Inge Rambow

Forbidden Paradises

"Wüstungen" (Desertions) is the name Inge Rambow has given to her landscape portraits. Her photographs show chains of hills with pointed peaks, fissured canyons, soft dune-scapes and, a recurrent motif, stretches of water whose shape and color either blend with the surrounding geology, or contrast sharply to it. At first glance, we are struck by their overwhelming beauty. At a second glance, we are no longer so sure. And it is only when we look more closely that we realize that what we had initially found so pleasing was not virgin nature, but industrial wasteland.

In this respect, Inge Rambow’s photographs are puzzles. They offer us various different perspectives and kindle ambivalent emotions. Our pleasure in looking at the pictures threatens to turn abruptly into horror when we suddenly recognize the details: here a rusting iron pipe, there a wrecked car. Not to mention the strangely poisonous color of the water. These are the industrial relics of destruction, literally bringing us back down to (contaminated) earth. And our reason then tells us: what has been destroyed cannot be beautiful.

"Wüstung" is a mining term which means "abandoned deposits". Shortly after the Wall came down, Inge Rambow toured the deserted open-cast lignite mines in Saxony and Brandenburg. Back in the days of the communist regime, it had been forbidden to take photographs there. At the beginning of the 1990s, hardly anyone took any notice of these old regulations. And anyway people saw her large Deardoff plate-backed camera as a form of authority, assuming that anyone with such a striking camera must logically have received permission to take photographs.

In 1993, the photographs went on show in the German History Museum in Berlin. At the time, a large number of Eastern German visitors misunderstood the pictures, seeing them as "ideological photos", ostentatious documents of the environmental havoc caused under the East German regime. But Inge Rambow counters: "It is not the photos but the landscapes that are ideological, for they arose as a consequence of the economic constraints of open-cast mining." Over and above any political discourse, Inge Rambow sees her "desertions" above all as heroic landscapes, as "visible witnesses to the immense amount of work invested. They thus exhibit a strange dignity of their own."

Biographical information

1940

born in Marienburg
Studies at Werkkunstschule Kassel

1979-91

works as a photographer for the theatre in Franfkurt (Städtische Bühnen)

Since 1991

works as a freelance photographer

lives and works in Frankfurt