Review: Berlin, Fruchtstraße am 27. März 1952/on March 27, 1952

Fruchtstr_4
Berlin, Fruchtstrasse on March 27, 1952

On March 27, 1952, commissioned by municipal authorities, Fritz Tiedemann set out to photograph Berlin’s Fruchtstraße, between Ostbahnhof and Stalinallee (now Karl-Marx-Allee). Employing two assistants holding long measuring rods, Tiedemann set up his large-format camera at 32 spots along the street’s length, to produce a record of what the buildings looked like. Decades later, Arwed Messmer digitally combined the individual photographs to produce, essentially, Every Building on Fruchtstraße or, to use the matter-of-fact official German title, Berlin, Fruchtstraße am 27. März 1952/on March 27, 1952.

In the day and age of Google Street View or Bing Streetside, such a body of work hardly appears to be relevant. But then, a good look at the book will easily convince all but the most jaded photo enthusiasts that there is quite a bit on view here. For a start, given its original purpose, Fruchtstraße lacks the comparatively speaking sloppy approach of Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip. Where Ruscha’s book concerns itself more with a conceptual approach to photography and art (and photography as art), the photographs that make up Fruchtstraße were made to be studied.

Google Street View essentially offers the same degree of sloppiness, only in digital form. Making something like Fruchtstraße hardly seems worth the effort, given it can be done so easily on anyone’s computer. There is one of the conundrums of today’s world: So many things can be done so easily that hardly anything seems worth the effort any longer. And where someone goes about exploring what can be done with, let’s say, Google Street View, the results, where they are actually noteworthy, are presented with a huge layer of conceptualization and/or theorizing added, which, however, for the most part is not actually contained in the work.

Maybe this is what makes Fruchtstraße so interesting: The original photographs required a rigour in approach that has become a bit rare these days. To that Arwed Messmer and writer Annett Gröschner added just the right amount of extra work and effort – the book presents part of the raw materials, panoramas (in the form of gatefolds), and details, all of which can be studied or merely enjoyed in different ways. Here then is just one street in Berlin, seven years after World War 2, the buildings re-purposed and/or still destroyed, a unique time capsule that points at the larger picture and that shows what photography can do when it is at its documentary best. Added bonus: publisher Hatje Cantz brought the best of what photobook publishing can do to the work.

Highly recommended.

Berlin, Fruchtstraße am 27. März 1952/on March 27, 1952; photographs by Fritz Tiedemann, digitally processed and combined by Arwed Messmer; (German/English) writing by Annett Gröschner, Florian Ebner, Uwe Tiedemann; 142 pages; 8 gatefolds; Hatje Cantz; 2012