• „Plastische Schwingung IV“

Peter Keetman
Life and Work

What photography reveals to me are laws and beauty. The deeper I dive into the matter, the bigger worlds open up.

 Peter Keetman 1951

The work of Peter Keetman (1916-2005) occupies a central place in post-war German photographic modernism. As the title of the 2016 retrospective Gestaltete Welt expresses, it brings together two central currents. On the one hand, the modernist will to form, to design, to experiment and to abstraction; on the other hand, a humanistic reference to the world and a turn to reconstruction, to the city, to nature, right down to its elementary building blocks. Two currents that flow smoothly into one another in Keetman's work.

Inseparably linked to Keetman's photography and biography, however, are German history and the Second World War, from which Keetman returned as an invalid.

At the end of the 1940s, Keetman was one of the young savages of the fotoform group, who, inspired by the experiments of the pre-war avant-gardes, wanted to develop a new language of photography based on formal reduction, the creative power of light and the subjectivity of individual experience of the world. Together with Otto Steinert and the other members of fotoform, Peter Keetman stands for the awakening of photography.

Peter Keetman escapes all formalism by working in many fields of photography – capturing the reconstruction of Munich, working out the hidden structures of landscape and natural phenomena, discovering the reflection of the greater whole in the smallest details and translating the dynamics of the economic miracle into abstract images. Particularly noteworthy are his series at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg in 1953 and his "Schwingungen" – Keetman's magnificent signature in the history book of experimental photography. But the exciting intertwining of free photography and applied commission is also the subject of his œuvre, which allows us to discover a central figure of post-war photography in its many facets.

The F.C. Gundlach Foundation holds substantial parts of Peter Keetman's estate and the image rights, while the Museum Folkwang holds the negative archive, working prints and early exhibition prints.

Lawfulness and beauty – Peter Keetman's extensive and varied life's work unfolds between these two poles. They define his view of the world and determine his pictorial language: with sensitive, poetic photographs that are at the same time graphically strict and highly modern in design, he became one of the pioneering photographers of the 1950s and 1960s. Keetman's photographs are characterised by his photographic vision, his creative will with which he subdivided the picture surface as a section of reality into line, surface and structure, his analytical view and his technical precision. His formative influence on photography can still be felt today.

Sebastian Lux, in: Peter Keetman – Gestaltete Welt, Steidl Verlag Göttingen 2016


  • April 1916: born in Wuppertal-Elberfeld as the son of bank director Alfred Keetman

  • around 1926: first camera of his own, a Goerz Tenax bellows camera for 6 x 9 centimetre glass negatives

  • 1932: move to Prien on Lake Chiemsee

  • 1935 to 1937: studies/basic training at the Bavarian State School of Photography in Munich with Hanna Seewald and Hans Schreiner

  • 1937 to 1938: assistant to the industrial and portrait photographer Gertrud Hesse in Duisburg

  • 1939 to 1940: assistant in the studio for industrial photography Carl Heinz Schmeck in Aachen

  • 1940: called up for military service

  • 1940 to 1944: soldier with the railway pioneers

  • June 1944: severely wounded in Nadworna (today's Ukraine), loss of left leg

  • 1947 to 1948: master class at the Bavarian State School of Photography in Munich

  • 1948: master class with Adolf Lazi in Stuttgart, together with Wolfgang Reisewitz involved in the preparations for the exhibition Die Photographie 1948 (Photography 1948) at the Landesgewerbemuseum in Stuttgart

  • 1948: appointed 1st assistant to the master trainee group of the Stuttgart Photographic Society 1947

  • from 1948: works as a freelance photographer

  • August 1949: admitted to the Free Working Group of Young Photographers (from 17 September 1949 fotoform)

  • 1950: begins freelance collaboration with the commercial artists Michael Engelmann and Rainer Michelfelder under the name werbeform

  • 1950 onwards: regular publications in all major German photo magazines and in magazines for commercial art, participation in numerous group exhibitions, work for advertising and industry

  • 1951: move to Breitbrunn on Lake Chiemsee

  • 1952: certificate for outstanding achievements, World Photography Exhibition, Lucerne

  • 7 to 9 April 1953: the series A Week at the Volkswagen Factory is created

  • from the mid-1950s: work on industrial reportages and for the cultural-historical illustrated books of the Thorbecke publishing house

  • 1956: awarded a diploma, Photokina, Cologne

  • 1957: Keetman becomes a member of the GDL (Society of German Photographers)

  • 1958: awarded a diploma, Photokina, Cologne

  • End of the 1950s: start of collaboration with the graphic artist Nikolai Borg

  • 1969: appointed honorary member of the BFF (Association of Freelance Photo Designers)

  • 1969 to 1974: several photo series on the Orff Schulwerk

  • 1994: moves to Marquartstein on Lake Chiemsee

  • 1981: awarded the David Octavius Hill Medal of the DFA (German Photographic Academy)

  • 1991: awarded the Culture Prize of the DGPh (German Photographic Society)

  • 1 March 2005: Keetman dies in Marquartstein

Solo Exhibitions / Selection

  • 1961: State Picture Office, Hamburg

  • 1980: Peter Keetman (fotoform), galerie photo art basel Anita Neugebauer

  • 1981: Peter Keetman GDL, photo museum in the city museum Munich

  • 1982: Peter Keetman. Photographs, PPS Gallery F.C. Gundlach, Hamburg

  • 1982: Peter Keetman. Photographs, CCD Gallery Düsseldorf

  • 1982: Exhibition with Fee Schlapper, Benteler Galleries, Houston, Texas

  • 1984: Exhibition with Toni Schneiders, Riverside, California

  • 1986: Volkswagenwerk, Galerie voor industriele Vormgeving, Amsterdam

  • 1987: Peter Keetman, Lichtbild Gallery, Ingolstadt, Germany

  • 1988: Photo – Peter Keetman – Form, Galerie für Kunstphotographie Zur Stockeregg, Zurich

  • 1988: Peter Keetman. fotoform, Gallery Fotohof, Salzburg

  • 1989: Photographs by Peter Keetman, Fotografie Forum Frankfurt (19.8.–24.9.1989)

  • 1989: form-loss form-finding, PPS Gallery F.C. Gundlach (8.9.–14.10.1989)

  • 1989: Harry Callahan. Peter Keetman. Photographs, Foto-Forum Böttcherstraße, Bremen (3.–29.11.1989)

  • 1990: Spectrum Photo Gallery, Sprengel Museum, Hanover

  • 1991: Peter Keetman. Photographs 1937-1987, Fotomuseum in the Munich City Museum

  • 1994: Peter Keetman. Photographs, Art and Museum Society in the Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal (28.8.–9.10.1994)

  • 1994: Peter Keetman, Westfalenbank, Bochum

  • 1994: Peter Keetman. fotoform, PPS. Gallery F.C. Gundlach, Hamburg

  • 1995: Peter Keetman and fotoform, Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

  • 1996: Peter Keetman. Images from the archive acquired in 1995, Museum Folkwang, Essen

  • 1998: Structure and Motion, Conolly, London

  • 2003: Peter Keetman. Volkswagenwerk 1953, Wolfsburg Art Museum

  • 2005: Peter Keetman. Volkswagenwerk 1953, Automobile Forum, Berlin

  • 2006: Peter Keetman, Kicken, Berlin

  • 2016: Peter Keetman. Gestaltete Welt, Museum Folkwang Essen

  • 2016: Peter Keetman. Gestaltete Welt, House of Photography, Deichtorhallen Hamburg (16.11.–12.02.2017)

  • 2017: Peter Keetman. Gestaltete Welt, Kunstfoyer Munich (31.05.–10.09.2017)

Early Group Exhibitions / Selection


  •  1948: Die Photographie 1948, Stuttgarter Photographische Gesellschaft, Landesgewerbemuseum Stuttgart

  • 1948: Photographic Art, Sixth International Exhibition at the Runcorn County Grammar School

  • 1949: II. Messe Ausstellung der Photo-Kino-Industrie, Bildzentrale Rheinland-Pfalz, Saalbau, Neustadt a.d. Haardt

  • 1949: Internationaal Fotosalon ingericht door de Mechelse Fotoring, Festzaal Novelty Bruul, Mechelen

  • 1949: Agrupación Fotográfica de Igualda, Premier Salón International de Arte Fotográfico, Igualda

  • 1949: 9e Internationale teentonstelling van fotokunst, Focus Salon, Amsterdam

  • 1949: The Bristol Salon of Photography, City Museum, Bristol

  • 1950: first fotoform exhibition, Circolo fotografico Milanese, Mailand

  • 1950: 10e Internationale tentonstelling van fotokunst, Focus Salon, Amsterdam

  • 1950: III. International Art Photography Exhibition, Österreichischer Lichtbildnerbund Innsbruck, Klagenfurt u. Salzburg

  • 1951: fotoform exhibition as part of the Darmstadt Art Summer at the Amerikahaus

  • 1951: fotoform exhibition as part of the Photo-Kino exhibition, Cologne

  • 1951: fotoform exhibition at the Werkkunstschule Wuppertal

  • 1951: fotoform exhibition at the first Photokina, Cologne

  • 1951: fotoform exhibition as part of the exhibition subjective photography in Stuttgart

  • 1951: Segunda Exposicao mundial de arle fotografica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

  • 1951: Unione Fotografico. Mostra della Fotografia Europea, palazzo di Brera, Milan

  • 1951: subjective photography. exhibition of modern photography, Staatliche Schule für Kunst und Handwerk, Saarbrücken, Germany

  • 1952: World Exhibition of Photography, Lucerne

  • 1953: subjective photography 2, at the Photokina, Cologne

  • 1956: Photokina, Cologne

  • 1956: The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York

  • 1956: Photography in the Fine Arts III Collection

  • 1958: subjective photography 3, at the Photokina, Cologne