From the Archives III:

Konrad Helbig. On the Mediterranean.

Photographic explorations 1954-1985


From the archives of the LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn, the Deutsche Fotothek Dresden and the F.C. Gundlach Foundation Hamburg

For Konrad Helbig Sicily was a place of longing. Starting from the island, he directed his gaze and his lens towards ancient architecture, sculptures and artefacts, medieval cathedrals and magnificent Baroque buildings in the Mediterranean, as well as the Mediterranean landscapes and the people who lived and worked in the midst of traces of past greatness. These photographs are the core of his photographic work.

The combination of formal documentation and a subjective view turns his photographs into independent works, whose recognizable imagery reaches far beyond mere illustrations.

As a photographer and art historian, he has systematically traced the traces of antiquity through the various cultural landscapes in Sicily and on the Italian mainland, in Turkey and on the Greek islands since 1954.

"Noble simplicity and quiet grandeur", this aesthetic described by Winckelmann in the middle of the 18th century for the classical beauty of Greek sculpture and architecture was his guide through a landscape shaped by ancient cultures. For months he travelled from archaeological site to archaeological site and from museum to museum, and in hundreds of successful slide shows the rousing speaker then conveyed his impressions of the "magic of the South" in the lecture halls and cultural centres of the North. "In the force field of volcanoes. Stromboli - Vulcano - Lipari", "Homage of a northerner to the wonder world of the deep south" or "Sicily - history, art and reality of life of an island kingdom" is the title of his lectures.

"Konrad Helbigs [...] A series of pictures becomes a talking mosaic of Sicily, the middle of the Mediterranean, in which Occident and Orient - Hellas, Rome, Arabia, Byzantium - Christianity and Paganism meet". His "experiences with the country and its people, insights into historical, cultural and social contexts and a considerable load of vivid pictorial material" are emphasised as outstanding qualities of the photographer, who was often announced in his lectures as the "currently living best connoisseur of Sicily".

Like many photographers of the 50s and 60s, he worked with two cameras in parallel in black and white and in color. The exhibition focuses above all on Helbig's view of the present, which he always looked at with the eyes of an artist, and also shows his hardly known color photographs for the first time.

Since then, however, the landscapes and above all the reality of their inhabitants have changed fundamentally, so that Helbig's photographs for their part appear as evidence of a bygone pre-industrial epoch, which we today are no less idealistic and longing to regard as Arcadian.

The exhibition series'From the Archives
In cooperation with the Deutsche Fotothek and the F.C. Gundlach Foundation, the exhibition series 'From the Archives' was created, showing outstanding photographs and photographic positions from the extensive photo depots of the three participating museums each year. The series began in 2015 with the exhibition in 1945 in Cologne and Dresden. Photographs by Hermann Claasen and Richard Peter, which were subsequently shown in the Stadtmuseum Dresden. In 2016 followed the presentation Das große Color-Praktikum. Wolfgang G. Schröter.