To mark the 100th anniversary of Peter Keetman’s birth, Museum Folkwang and Stiftung F.C. Gundlach are presenting the first comprehensive retrospective of the eminent photographer’s work. Around 360 exhibits present Keetman not only as a young rebel involved with the influential group fotoform, but also as one of the most innovative and poetic photographers of the post-war era, whose extensive oeuvre combined nature and motion studies, experiments, industrial and applied photography.
Peter Keetman (1916–2005) was a central figure in German post-war modern photography, and the exhibition World through a Creative Camera – The Life’s Work of a Photographer is the largest survey of his work to date. It is also the first to examine how Keetman’s practice managed to link two prevailing trends of this era: on the one hand, a Modernist commitment to form, design, experimentation and abstraction; on the other, a humanist worldview and a turning toward the fundamental elements of post-war reconstruction, urban dwelling and nature.
Characteristic of Keetman’s work is his continuous and imaginative exploration of the camera’s potential to create rather than just capture images. The retrospective not only traces the career of a great photographer, but also the protean career of the medium of photography itself, as it evolved between free art and commercial work.
As suggested by the exhibition’s title World through a Creative Camera, his works unite the period’s two main aesthetic currents: On one hand there is the modernist intention to form, experiment, and abstract – on the other hand there is the wish for a humanist relationship to the world as well as a turning towards reconstruction, the city, and nature, up to its most fundamental elements. Organized by the Museum Folkwang and the F.C. Gundlach Foundation, this major retrospective demonstrates how these two tendencies coexist and merge in Keetman’s work.
Keetman’s photography and biography are linked with one another, as is German history. Unprecedented in its range, this exhibition shows his early works following the New Objectivity style, pictures from Munich during the Nazi era, and from the war against the Soviet Union, which left Keetman disabled.
During the late 1940s Keetman overcame the old-fashioned aesthetic of his apprenticeship years in Munich and with Stuttgart-based Adolf Lazi. He became part of fotoform, a group of young rebels inspired by the experiments of the pre-war avant-garde. Based on formal reduction, light’s creative powers, and experiencing the world individually and subjectively, the group aimed to develop a new photographic language. Along with Otto Steinert and other fotoform members Keetman stood for photography’s move into a new era.
In great detail, the exhibition retraces German photography’s exciting evolution in the late 1940s and 1950s. In doing so, Keetman’s escaping of any formalism is made visible, as he was working not in one but photography’s many fields: he portrays Munich’s reconstruction, visualizes hidden structures in landscapes and natural phenomena, discovers the "great picture" in the smallest details – and finally translates the dynamic of the Germany’s era of "economic miracle" into abstract images.
Two separate chapters are dedicated to his famous 1953 series at the Wolfsburger Volkswagen factory and his Oscillations – Keetman’s contribution to the history of experimental photography. Another subject of the exhibition is the eventful interlocking of Keetman’s free and commissioned photography, revealing the many facets of this crucial figure of post-war photography.
This retrospective originates in a close collaboration with the F.C. Gundlach Foundation, which owns a major part of the estate. Other parts of the estate are kept in the Collection of Photographs at the Museum Folkwang. After its first stop in Essen, the exhibition will continue on to the Deichtorhallen, Hamburg and the Kunstfoyer in the Versicherungskammer Kulturstiftung, Munich.
In association with the Stiftung F.C. Gundlach.