09. Feb 2024
26. May 2024

Wolf D. Harhammer

Two Realities

Harhammer's world is that of artists, showmen and clowns. The Museum Folkwang is showing the first institutional exhibition of Stuttgart photographer Wolf D. Harhammer, whose work was long considered forgotten.

A self-taught photographer, Harhammer initially emigrated to Australia in the post-war period and began studying painting, sculpture and film at the Stuttgart State Academy of Fine Arts after his return in 1969. During his studies, he earned his living as a balloon salesman and later as a circus worker.

Harhammer's portraits paint an impressive picture of a generation of circus performers and showmen in the 1970s and testify to the photographer's openness and empathy towards his subject. They provide an insight into a life that Harhammer at times shared with the people portrayed and in which reality and illusion, everyday working life and self-development seem to be inextricably linked. Harhammer encounters his protagonists in everyday moments between two realities: In front of the caravan or in the cloakroom, in a bathrobe at the tent entrance, made up for the performance and with coffee cup in hand. Without romanticising, his sober, documentary-style photographs also refer to a utopian moment. By playing with reality, the circus also becomes a projection surface for ideas of social freedom beyond the circus ring.

In conjunction with other works from the Photographic Collection, photographic perspectives on circus, vaudeville and masquerade – from August Sander, Gertrud Arndt and Helmuth Kurth to Diane Arbus, Valery Shchekoldin and André Gelpke – enter into dialogue with contemporary works by Harry Hachmeister, Liv Liberg, Paul Kooiker, Emma Sarpaniemi and Tobias Zielony, which focus on different forms of (self-)staging. Questions about the negotiation of identity, physicality and social community take centre stage.

In the second part of the exhibition from 11 June to 1 September 2024, around 40 further photographs by Harhammer will be juxtaposed with works by Barbara Klemm, Michael Kerstgens and Rudi Meisel, among others. The focus of the presentation is the photographic investigation of social reality, in which connecting lines between Harhammer's portrait work and documentary positions of the 1970s and 80s from the Photographic Collection are worked out.

Wolf D. Harhammer, Weißclown, Zirkus Hagenbeck, 1973

Wolf D. Harhammer
White clown, Circus Hagenbeck, 1973
Silver gelatine print, 27,1 x 18,4 cm
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2024