Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne
Based on the work of the important German photographer August Sander, the Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur set up by the Stadtsparkasse Köln (Cologne Commercial and Savings Bank) concentrates its field of activity on factual documentary and conceptual photography. This tightly-defined collection area is the focal point of the research and exhibition activities.
As of 1996 the Photographische Sammlung has been housed along with other sections of the foundation in the Mediapark, Cologne. Here, it has at its disposal facilities matching those of a museum: archive and study rooms, as well as a specialist library to which students, experts and the public have access on an appointment basis. Two spacious exhibition areas which can be used separately enable an active cycle of shows to be staged here on the Collection's own premises. A regular feature of the program shown here is the comparison between classical modern art and contemporary photographic concepts. These events are developed in cooperation with the artists concerned. Guided tours and lectures accompany the exhibitions and the Photographische Sammlung regularly publishes findings from its research work in house publications and exhibition catalogs.
The August Sander Archive represents the foundations of the photographic collection. Thanks to the support of the Stadtsparkasse Köln and a grant from the Kulturstiftung der Länder (state cultural foundation), it was possible, at the end of 1992, to acquire the works of August Sander (18761964) for the city of Cologne. Since being assigned to the SK Stiftung Kultur the August Sander collection has been expanded on an ongoing basis through the acquisition or loan of works and donations. The collection which meanwhile boasts more than 4,500 original prints and around 11,000 glass negatives represents the largest August Sander collection in the world. Thanks to a donation by the REWE head office in Cologne, the collection not only includes the photographer's extensive correspondence and personal library, but also technical equipment and furniture from his study and home.
The city of Cologne and the surrounding countryside were, in addition to regular visits to the Westerwald, the center and starting point of August Sander's work over a period of thirty years. In 1911 he opened his studio at Dürener Straße 201, the place he developed his unique portfolio entitled "People of the 20th Century". In these portraits he succeeded in showing the personalities and characteristics of the people he photographed, thereby producing an impressive picture of contemporary society. Over and above these famous portrait shots, Sander repeatedly turned his attention during his long creative period to architectural and landscape photography.
In 1993 the Foundation purchased the collection of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie (German Society for Photography) which comprises some 1,700 photographs taken by various internationally famous photographers. Set up in 1951 in Cologne and enlarged mainly through donations from the various artists, this collection today conveys an impressive picture of artistic, but also scientific, technical and documentary-oriented photography, mainly in Germany. The collection includes numerous works by August Sander, and also works by other famous photographers such as Hugo Erfurth, Karl Hugo Schmölz, Willi Moegle, Otto Steinert, Albert Renger-Patzsch and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
A cooperation with artists Bernd and Hilla Becher (*1931/*1934) begun in 1996 forms the link between classical modern art and contemporary art. In a period spanning more than 40 years, this artist couple devoted itself to the photographic documentation of industrial architecture in Europe and North America. Their precise, strictly object-oriented, documentary approach serves to illustrate the huge diversity of style in anonymous, functional buildings, and make them accessible for formal-aesthetic comparisons by grouping them in typologies and series. The cooperation between Bernd and Hilla Becher and the SK Stiftung Kultur examines the artists' photographic descriptions of industrial buildings which they began early in their career. Alongside industrial landscapes and general and individual views of working plants and buildings, they unite the visual treatment of individual objects as well as detailed shots of important sections, thus documenting the structural composition of the plant and making it visually understandable.
By cooperating with artists and other archives whose own collections are closely related to the Foundation's own, the Photographische Sammlung sees an opportunity of steering its research work to extend beyond its own collection. The four-year long cooperation agreement (19941998) with Ann and Jürgen Wilde who own Karl Blossfeldt (18651932) and Albert Renger-Patzsch (18971966) archives has given rise to important exhibitions and publications. It is in this light that the inclusion of works by young photographers is to be seen.
The latest partnership forged in 1999 is with the Berlin Hochschule der Künste and their Karl Blossfeldt collection. The joint project centers on research work by the Photographische Sammlung into the 600 original Blossfeldt plant photographs belonging to the academy, as well as teaching materials and documents in their possession, with a view to presenting them to the public by means of publications and exhibitions. Blossfeldt's plant photographs which are among the most significant works of the New Objectivity, were initially created from the turn of the century onwards for didactic, documentary purposes. Today, they present themselves to the observer as typological studies of an elementary blending of art and nature, allowing a comparison with artistic concepts from the modern age.
The Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur is not a photographic museum in the classical sense, in that it is not concerned with examining the history of the medium in great detail. Rather, the focus of work emerges from the subjects it deals with. The aim is to establish and expand a research institution, which when combined with a regular exhibition program, creates a lively stage for an examination of the medium of photography.
Dr. Susanne Lange
Director of the Photographische Sammlung/
SK Stiftung Kultur