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Ciphers of a City. Photographs by Hans Meyer-Veden

19.05.2022 – 12.02.2023

With interventions by Michael Meyborg, mpz film group, and TONA
On its way to the sea, the Elbe meets Hamburg, giving it its special character. Hans Meyer-Veden captured the city on the river in expressive photographs over more than three decades. A flaneur with a camera, on foot in the streets and alleys, on the water and in the marsh, he chose his motifs with a sure photographic eye: architectural ensembles; details of the narrow alleys of Altona and between the office buildings of Speicherstadt; machinery and equipment in the harbor; nature in the city and the countryside; and the ever-changing surface of the Elbe.

Born in Stade in 1931, Meyer-Veden moved to Altona in 1982, where he captured the diverse, morphing urban space in his own visual language until his death in 2018. His photographic explorations gain their tension from the contrast between subjective, finely crafted aesthetics and the attempt to achieve objective representation. In stark contrast to classic street photography, people are conspicuously absent from Meyer-Veden’s work: he did not make the inhabitants of the city the focus of his photographs. He explained this approach as a “radical change in the way photography is used”—a move away from the “aesthetics of a representative moment” toward an “observation directed at the whole—which he felt was necessary when he encountered Hamburg in 1982. His photographs invite us to “look at them with our minds, to read and decipher them.” Meyer-Veden also saw his photographs as an archive of the social processes of an urban society, in which the melancholy of decay becomes a pronounced desire for transformation.

In the context of the Triennial of Photography Hamburg 2022 and its theme of Currency, three interventions complement the exhibition of one hundred hand-printed photos by Meyer-Veden with alternative perspectives that broaden the photographer’s themes and subjects. A group of works by photographer Michael Meyborg documents the life of mainly Turkish-born guest workers in Altona around 1980; the film Terrible Houses in Danger by mpz film group focuses on the Hafenstraße squatters’ protest in 1985; and an installation of works by street artist TONA, created since 1999, invite a contemporary manner of visual engagement with urban society on the river.

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