Ulrich Wüst

Ulrich Wüst, Altlandsberg 1982, 14.1 x 21 cm, Silbergelatineabzug
Ulrich Wüst, Freiberg 1982, 14.1 x 21 cm, Silbergelatineabzug
Ulrich Wüst, Bernau 1982, 14.1 x 21 cm, Silbergelatineabzug
Ulrich Wüst, Magdeburg 1981, 14.1 x 21 cm, Silbergelatineabzug
Ulrich Wüst, Berlin 1982, 14.1 x 21 cm, Silbergelatineabzug
Ulrich Wüst, Gera 1982, 14.1 x 21 cm, Silbergelatineabzug
Ulrich Wüst, Rostock 1982, 14.1 x 21 cm, Silbergelatineabzug
Ulrich Wüst, Warnemünde 1981, 14.1 x 21 cm, Silbergelatineabzug
Ulrich Wüst, Magdeburg 1982, 14.1 x 21 cm, Silbergelatineabzug

An eye for buildings

One of the first things that springs to mind when it comes to architecture in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) is its vast, prefabricated housing estates. With their simple, inexpensive modular construction, they offered space for dozens of families. And indeed, from the 1970s onwards, many new residential areas were built in East Germany with the aim of resolving the immense housing shortage. Yet the problem was not necessarily a lack of places to live, but above all liveable ones – after all, many inner-city streets were lined with empty, derelict houses. Renovating the existing buildings would not only have been expensive and time-consuming, it also went against how the East German regime wanted to present itself – as a modern, progressive state.   

The photographs in Ulrich Wüst’s series “Cityscapes” give some idea of how cities in the GDR actually looked. Taken between 1979 and 1985, they show the country in all its facets: dilapidated town centres, village-like neighbourhoods, cobbled-together sheds, as well as the newly built prefab housing estates. Most of his pictures were taken in passing, but they were always carefully composed: Whenever he was out on an assignment as a freelance photographer, he used the time during breaks or after work to search for motifs. Trained as a city planner, his analytical eye was drawn especially to architectural and geometrical structures. He might see a striking house façade, lanterns or handrails, which he would employ as formal design elements. Much like a stage designer, he used these as well as deliberately applying perspectives and the play of shadows to create a balanced, harmonious composition from whatever was available. Within the space of just a few years, he had produced a large number of these “cityscapes”. Wüst does not show idealised landscapes, but presents a rather sober view of an environment that has been changed by people and industry. The American photographers of the New Topographics movement followed a similar approach when portraying their homeland in the mid-20th century. However, Wüst’s seemingly detached observations do not conceal his discomfort with the impositions of such a living environment.

Ulrich Wüst’s photographs not only chronicle the structural state of the GDR in the 1980s, they also open our eyes to an architectural style that does not at first seem particularly attractive or interesting. Guided by the idea of reproducing his own perception of his environment, he chooses a documentary approach, while at the same time drawing our eye with his compositions to what he considers to be most important – the aesthetic design of the city.

 

Biographical information

1949

born in Magdeburg, Germany

1967 to 1972

studies urban planning at the University of Architecture and Construction in Weimar

until 1977

active as a city planner in Berlin

until 1983

works as an image editor in Berlin

since 1984

works as a freelance photographer

lives in Berlin, Germany