Christian Borchert

Glimpses of Private Life

Everyday life has always been a popular motif in documentary photography. However unspectacular the images may often seem at first, many turn out to be insightful testimonies to a certain era. One such example is Christian Borchert’s “Family Portraits”, an extensive series of photographs that tell us more about family life in East Germany than is immediately obvious. The first pictures were taken between 1983 and 1985 as illustrations for a sociological book about families in the former German Democratic Republic. As Borchert had long been interested in portraying people, he gladly accepted the commission, and even continued the series after the book had been published.

He decided to portray the families he selected in their homes, leaving it up to them how and where they wanted to position themselves for the photo. But he always set up the camera so that the families’ living space was included in the frame and therefore part of the portrait. While some families chose to stand in front of bookshelves covering the entire wall, or formed a group around the grand piano, others opted for the colourful wallpaper in the living room or the kitchen stove as a background. However, the variety of compositions is not reflected in the idea of family that Borchert conveys, which is classical, comprising mother, father and children.

In his wide-ranging project, Borchert combines the aesthetics of a documentary with the approach of a sociological study. The names of the 130 or so families in his photographs are not mentioned, but their occupations are. They include locksmiths, bricklayers and butchers, as well as actors, doctors and scientists. The latter were personal acquaintances of Borchert’s, and also part of East German society, despite the efforts of the regime to propagate the image of a “workers’ and peasants’ state”. By listing the professions of all protagonists in his photos, Borchert also highlights that, unlike in the western part of the country, women in East Germany were equally represented in all lines of work in the 1980s.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Borchert looked back at his photographic work that was inextricably linked with everyday life in East Germany, and wondered how his subjects’ lives might have changed. What impact had the wide-ranging political and social upheavals had on them? To find out, he decided to return to the project, which had in fact already been completed, and photographed more than 80 of the families a second time between 1993 and 1994. Looking at these later portraits, only few differences are discernible – apart from the hairstyles and new additions to the family. Rather, they show that private life and the community of the family are spheres of continuity.

Biographical information

1942

born in Dresden, Germany

1960 to 1963

studies copy machine technology at the engineering school for film technology in Potsdam-Babelsberg

from 1970 on

worked as a photo reporter for the “Neue Berliner Illustrierte” for five years

1971 to 1974

completed a distance learning course in photography at the “Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst“ in Leipzig

from 1975 on

works as a freelance photographer

2000

dies in Berlin, Germany