David Watts, Jr.

Photographer-Filmmaker

 
 

     Born in Münster, Germany, December 27, 1939, Ms. Klemm grew up in Karlsruhe where her father, a painter, was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts. She moved to Frankfurt in 1959 and began working as a staff photographer for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), and where she would remain until her retirement in 2004.

     Her career has been one of covering momentous events of historical significance - 1969 student riots in Frankfurt and, the same year, the tenth anniversary of the revolution in Cuba; novelist Heinrich Böll amidst protesters against the deployment of medium-range missiles in Germany in 1983; in Lisbon in 1975 for the first elections following the Portuguese revolution; and at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989 as the Berlin Wall came down, to name just a few. She has also photographed numerous celebrities: Alfred Hitchcock promoting his film Frenzy in 1972 at Frankfurt central station, conductor Claudio Abbado, composer György Ligeti, Simon Rattle, film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Andy Warhol, singer Tom Waits, and Mick Jagger, among many others. Despite those monumental subjects, Ms. Klemm has always found a particular interest in covering ordinary people all over the world, including village people in the Ukraine, Buddhist monks in Mongolia, market women in Ingushetia, street msuicians in Chicago, and orthodox Jews in Jerusalem.

        Unlike most photojournalists, Barbara Klemm never switched to digital photography. Throughout, she has used black-and-white film, has never employed a flash, as can be clearly seen in her nighttime work, and she looked for single photographs that told the story rather than building a series of shots. She has always preferred wider compositions to close ones, saying in a 2013 article in The Economist, “I tired to make myself invisible. I have to leave the other one the air he or she needs to feel good.”

     She has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards over her career, including the Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts in 2010. In 1989, she received the Dr. Erich Salomon Prize, named for the pioneering German photojournalist, which is a lifetime achievement award given by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie. She is the second recipient, after National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry, of the Leica Hall of Fame award (2012). She is a Fellow of the Academy or Arts in Berlin and honorary professor at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences.

Conversation after the symposium before the exhibit opening next door in the Giedrojc Gallery. Photojournalist Barbara Klemm is second from left. Consul General Ralf Horlemann is fifth from left and Professor Benjamin H. D. Buchloh is to the far right.

     I have been familiar with Barbara Klemm’s work for many years, so when the opportunity to attend the symposium and the opening came along, I did not hesitate to say “yes.” A chance to meet and hear one of the great European photojournalists does not come along every day. Who knew if there would be a further opportunity to make a quick portrait?

Surrounded by invited guests in the Giedrojc Gallery, Barbara Klemm listens to remarks and a toast by Professor Charles Maier. Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History at Harvard and former director of CES, and Christoph Mücher, Director of the Goethe Institut Boston.

Barbara Klemm offers a return toast and remarks to the assembled guests.

     At the end of the symposium, I had a pleasant few-minute conversation with Ms. Klemm about the talk, her work, and some of the individual prints in the exhibit (I had had a chance to walk through the gallery before). A very open person, but I wished at that moment that my command of conversational German was better than it was. She readily agreed to my request to make a portrait, but asked that we wait until after the remarks and toasts.

     When the time came, we found the only open spot with prints in the background, given the crowd of guests in the tiny gallery space. Natural lighting, a 50-mm prime lens, and five frames, and we were done. One frame provided the color image at the top and the last frame became the black-and-white portrait.