Alan Luft’s photographs of Berliners speak for themselves; the subjects appear without names or titles.
Rainy, dark Vienna streets in The Third Man, the shadows of Double Indemnity and the carnival of criminals in The Maltese Falcon — these are film noir at its best.
Alan Luft taps into this impressionist style with his new book, Photographic Portraits Berlin. The Edgewood College art professor, whose work will be displayed at the school’s gallery April 21 through May 21, calls his street photos “film stills,” after images usually taken on motion picture sets.
Luft has been visiting Berlin since 1985, when he was 25, and has captured more than 15,000 images of Berliners in their homes, workplaces and on the streets. He meets his subjects through word-of-mouth connections and by chance, walking the city with his heavy studio camera.
Photographic Portraits Berlin was released in October by Kehrer Verlag, a German publisher that specializes in photography, fine arts and culture. Whether in a book or on a wall, the lush photographs are stark in presentation: no titles, anonymous subjects. His photos are meant to speak for themselves, and they do, in the spectrum of grays. They are alternately gritty, smoothly sensual, charming and disturbing. Also, they are frequently symbolic. Here are the young, the old, the natty rich and proud poor, lovingly captured on real film negatives (digitized for the book, but silver gelatin prints otherwise).
Luft has captured more than 15,000 images of the city’s diverse occupants.
Luft has a complex relationship with Berlin and Germany that informs his work. He’s the great-grandson of German immigrants who settled in rural Fredonia, in Ozaukee County, and his book’s strongest images are the introductory photos of father and home.
“In many ways my family never fully assimilated to the American Experience,” he writes, early in the book. For example, his family spoke German in their home, and he and his siblings were encouraged to marry German Protestants.
World War II, Berlin’s beauty vs. bombed ruins, the tourist’s sense of belonging and yet not — these all figure into his relationship to city, self and image.
Photographic Portraits Berlin may be ordered direct from its publisher, at kehrerverlag.com.