Ute Mahler’s Portraits of Life Behind the Wall

Ute Mahler’s Portraits
In the early nineteen-seventies, at the age of twenty-three, Ute Mahler began to photograph daily life in Lehnitz, in what was then East Germany, where she grew up. Lehnitz is just north of Berlin, a city that, when Mahler took these pictures, had been divided by the Berlin Wall for over a decade. Most East German photography at the time, Mahler recalled, was “sugar-coated” propaganda. Mahler, along with a few others, set out to photograph the less promising realities of life in East Germany.

Mahler photographed acquaintances and strangers alike, aware that her work might never reach a larger audience, and that she risked being chastised by the government. She continued to take portraits until the year before the Wall came down, on November 9, 1989, twenty-five years ago next month. Mahler told me that, in retrospect, photography took less effort for her during that era. “It is always easier to shoot against something,” she said.

Zusammenleben” (“Living Together”), a book of Mahler’s photographs from the Soviet era, was published in September by Hatje Cantz.