Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Keine Experimente by Dirk Alvermann

The name of the photographer Dirk Alvermann has only been familiar to me for about a year. Surprised by the photographs, design and layout of his book L'Algerie - his account of the Algerian war for independence published in 1960 - he is definitely worth knowing although it isn't easy to find the books nor information on him. While in Paris I found his second book Keine Experimente published in 1961.

Keine Experimente: Pictures of Basic Law is a book about the general attitude of the West German population towards the changes brought about in West Germany with the election of the CDU party. Konrad Adenauer, the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany ushered in an era of rapid economic growth for post-war Germany that was essentially a free-market economy that spurred upwards of 8 percent growth per year. Adenauer's "Keine Experimente" (No Experiments) slogan symbolized a more practical approach to politics for people who had just years prior experienced the ideologies and economic upheavals of the war period. Although living standards did improve for most Germans, it was a policy that would have a similar effect to "trickle-down" economics of Reagan in the United States where large gaps between the rich and poor would be created and where wages for workers stagnated.

Alvermann's photographs made between 1956 and 1961 are juxtaposed against the first 9 articles of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany and in part acts as a critique of the consumerism and the attitudes that the free-market brought. The book opens with a page spread of a crowd locked behind a gate reminiscent of a concentration camp. A reminder of a difficult history that many of the population wished to disappear -- something the new economic policies made easier. When the gates open into this new society we are faced with billboards offering the Ten Commandments and bottles of Coca-Cola. The faces of the workers on the following spread seem confused and uncertain.

Much of the work is festive in tenor with many images of carnivals and gaiety. Brass bands and parades of uniformed soldiers march announcing the new era in stark contrast to an attitude of reducing militarism. When he shows similar scenes of workers shuffling along, their lack of energy and despondence is a point of focus.

Alvermann's design and image juxtaposition is full of experiment. He clips and crops images into graphics to make his point. He reminds readers of the Nazi past while the people in the images seem to be more willing to turn away. He focusses on the young children playing in the streets, the young generation which will return to confront the past with more introspection than any since. In many images Alvermann seems to be passing the torch to them, reminding us that they will be the ones to suffer for the populace's will to turn from its history. In one telling image Alvermann photographs a child aiming his toy gun at his own head in mock suicide while a line of saints in a store window stand over him.

Keine Experimente's construction and, again, Alvermann's use of design is most effective. Like with his book on Algeria, he creates a kind of photojournalist's Klein's New York utilizing slivers of photos and graphic pairings that are visually exciting creating new meanings from disparate images -- a kind of assemblage of history and commentary.

Keine Experimente is a pocket-sized book with glossy illustrated hardcovers and is not much larger than a common novel. The printing is on rather cheap paper but the low-fi production is very seductive and adds a gritty edge to a supposed bright reality.

Editor's note: I really need a copy of Dirk Alvermann's Algeria book. If I have a reader out there that has more than one copy and would be willing to sell it to me, please contact me through the Errata Editions website. www.errataeditions.com. Surely someone out there can help me out.