Photographer Helga Paris, Who Captured Life in East Berlin, Dies at 85

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Helga Paris’s work is from a different era. She photographed East Berlin after WWII when German papers preferred to show photos of a happier reality instead of what was really there. Helga opposed this trend and deliberately worked to capture what life was really like in Berlin at the time. Now, Helga leaves us at the age of 85, so out of respect to the veteran photographer, let’s look back on her work and who she was.

Who was Helga Paris

Helga Paris was born on May 21, 1938, in Gollnow, a small town (at the time) in northern Germany. World War Two would start only a year later, changing the course of her life. Helga had to flee with her mother and sister while her father and brothers were still away from home. She would find herself later living in Zossen, a small town near Berlin. There, she was raised by a community of mostly women, many of whom were workers. This was also when her aunts, who were photographers themselves, first introduced her to photography.

However, Helga did not immediately pursue a photography career. Instead, she studied fashion design in Berlin until 1960. After that, she worked as a commercial graphic designer and later as a costume designer in Berlin. Only after graduating did she begin to use her 6×6 Flexaret camera. She did not start her professional photography career until 1967. And it wasn’t until after the German reunification that her work gained traction.

Everyday life in East Berlin after the war

Most of Helga’s work is about showcasing Berlin as it was at the time, with the two main themes being the old buildings and the working women of East Berlin. She had the goal to capture everything as naturally as possible.

“I’ve always been drawn to the every day, the unspectacular,” Helga writes. “But I didn’t photograph it clinically, aseptically; rather, I tried to reproduce it as realistically and as hauntingly as possible.”

” This means that when I photographed women in factories or people on the street, I had to create a certain level of trust in a very short amount of time to bring the people to a state of inner peace where they could meet my gaze with a certain degree of self-confidence. In this peace, every face is an experience; in particular, the rather unremarkable, unattractive ones gain an unforeseen beauty.… My subjects are people. The need to document everyday life in photographs developed out of necessity. In East Germany, only favorable photographs were shown in the papers and to the public—ideally of the happiest people possible. Real life was hardly ever documented”.

In conclusion

The work of Helga Paris is an invaluable piece of German history that will remain important for many years to come. Her work shows the significance of capturing life as it is and is a great example of how one’s work can continue to hold importance for future generations.

We have lost many talented individuals this year, including fashion photographer Hans Feurer and portrait photographer Brian Griffin. However, we should continue to remember their work and allow it to teach and inspire us for years to come.

[via Petapixel]

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