of the Museum Island, near the Hackeschen Markt
station, you can find an odd mix of the gentrified arty scene and the slum
dilapidated bohemian counter-culture crash pads. Currently with the demise
of Tacheles it looks as if the gentry are winning...
There was a girl blowing bubbles near the station, she was very good. We
got to talking and I did an impromptu photo session with her. And then
proceeded to leave behind a recently bought bag of books as I ran for the
And then it was off to Checkpoint Charlie for obligatory Cold War
tourist-cheese snaps. Disappointingly there were no men walking around with
rolled up copies of the Financial times exchaging black briefcases with
We end this first part with three of my favourite images from the trip, the
last being, perhaps fittingly, a sunset. Next update we'll take in some
grungy East German bohemia and a rich slice of night-shooting. Thank you
for stopping by, and stay classy photo-fans!
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