Book Review: Taking Sides: Berlin and the Wall, 1974 by Sven Martson

Taking Sides: Berlin and the Wall, 1974 contains many serendipitous images and glimpses of what life was like in Berlin in 1974. Martson’s black and white photographs of Berlin and its residents are an artful and skillful documentation of people living their lives on both sides of the Berlin Wall. He also presents an important historic document and intimate view of people living in a politically, and physically, segregated city. We see images of everyday life; children playing, street scenes in a large modern city, people shopping, work, play, boredom, and glimpses of the political elephant in the room – the Wall.

Martson’s images are even more poignant when viewed in the context of how a political viewpoint can divide rather than unify. A collective population of people who are more alike than different can become two polarized populations cast in opposition to the other; groups of people who are separated by imaginary lines drawn with a socio-political pen. In the author’s notes, Martson comments that the wall gave a particularly ugly form to the binary oppositions in human experience. Abstract economic and political ideologies were made real in the form of armed guard towers, land mines, razor-wire fences and an impregnable concrete barrier which divided a city, a country, and perhaps the perceptions of the world.

Martson’s parents were directly impacted by the Soviet occupied Estonia and Germany. “The radically redrawn borders of Germany and much of Europe after World War II forced my parents to flee their Soviet occupied homelands to seek freedom and opportunity in West Germany, and later in the United States,” Martson says. “Although my family has no direct connection to Berlin, I saw its stark division as a reminder and a concentrated symbol of the forces that drove my parents west to become American citizens.”

“In September of 1974, I traveled to West Berlin. It was a bright island of liberty surrounded by a dull gray wall, built not for its protection but to ensure its isolation. Fascinated by such an untenable design, I sought to record in photographs what I might find on either side of that historic divide. I spent a month walking the streets of Berlin taking pictures on either side of the Wall. I was not unbiased in my feelings toward Communist East Germany, yet I tried to avoid making political statements in favor of maintaining a documentary style.”

While I was only four years old in 1974, I can remember with clarity when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. I watched live news coverage of joyous East and West Berlin citizens mingling atop the Wall, or taking turns smashing holes in the wall with sledgehammers. And later, heavy construction equipment pulled sections of the wall apart amidst a barrage of blinding light from thousands of cameras documenting the event. I knew I was watching one of the pivotal points in 20th century history.

We find ourselves at a point in history where leaders are again speaking of walls, which makes Martson’s book even more important. Now photographers have the opportunity to record, document and comment on history potentially repeating itself, in some sense, along the border of Mexico and the United States. Martson comments about current Berlin on his website, and this prompted questions in my mind of how we will look back at the result of a proposed U.S-Mexico border wall. On his site, Martson says, “After more than two decades of German reunification, the almost complete disappearance of the Wall has produced an entirely different Berlin. These photographs are now a historical record: a visual account of opposing ideologies in precarious accommodation.”

Precarious indeed.

Taking Sides: Berlin and the Wall, 1974 by Sven Martson
Published by Lecturis
Language: English/German
ISBN-10: 9462262616

Sven Martson was born in Germany and raised in the United States. He received his BA from Syracuse University in 1970, and subsequent studies led to an interest in documentary style photography. In 1972 he met Walker Evans and worked under his direction, making prints from Evans’ negatives. After Evans’ death, Martson continued to print for the Evans estate.

Martson is an established editorial photographer, and he serves a wide range of independent educational institutions throughout the United States. Over the past thirty years he has traveled extensively, and exhibited in the United States and Europe. He is currently represented by the Kehler Liddell Gallery in New Haven, CT.

To view more work by Sven Martson, please visit his website at To purchase a copy of Taking Sides: Berlin and the Wall, 1974, see the book listing here.

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ANDREW MOISEY @ Kenyon University Gund Gallery, Buchwald-Wright Gallery

January 17-April 18, 2019

“Moisey’s photographs contrast the high-minded constitution of the fraternity with its often underlying violent, misogynistic reality. Moisey writes: “As you turn the pages, you will marvel at the rituals, initiation ceremonies, historic texts, and the candid, often disturbing photographs. You will begin to understand why the college fraternity is not a passing phase, but the historical fountain of leadership for a hubristic, chauvinistic, male pleasure fortress — the modern United States. ”

Kenyon University
Gund Gallery, Buchwald-Wright Gallery
1011/2 College Drive, Ohio 43022

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Gothic Fictions @ Silver Eye Center for Photography

Image Credit: Rory Mulligan, Mike Black Mask, Silver Gelatin Print, 2015

Gothic Fictions
Jan 31 – March 23

“This exhibition features three artists whose work continues a lineage that can be traced from the Gothic stories of writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Flannery O’Connor, to our contemporary cultural fascination with horror and true crime narratives. These photographers explore elements crucial to the Gothic: foreboding and ancient settings, villains who are at once human and mythological, and a sense of overwhelming, creeping, unstoppable fear. Featuring Dylan Hauthsor, Rory Mulligan, and Tereza Zelenkova.”

Silver Eye Center for Photography
4808 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

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Man with Huge Carton on His Back, San Miguel de Allende, 1995

March 6 – April 28

Opening reception with Harvey Stein, March 6, 6-8pm

“Harvey Stein’s fascination with Mexico began when he was a teenager. Compared to the ordinary surroundings of his youth in Pittsburgh, Mexico seemed a mysterious, extraordinary place that was nearby, yet so far away. When he became a professional photographer, Stein knew his photography was the perfect way to immerse himself in Mexico — to partake in ceremonies, meet the people, and express his interest and love of the country. During fourteen trips between 1993 and 2010, he photographed in Mexico, primarily in small towns and villages and mostly during festivals (Day of the Dead, Easter, Independence Day) that highlight the country’s unique relationship with death, myth, ritual and religion.
Mexico Between Life and Death, which published last fall, is the definitive expression of the photographer’s intimate relationship with the people and culture of Mexico.”

460 West Broadway, New York, NY

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CRAZY – Living with mental illness @ F³ – free space for photography

image: Louis Quail

CRAZY – Living with mental illness
works by Laia Abril (Spain), Nora Klein (Germany), Louis Quail (UK), Melissa Spitz (USA) and Phil Toledano (USA)
February 15 – April 21, 2019

Opening: Thursday, February 14, 2019, 19:00

“In its award winning series The Epilogue the Spanish photographer Laia Abril tells the story of Robinson family, who lost her youngest daughter by bulimia. The photographer Nora Klein from Erfurt took with the camera a pass to the topic Depression. Together with concerned they tried to put the disease into images. The Briton Louis Quail shows in its intimate photographic approach Big Brother his brother’s life with schizophrenia. The New York photographer Melissa Spitz dedicated their work You Have Nothing to Worry About the emotional life of their suffering from bipolar disorder mother. Philip Toledano from the US tells us in his very personal project Days with my Father of the last months in the life of his father, who is suffering from dementia.”

F³ – free space for photography
Waldemarstraße 17
10179 Berlin

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SoMa Nights: The Queer Club Photography of Melissa Hawkins @ GLBT Historical Society Museum

Melissa Hawkins, Phatima and MichaelAngelo (undated); used with permission.

SoMa Nights: The Queer Club Photography of Melissa Hawkins
February 15-May 27

opens Friday, February 15

“SoMa Nights: The Queer Club Photography of Melissa Hawkins” focuses on the work of Melissa Hawkins, a young photographer for the San Francisco gay weekly The Sentinel and other publications from 1986 to 1994. Her black-and-white images vividly capture the scene with a combination of frankness and intimacy reflecting her dual roles as journalist and nightlife participant.

GLBT Historical Society Museum
4127 18th St., San Francisco

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Mark Steinmetz @ FOTOHOF

Mark Steinmetz: united states
25 January – 23 March 2019

January 24, 2019, 19:00 Opening of the exhibition
January 25, 2019, 19:00 Mark Steinmetz in an interview with Giulia Zorzi (MiCamera Milan)

“Steinmetz fascinated as an attentive chronicler. His photographs tell so unobtrusively from American life. Scene of most of the pictures is of Dixie, the southern United States, with its sweltering heat, leisurely pace and cobbled together elegance. Curiosity, respect and restraint characterize the encounters that Steinmetz tells us. His pictures tell of a world beyond simple political or social attributions, which adjust an open view of the American society often. Mark Steinmetz described his homeland once as a “half-grown country,” and in this sense get his photographs, often talk about the dilemmas of youth, one behind green more vivid and more complex level than many comparable genre pictures. ”

FOTOHOF / Inge-Morath-Platz 1 -3 / 5020 Salzburg / Austria

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Franck Pourcel @ ZOÈME

© Franck Pourcel – No. 63 and No. 65, Rue d’Aubagne – 2019

Franck Pourcel
January 24 to March 3, 2019

OPENING Thursday, January 24th from 18h

“The exhibition will revolve around the photographic work of Franck Pourcel in 2006-2007 in the district of Noailles, which had resulted in the publication of the book with the sociologist Marie Sengel – De Gre or force – Noailles on time rehabilitation (Editions Little paper, 2007).”

8 rue Vian
13006 Marseille

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Don McCullin @ Hamiltons Gallery

Don McCullin: Proximity
30th January – 26th April 2019

“To coincide with the major retrospective at Tate Britain, Hamiltons will be celebrating Sir Don McCullin’s lifetime achievement by exhibiting rare and unseen vintage prints dating back to the 1950s. Selected from the photographer’s personal archive, they were made shortly after the photographs were first taken on assignments around the world. Intimate and physically modest, the prints provide access to events witnessed and recorded by a photojournalist working on the frontline of multiple, international flashpoints from Vietnam to Cyprus. Largely produced for a photo editor or agency in a pre-digital age, these historic prints have been visibly put to work and bear the physical marks of their use. In these pictures McCullin shares the telling details of a human face or the gestures of a hand. As he earns his subjects’ trust, he communicates their crisis. To comprehend each remarkable scene, the viewer is pulled in tight as if we are standing beside McCullin in proximity to an anxious soldier, a pointed gun or a grieving wife.”

Hamiltons Gallery
13 Carlos Place
London, W1K 2EU

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February 26–July 14, 2019

On view at the Getty for the first time are works by five artists: Robert Kinmont (American, born 1937), Wang Jinsong (Chinese, born 1963), Richard Long (English, born 1945), Mark Ruwedel (American/Canadian, born 1954), and Uta Barth (German, born 1958). These artists draw from a variety of influences, ranging from photography’s documentary tradition to Conceptual Art, a movement that first gained significance during the 1960s for its prioritization of ideas over the production of objects. Operating against conventional notions of landscape photography, each of these artists has developed his or her own approach to site-specific spaces.

J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center

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