University of Southern California, Los Angeles
E-Mail: segoodrum [at] gmail.com
Photography has the power to reinforce and unseat ideologies and regimes, and the natural reaction of the leadership of a society-under-construction would be to harness this power. My dissertation project considers the particularities and politics of the exhibition of photographs under the Socialist Unity Party (SED) government in the GDR. I consider four aspects of this culture of exhibition—the influence of western exhibitions, such as Edward Steichen’s "Family of Man" at the Museum of Modern Art (1953) on official photography exhibitions connected with such agencies as the FDGB; the creation of a new "history of photography" tailored for the new realities of a socialist society under construction, in this case through the development of a working group for photographic history in the Kulturbund and the development of museum collections; the culture of publishing of both books and magazines related to photography and their status as spaces of exhibition, and the attempts to build a true Museum of Photography for the GDR, beginning with the history of the Museum für Fotografie in Dresden and moving up to the plans being developed within the Kulturbund just before 1989. This museum was never brought into existence, but the debates surrounding its planning are my focus in that case study. I will close my project by considering current understanding of GDR photography as a "brand" and source of numerous exhibitions today, especially in the years around 2009, the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. My project will intervene in the literature by providing the perspective of the cultural leadership—most dominantly the Central Commission for Photography (later the Photography Society)—as well as uniting the study of "art" and "non-art" images. Largely understudied until now, the official culture of photographic exhibition has much to tell us about the history of the GDR, as well as about its connections with the West and with the other socialist land. With a focus on exhibition as a concept and as a practice, this study will seek to understand and orient its argument within the vagaries of the political climate in the GDR, and my overarching claim is that photographs and their exhibition were crucial to the fashioning of socialist society and its subsequent exhibition to the rest of the Soviet-affiliated lands and the West.