Christian von Steffelin (*1963 in Karlsruhe) lives and works in Berlin. 1988-1991: studied graphic design at the Fachhochschule Hanover. 1991–1997: studied visual communication at the Fachhochschule für Gestaltung, Hamburg. 1997: winner, Young Talent Prize for Documentary Photography from the Wüstenrot Foundation. 2005: Kodak Photo Summer Award. Numerous exhibitions, most recently as part of the 24h Berlin. Ein Tag im Leben, at C/O Berlin.

Between documentary photography and the constructivist aesthetic

“Christian von Steffelin approaches architecture with the eye of an archaeologist and historian.” (Manfred Schmalriede)
“I’m interested in the nature of people and things, the image behind the image.”(Christian von Steffelin)

Since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the city has been in a state of transition, and its countenance has altered greatly in the last twenty years. Instead of the old Lehrter train station, a new, multi-story, steel-and-glass train station rises up into the sky; the skyscrapers at the Potsdamer Platz seem to have shot up out of the ground, and what was once the no-man’s-land surrounding the Reichstag is now a band of government buildings stretching from west to east.

Christian von Steffelin is fascinated by the massive changes that occurred in Berlin after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the various stages of the city’s development, especially in east Berlin. Since 1993 the freelance photographer has been documenting the city’s streets, public squares, vacant lots, and abandoned buildings. Over a long period of time, he has caught on film the reconstruction or demolition of old East German buildings, groundbreaking and topping-out ceremonies, and the opening of brand-new buildings.

However, von Steffelin’s pictures are more than just a straightforward inventory of the architectural changes and urban planning that has taken place in Berlin. The photographer is especially interested in the concept of temporality—in particular, as it is manifested in the brief, interim states of individual buildings and urban space. “From my perspective, these documents allow viewers to travel back in time more than a decade; they’re a visual history of disappearance and rejuvenation, of the way that a new era replaces an old one. At the same time, these pictures also pose a certain question: ‘BERLIN?’” (Christian von Steffelin).

Von Steffelin invented a visual vocabulary of his own for all of this, evidenced by his long-term study on the Palast der Republik, which was created between 1994 and 2010, as part of his Berlin portrait series. An imposing edifice formerly used for East German government offices and public events, the palace was closed in 1990. Around that time, asbestos removal began, but the project took several years. In 1996, the photographer managed to gain access to the building, to document the basically intact interiors—the visible traces of what was once a center of power, from Erich Honecker’s office to the Volkskammersaal. Between 2002 and 2008 von Steffelin photographed the gutted skeleton of the building and its structural elements, as it went through various stages of demolishment, until finally, the ruins of the central staircase also fell victim to the bulldozers, leaving only an empty lot behind.

Compositional principles that began manifesting in the 1996 interior photographs are even more distinct in the later photographs. “Through a series of pictures, we follow the process of destruction in chronological order. In contrast, other photographs seem to have no relation to time. The photos of pure structures have an austerity that creates a timeless objectivity—images of a New Objectivity. Or images illusively slicing through space and time.” (Manfred Schmalriede)

September 6, 2010 Anja Breloh

Veröffentlicht am: 06.09.2010