Berlin – Quiet City

In his photographs Juergen Pollak coins surprisingly new interpretations of Berlin. Pollak’s photographs are the contemporary progression of a long tradition of night shots of Berlin dating back notably to the 1920s. This era saw the beginning of large-scale illumination of cities at night using artificial light and neon signs. The famous “Berlin in Lights” campaign run by the electrical and power industry, which saw the city aglow with artificial light for a week in 1928 and was also recorded in photographs, was a brilliant prelude. The photographs documenting this event were shot in black & white in line with the prevailing standards at that time. They bear out the still widespread yet false assumption that “all cats are grey at night”, meaning that colours and details are indistinguishable in the dark. Pollak’s shots in this collection produce evidence to the contrary in that the digital technology today precisely records all the shades and nuances in the temperature of the light. As such, the observer is led to see what the senses suppress: the night in the city is not grey but colourful, and each of the lights has its own unique tonal quality with which it colours in its surroundings. The artificial light with its intense colours draws out the special fascination of the shots, hovering as they do between literal chronicling and artistic effect, between day and night, and between fantasy and reality. Like his predecessors Pollak exploits the aesthetic potential of night photography, which consists in reducing and harmonising the subjects by darkening the surroundings. The buildings unravel their own unique beauty through thier colouring. Pollak generates the strong aesthetic vibrancy of his photographs through his colour compositions and angles of vision rather than by restricting himself to the pure, aesthetic shapes of the architecture. In his views of the city he integrates the banal everyday things often regarded as unsightly and objectionable, such as wide roads, public facilities, advertising hoardings, fencing and cranes. This approach depicts things in a highly contemporary way overall, discarding any airbrushing and touch-up techniques, and the observer sees that the allegedly commonplace things can contribute to the attraction and uniqueness of this city. The vitality of Berlin, a city in a constant state of change and flux – sometimes strident, sometimes classical, sometimes pale, sometimes resplendent – finds contemporary expression in these photographs.