Photographer Joachim Schumacher: a chronicler of the Ruhr landscape
Joachim Schumacher is one of the most renowned Ruhr photographers. The photo journalist has documented the developments of our cities for decades, honing our perspective for their unique aesthetics. His latest exhibition titled „landscape“ (sic!) consists of works from several creative periods. He is among the few people who have invented the special view on the seemingly ugly Ruhr, eliminating romance and documenting blunt reality in a matter-of-fact style.
At the beginning of the 70s, Joachim Schumacher, born 1950 in Saarbrücken, studied photo journalism and documentary photography with Professor Otto Steinert at the Folkwang academy. In his early days, Schumacher used a 35 mm camera, later, he worked with medium format films. As opposed to many of his peers, he has stayed in the Ruhr, observing how our cities, and later our awareness changed – or was it vice versa?
„In the 70s, there were some first tries to renaturalise the industrial wastelands. Industrial monuments as we know them today were unheard of. The factories/mines were either still operational or scheduled to be demolished. At that time, nobody thought of presenting cultural events on the premises of a pit.“ Instead, Schumacher photographed intersections and department store facades, developing his own landscape concept, „no longer romantic, but urban. The cityscapes I came across were man-made, allowing conclusions regarding society.“
Non-locations and transit rooms
Rarely, his early works featured “romantic” themes such as a typical blue collar colony with washing lines in the backyard. Schumacher distanced himself more and more from romanticising, turning towards reality. With the detailed image of rooms without any function in the middle of a city, never entered by man, with his „transit rooms“, a maze of tracks, turning lanes, light and power poles, he hints at contemporary American photographers, for example Lee Friedlander.
Schumacher and the "New Topographic Movement"
After Schumacher had left his home area Saarland and arrived in the Ruhr, he was impressed by the huge mining waste tips: „You could look until horizon level, noticing that simply nothing here is natural.“ The Ruhr photographer Schumacher, fascinated by an industrial landscape which is completely man-made , can be considered close to and related to the „New Topographic Movement“, a photography school in the USA popular in the mid-70s, dedicated to man-made landscapes. To position Schumacher in this context after all is a feat this exhibition masters.
The early environmental awareness of the 70s, the critical discussion regarding the harm caused to the landscape, the preoccupation with the landscape concept in painting of the Renaissance era, in which a human claim to power over areas was postulated for the first time – you can have wonderful philosophical conversations with Schumacher. „As photo journalists, we were political, we wanted to convey contents, fought against the „ivory tower“ photography.“ Until today, he has maintained this political dimension with his photography: „I aim for richness of detail, that’s why I use large-format cameras. I don’t like artificial scrim diffusers or artificial grain; even during my student days, I didn’t want photography to look like painting because hat is an arts and crafts approach.“
Schumacher and iPhone photography
Sophisticated words from someone who could as well be a Becher disciple – no surprise he is sceptical regarding the discussion about the new aesthetics of the iPhone photography initiated here on 2010LAB.tv: „I notice how photography changes, and I also see photographers seriously dealing with that. Filming with your mobile phone also revolutionises journalism. But as far as I’m concerned – I already have trouble converting a colour photo into a black-and-white one. I come from a tradition where digital photography was also dismissed – I still use an analogue camera for documentary photographs. I see artists with their camera obscura, I see Lomo and Polaroid artists, I see iPhone photographers. All this will enrich photography, but not basically revolutionise it.“
photos at the bottom: Peter Erik Hillenbach