BY MICHELLE MEDENBLIK
My photos for ZONE are based on extensive research, interviews, and numerous visits to the former Stasi Headquarters, the former Stasi prison, and the former Stasi prison hospital. I also had the privilege of obtaining permission from the Hohenschönhausen Memorial Center to photograph sections that are closed to the public such as the prison hospital and control rooms.
“If you didn’t have any political involvement, any professional aspiration, or any concern for the human aspect, and all you wanted was to go to work and have a secure life, you could easily be content“. Taxi Driver, Berlin, 2014
This statement made by a former GDR citizen points to the human tendency that if we can feel comfortable in our environment, we may consent to any ideology. By focusing on authentic interiors, patterns and design, I aim to create a comfort zone for the viewer, which is achieved through a sense of familiarity and nostalgia, a comfort zone whose aesthetic design I deliberately accentuate to create an incongruence between image and ideology. My images emphasize the mundane and the ordinary, placing the oppressors on their home turf, but placing the viewer between a comfort and a discomfort zone. Simple compositions, objects, and vivid colors play up the conflict within the subject matter as if to say: dictatorships don’t have a face, but a facade, a facade well fitted to the Zeitgeist, and in contradiction to what it claims to stand for.
“When the files were opened, people found out that there were thick files on their lives: where they went, who they talked to, what they did day after day. They also found out who had told on them: which neighbor, colleague, family member, or spouse. Horrible stories came out. I don’t want to see if there is a file on me. Maybe when I’m old and I’ll want to be reminded of what I did when I was young”. Street Artist, Berlin, 2014
Accompanying the images are quotes from conversations and interviews I held with former political prisoners, former GDR citizens, and employees of the prison memorial. These quotes are crucial in my aim to give a voice to those who lived under tyranny, and to bring forth the many facets of the aftermath. Although their contribution is significant, their identity remains anonymous, so that their words can be heard as those of many.
“I was sitting at a cafe with a friend of mine having coffee. He said he had to go to the bathroom and left. The Stasi arrested me while I was waiting for him. That’s when I found out my friend was a Stasi informant.” Journalist, Berlin, 2014
Capturing the carefully preserved remains of the Cold War provides an intimate glimpse into the Modern Architecture of State Control, as well as into what life becomes for part of the Germans as the enemy took on a new guise.