It seems increasingly clear that the reputation of the late German photographer Michael Schmidt will rest on the three photo books that form his “Berlin trilogy:” Waffenruhe (1987), Ein-Heit (1996), and Berlin nach 45 (2005). These projects are linked by Schmidt's obsessive fidelity to Berlin and its history. Rather than offer a vision of German history through the representation of experience or through cognitive reconstruction—the strategies that structure Waffenruhe and Ein-Heit —Schmidt in Berlin nach 45 offers a vision of Berlin's history that is suggestively metaphorical. The overarching figure is that of theatricality: in a remarkable number of images, the viewer looks across a vast open stage—the great swaths of devastation left not just by the building of the Berlin Wall, but by battles, bombings, and capitalist neglect—toward a proscenium at the rear, a proscenium provided by Berlin's built environment. The viewer looks at the ruined landscapes not just from the great physical distance, but as if from a great historical distance, as if these were the ruins of a lost and perhaps irrecoverable world. This theatricality, and the affective constitution of the spectator that accompanies it, is complicated, however, by a second metaphorical system: that of the camera aperture. Many of the images in Berlin nach 45 are structured around the representation of a rectangular opening made up of the edges of buildings and fences; reading this opening as the aperture suggests that viewer and viewed alike exist within a photographic apparatus. Through excurses on William Henry Fox Talbot and Walter Benjamin, the essay explores the status and effects of this “aperture character of viewing” and its primary effect of complicity with the events that have shaped the represented space.

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