Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Joachim Brohm: Ruhr Landscapes, 1981-83
In 2006, the Museum Ludwig acquired eleven works from the series Ruhrlandschaften (Ruhr Landscapes) by Joachim Brohm (*1955) from between 1981 and 1983. Starting on June 27, 2020, the Museum Ludwig will present these photographs in the Photography Room. These photographs offer a special look at this time of change in the Ruhr. The economic crisis and a wide-ranging structural change triggered by the decline of heavy industry left their mark on society as well as the industrial landscape. Brohm’s color photographs differ markedly from the many photographs of the Ruhr that were taken at the same time, which mapped the region, its people, and everyday life in photography. Often taken from a great distance, they show a broad view of an abandoned landscape in which the details become significant. This also includes the fact that people settled in the formerly industrial landscapes which were now used for new purposes.

For example, the photograph Essen 1982 shows a peaceful winter landscape. Ice skaters have gathered on a frozen lake and are enjoying the cold winter day. They are scattered haphazardly across the expansive landscape. From the elevated viewpoint they appear miniature. The frozen lake seems to straddle nature and culture in a no man’s land between the expanding cities. The photograph Bochum 1983 also shows such an intermediate state. Here, too, we see the entire scene from an elevated perspective, from people in swimsuits tending barbecues to tents and colorful parked cars. The people have taken over the landscape. Everywhere traces of their activity are evident. A ditch has been dug, dirt has been piled up, and new trees have been planted along the Ruhr, which has been straightened and stabilized with a concrete bed. Brohm presents this intermediate state between nature and culture with such specificity that the indeterminate nature of the landscape opens up a new imaginary space. Areas without history and anonymous places are spread out in his expansive landscape photographs—open and waiting for a new use. In this way, the photograph Essen 1982 with the skaters on the frozen lake makes the serenity of a place that has not been shaped by economic forces visible, giving Brohm’s winter landscape a strangely heavenly appearance.

Brohm, who studied visual communications at the Folkwangschule in Essen from 1977 to 1983, saw these subjects as a documentation of “the combination of leisure offerings and the leisure industry.” He was inspired by the new American documentary photography, which no longer depicted heroic cities or sublime natural landscapes, but gas stations, parking lots, suburban neighborhoods, motels, and business parks in a natural landscape changed by human beings. The series Ruhr Landscapes is an early example of Brohm’s independent photographic position, with which he opens up a new view of the region beyond the widespread stereotypical depictions of the Ruhr.
Curator: Barbara Engelbach, Text: Museum Ludwig

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