Thomas Steinert

The Microcosm of Connewitz

The suburb of Connewitz in the south of Leipzig was the hub of the city’s bohemian world in the 1980s. Students and artists occupied empty apartment blocks and old dilapidated buildings that were to be torn down and replaced with prefabricated apartment blocks. But the authorities’ plans to demolish old Connewitz foundered; the freethinkers who wanted to reform socialism stayed − until German history caught up with them. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the East German regime foiled both the state’s demolition plans and the socialists’ dreams of making the world a better place.

Connewitz was also where Thomas Steinert lived. A photographer by profession, for more than 25 years he documented his derelict neighborhood − and with it, quite incidentally, a society in the throes of change. He wanted to record the status quo: “I hoped that perhaps one day, as socialism advanced, people would appreciate being able to use the photos to reflect on crises they had successfully overcome.” Up until the very end, he believed that a reform of the GDR was possible. His images are a portent of the most significant event in recent German history − reunification; something nobody saw coming at the time. He captured the prevailing mood of former East Germany in the last two decades before its demise more subtly than almost anybody else, before 1990 deprived him of his subject matter.

“Connewitzer Welttheater” (Connewitz World Theater) is the title of a book of photographs taken by Thomas Steinert between 1969 and 1994, in which everyday culture and socialism blend, even beyond the Leipzig suburb. The photographs are not political. Nor are they documentary in nature, since some of them are staged. Seen from today’s perspective, they are historic snapshots that seem to be signaling a major change in small gestures. The viewer senses the historical import of the moment: these images by Thomas Steinert were harbingers of the revolution.

Thomas Steinert never bowed to the dictates of authority in the GDR. Ignored by the powers that be and with no private photography market, he could not live from his work. Photography remained a place of refuge for him in a world that spurned his talent at the time, but is rediscovering it today. Thomas Steinert was surprised by this late recognition, but it does not alter his decision in any way. Sitting in a wing chair in his small attic flat in Leipzig, the shy individualist sums up his attitude to the medium: “I have finished with photography.”

Biographical information

1949

born in Burgstädt

1965-1968

smelter worker

1972-1977

studied Photography Arts at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst, Leipzig, Germany

since 1978

freelance photographer

lives and works in Leipzig, Germany.