Michael Schmidt (1945–2014) was one of the leading German photographers to emerge after the Second World War. In the 1960s and 1970s he primarily focused on his immediate surroundings in West Berlin, in the districts of Kreuzberg and Wedding. The photographs shown in the exhibition – capturing newly constructed buildings, wastelands and gap sites – avoid traditional black-and-white aesthetics, which Schmidt dismissed as thinking in opposites. As he himself put it: ‘To my mind grey is actually a colour. I first arrived at this notion of grey in 1976 when I was working on my Berlin-Wedding series. It was a wholly deliberate step, pushing the pictures even further into immeasurable grey, to the point where black and white really no longer feature at all.’ His greys give visible form to a state of mind. This intensification of reality is not apparent in a single image; it needs a whole series to fully come into its own. 


Michael Schmidt, a self-taught photographer, became the trailblazer for a new documentary style and in 1976 founded the Workshop for Photography at the Kreuzberg adult education centre. The workshop put on photography courses and exhibitions and invited artists such as Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Lewis Baltz and William Eggleston, all photographers who later became widely renowned. Schmidt himself gained international recognition for his series Waffenruhe (Ceasefire, 1987). This cycle, with its atmos­pheric close-ups, portraits and many fragments of the Berlin Wall, marked a departure from Schmidt’s preferred method up to that point, with the photographer now presenting his own subjective view of the palpable ideological shift and changing attitudes to life displayed by the younger generation. Part of this series is on display in the exhibition as a wall installation. The colour grey, previously objective and tough, now takes on an absolute quality, which ‘radiates perversely’, as Lewis Baltz put it. Waffenruhe, in Baltz’s view, has such intensity that it changes the world it records. Michael Schmidt regarded this series as the conclusion to his engagement with this kind of photography, confirming that he could only sustain his own, fundamental stance through constant change – a stance and worldview that was formulated as a question, that accepts uncertainty as a way of life and is expressed in Schmidt’s differentiations of the colour grey.