KREUZBERGED BERLIN

Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin

BETTER THAN HOLBEIN or STEP INTO THE CAMERA

For those among you who do not know what Modulor is: it is the heaven of the creative, the paradise of the crafts-oriented and the hell for those who like me cannot leave their fingers off yet another paper notebook or one more fountain pen (with a bottle of fancy ink to boot, thank you). It is the best shop full of paper, glue and every kind of paint or tape you can conceive of. There is no architect, no graphic designer, no painter, writer, journalist or kindergarden creative section fairy who would not know its name. Until recently this emporium of creative pleasures used to reside right behind the corner in Gneisenaustraße. The rooms proved to be too small, though, for the fast expanding business and a new, brilliant location beckoned. Not far from the old place and still very much in the heart of Kreuzberg, at Moritzplatz in a building christened Aufbau Haus. Today, on the 30th of September the Kreativzentrum am Moritzplatz, as it is alternatively known, has been officially opened. That´s exactly the reason why you had been unable to personally speak to Klaus Wowereit at 12.00 PM, in case you tried: he was there delivering a speech during the opening ceremony organised by the Aufbau Verlag (Aufbau Publishing House).

However, it´s not the speech, the 2-day-long opening extravaganza or even the pens and the notebooks that make me want to go to Moritzplatz again. It is Imago. Meet the only walk-in camera in the world. Imago 1:1  which is standing in the Aufbau Haus, invented in 1972 by a physicist Werner Kraus and a professor of goldsmithery (!) Erhard Hößle, is the only camera worldwide where a person can step inside and take a photo of him- or herself. Full size. And from any side the person wishes. Try that with a Lomo.

Only a coincidence decided that this wonder of photographic technology did not end up molten or re-cycled. It did end up covered with dust and cobwebs, though, and that for a long period of 35 years. Built in 1972 as a result of “a bit of tinkering on the side” (Spielerei) by the Daimler-Benz expert for high-speed photography and his friend the professor, the camera was an amazing technical achievement. Its uniqueness was particularly appreciated during the 1976 Photokina Imaging Fair in Cologne. The 3×4 m big machine consisted of two chambers, one of which was the “exposure room” (the other one is a dark room). A person stepped inside, took a preferred position and then pressed the self-timer. The image would be directly exposed onto the special, reversal (or positive) paper which is covered with silver gelatine – a very lovely, old-school technique – and developed within 10 minutes into a photo 60×200 cm big (for the followers of the Imperial system: 2ft x 6ft 6ins). No negatives of the image existed. The photo was the only proof that a picture was taken. It was truly unique.

And luckily for all the fans of photography, retro technologies and for the vain (which we all are, as I am sure you will agree), this magnificent piece of machinery did not disappear at the beginning of the 1980s for good. It was namely then that a new revolutionary photo-technology entered the stage: digital photography. The interest in time-consuming and often imperfect analog photography was dwindling fast. The demand was plummeting and it pulled supply with it. There was no need to produce positive paper on industrial scale since no-one seemed to care for taking old-school photos any more. Thus died the Imago.

Its inventor, Werner Kraus, dismantled the optics of the camera himself and mothballed the parts. The impressively sized body was stored in the Pinakothek in Munich where  it lay dormant for almost 40 years: for most of its and mine lives as we happen to be peers.

The new millenium came and the inventor´s daughter, Susanna Kraus, decided to look up some old, life-sized photos of herself and her friends taken in the days when they used to play inside the camera and “shoot” for fun or as a way of self-discovery. And so she remembered the camera and decided to have a look at what was left of Imago in the Pinakothek. It was a sad sight: the camera was “dead inside, had no flash, no light, no developing processor”. Kraus´grasp of photography or the necessary technologies was close to none. Still, she decided to bring Imago back to life.

It took her several years to complete the task. Some of the difficulties she had to face were of historical nature: for example, the positive paper. It was impossible to buy the paper of that size and in a bigger amount (most probably Susanna Kraus was already then planning to turn Imago into a “people´s camera” of sorts). The factories either no longer existed or were producing plastic toys now. Her search was literally worldwide: the USA, Canada, China, Russia, Switzerland and even Croatia. She was looking for something that was already gone. In the end, the originally British photograhic company of Ilford agreed to provide her with a custom-made reversal paper necessary for the camera. They even went so far as to invent the silver gelatine emulsion again.

In 2006 Imago raised from the dead. The first pictures taken inside its reincarnated body were of the Vienna psychoanalysts (and if that is not of Freudian significance). Since then it has been entered by celebrities (an excellent German actress Suzanne von Borsody and an equally impressive actor Otto Schenk among others), by artists presenting either themselves or their works or both at once, by families, by singles, by the straight, the gay and the curious. Some of the images (digitalised:) can be seen on the following web page: www.imago1to1.com, which also tells one what to expect and how much euroes will have to be bled for the pleasure (it ain´t cheap but neither are “Renoir´s”).

There is a special opening offer on right now: for two days, Friday the 30th and Saturday the 1st, a session can be booked (the booking is binding) and one can have a self-made, life-sized and longed-for image of oneself – with or without the dearest&nearest – for the bargain price of 290 Euros (think about them Renoir´s and keep breathing).

In other circumstances there would be no preventing me and my brood from marching into that chamber and going trigger-happy with the self-timer (do forgive me the abuse of the hypen today, I haven´t been out-and-about yet). It is a shame but it is either that long longed for tumble dryer before the cold and winter come or Art&Vanity. And I as much as I would love to hang an Imago picture of us in our living room, I would hate to see it hanging in the company of 2653442 pairs of wet underpants.

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This entry was posted on September 30, 2011 by in Kreuzberg.

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