Living history: Fall of the Wall 1989

As I saw the pictures of the Wall falling on TV, I knew immediately: I have to be there. I wanted to live this historical moment. There are only a few chances to do that in a lifetime, and this was a particularly good instance. For more than 28 years the Wall had divided Germany into two parts, separating countless families and friends.

Many people from Eastern Germany lost their lives as they tried to overcome the Wall.

When joy turns into melancholy

On my arrival in Berlin shortly after the 9th of November 1989, I immediately felt this incredible mood that was embracing the city: happy faces everywhere, people talking with me, sharing their joy. I was in the middle of the biggest and longest after party ever. But melancholy was steadily taking over because almost everybody was somehow aware that the party was over, and what the next morning would bring was uncertain.
Welcome for 'Ossies' in united Germany at Invalidenstrasse.

Photographing for a better understanding

On my trip to Berlin I had been afraid of arriving too late. – Actually, the timing was perfect for photographing. Looking at the pictures I took 25 years ago, I am seeing the ambiguity of what I captured much more clearly. Photographing can be a way to understand what we see and feel.

The wide angle

I used my nearly new Nikkor 24mm f/2 for most pictures. The inspiration for that was evident, since I had directed a TV feature on William Klein, a grand master of wide angle photography. Nevertheless, it was a right choice for the situation I found in Berlin. With a wide angle lens you emphasize: either you are very close, in the middle of what is happening – or you put a real distance into your picture.

Swiss newspaper 'Der Bund' dedicated a full page to my Berlin photographs in late 1989.
There was still no access to the symbolic Brandenburger Tor. View from East Berlin.

Album: Berlin 1989 - Fall of the Wall
Surprise me

Making it my picture

Working with Photoshop is important to me. Now I can really look at the pictures I have captured with my camera. It's also the crucial moment to decide which ones are worth working on. I shoot in RAW because this mode gives me the best quality and the full range of options.

Near N.Y. Aquarium Station

Defining the groove

Usually the pictures I have taken come with a correct White Balance. With little adjustments in Camera Raw I can make the colors slightly warmer or cooler. With this tool I can give the image the groove I want. Maybe the exposure needs a small correction; in most cases a higher contrast gives more character to the picture. With other sliders I can work on the whites, blacks and colors. I immediately see what I do – it's almost magic and a creative task for sure.

Revealing hidden qualities

Some photographers, especially those working in a studio, claim to make almost all decisions before taking their pictures. Using Photoshop as little as possible seems to be a question of honor. For me photographing is a process. With these tools, I can reveal hidden qualities of the picture I have taken. It's all there in the RAW file.

What matters to me is that the picture I am publishing looks like my image – and certainly not photoshopped. You make a photograph twice: as you capture it and then while processing it. I agree with this well-known saying. Working on an image makes it not only better – it definitely becomes my picture.

Hell's Kitchen, Lower Manhattan

Why I rarely crop

After Camera Raw I use Photoshop for more fine tuning, retouching, and converting the picture to the appropriate format. I could also crop the picture here, like in Camera Raw. Actually, I rarely crop. The crop tool is for adjustments; it's not the place to define the framing of a shot. I strongly believe that I see my picture while I am photographing. This includes the perspective of the shot, composing the image, deciding what is in the frame and what is not. When I pull the trigger in a decisive moment, it's like exclaiming: Yes, it's a picture!

Sometimes reframing in Photoshop is a frantic attempt to save a single mediocre shot with a very important content. A working image is sometimes better than having nothing. I may be satisfied with the result, but these images have a lack: They have never surprised me - like my favorite pictures did when I looked at them for the first time: I have captured this! They will have a fair chance to surprise viewers as well.

Etta James. Backstage - Portrait with black frame

The black frame

Showing the pictures 'as seen' was a real concern at the time I started photographing seriously. It was a statement for the credibility of photography. A small black frame around the picture was the trade mark of Henri Cartier-Bresson, some kind of proof that he had conceived his image before taking it.
Many photographers followed him, me included. With my beautiful enlarger, the Leitz Focomat 1c, I could easily add a black frame on my black and white prints. To tell the whole story: These prints were just for me as the newspapers would have cropped the frame, of course.

What are you up to now?
Photographing is a special state of mind