Hildegard Ochse

Hildegard Römer um 1956 | Foto anonym © Hildegard Ochse

Hildegard Römer around 1957 | Photo anonymous
© Hildegard Ochse Estate





They will permanently change the image of German photographic history. … in Berlin, the American photographers hang next to the German ones, i.e. William Eggleston, Larry Clark, Stephen Shore or Diane Arbus next to Michael Schmidt, Ulrich Görlich or Hildegard Ochse. Thierry Chervel, 2016

Hildegard Ochse first began to work autodidactically in 1975, later in the »Workshop for Photography« in Berlin-Kreuzberg founded by Michael Schmidt. There she took lessons from Ulrich Görlich as well as Wilmar Koenig and until 1981 various workshops from Lewis Baltz, John Gossage, Larry Fink and André Gelpke. As early as 1978, Hildegard Ochse began teaching photography at the Landesbildstelle and at the Pädagogische Hochschule Berlin. From 1981 she worked as a freelance photographer in Berlin.

After establishing herself as an author-photographer, Hildegard Ochse took photographs in 1983 on the S-Bahn lines located in West Berlin. In the series, she was concerned with the varying degrees of perceptual capacity of optical impressions. Syncopated accents are set and repetitions are made. »The contradictions in the way of seeing correspond«, as Hildegard Ochse felt, »to the contradictions of this city and the feeling of hate – love I have for it«. This was followed by her work on the subject of zoological gardens, for which she had been inspired by an essay by John Berger together with zoo observations by Theodor W. Adorno. Her zoo pictures, taken in Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, Munich, Milan and other European locations, thematise the unnatural confinement of exotic animals. Following the two authors, she saw this as a form of modern colonial power. Contradicting her idea of freedom, any form of isolation or confinement would inevitably lead to numbness and lethargy – ultimately to indifference.

A specifically Berlin work followed a series made possible by the artist sponsorship of the State Office for Central Social Tasks, in which she portrayed the city’s civil servants Hildegard Ochse pursued the question of what the German civil servant looks like and how he sees himself, taking as her model the portraits of politicians by Erich Salomon as well as the portraits of August Sander, but also the work pictures of Lee Friedlander published shortly before. The proverbial reliability, orderliness and cleanliness of the German civil servant remained an open question, but not the zeitgeist inscribed in the photographs. Just as people were literally in the foreground for her, the series she subsequently photographed at the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur (KPM) was primarily concerned with the aspect of handicrafts that was fundamental to porcelain production. She focused on the individual faces of the women and men in connection with the manual skills they practised. Freely after Dr. Enno Kaufhold, 2012