Gazes and desire
The photographer Herbert Tobias (1924–1982)
Herbert Tobias is among the most important German photographers of the post-war period. He first became known for his unconventional fashion photography in Paris and Berlin in the 1950s and 60s. Today, he is famous above all for his atmospheric photographs of cityscapes, his subtle portraits and his erotic images of men. Tobias’ photographs are full of poetry, sensuality and suggestive power. With around 200 exhibits, this is the first exhibition to comprehensively examine his entire oeuvre.
Tobias’ glamorous fashion photography and his impressive portraits of the young Klaus Kinski, Hildegard Knef, Zarah Leander and Velvet Underground’s iconic Nico are widely known today. Nevertheless, his name has been forgotten.
The Berlinische Galerie’s exhibition is the first retrospective of the photographer’s work. It focuses on the 1950s and 60s, Herbert Tobias’ most productive phase, during which he mainly lived in Paris and Berlin. Instead of relying on a chronological or genre-based order, the exhibition concept traces the central moods and attitudes that determined Tobias’ worldview. On the one hand, his photographs, whether self-portraits, street scenes from a devastated post-war Berlin or male nudes, are distinguished by restrained and poetic tones, melancholy, longing and sensuality. On the other hand, we experience Tobias as a choreographer of grand entrances, a narrator of enigmatic stories or an arranger of existentially dramatic tableaux. Even in his apparently conventional fashion photography he achieves memorable and striking images.
Beyond this, Tobias repeatedly appears as a homosexual artist: he never disavowed his erotically charged gaze on men, but flaunted it openly. In a time in which homosexuality was still a criminal offence he therefore took a political stand, too.
The artistic estate of Herbert Tobias is among the most important materials held by the Photographic Collection of the Berlinische Galerie. With around 200 exhibits, the artist’s impressive work will be presented in all its variety for the first time: beginning with the photographs Tobias took as a 19-year old soldier on the eastern front, including images from Paris and from his work in the Berlin years, and leading up to the erotic photographs of men that – in varying intensity – appear in all periods of his work.
A catalogue is published to accompany the exhibition by Steidl (approx. 260 pages and 240 images) with articles by Ulrich Domröse, Janos Frecot, Anna-Carola Krausse, Pali Meller Marcovicz, Adelheid Rasche, Ingo Taubhorn and Ulf Erdmann Ziegler.