Volker Döhne

One can always recognize a student of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Volker Döhne is a first-generation Becher student, but less well-known than his colleagues. His photographs are portraitlike, black and white, but not always frontal views. In this exhibition entitled “Orientierung” (Orientation) his themes are views of houses and emblems. Krefeld is a small city, not far from Düsseldorf, but the rebuilding of the city is still not complete. One of Döhne’s series is entitled “Krefeld, Rheinstrasse,” 1990, and shows one street house by house. The cool, distanced attitude allows them to be read as a history of the post–World War II period. Speculators haven’t yet bought property, the houses are one- and two-story dwellings, and war damage is still apparent. In the second series, “Wideraufbau,” 1990–91, Döhne focuses on the stores and bars that form Krefeld’s shopping center. The names of the shops and their logos allow the viewer to look back on their original incarnation. Here among the little shops of the ’50s, there is an Italian pizzeria and a “lunch room”—reconstruction permitted internalization.

Döhne photographs his city views systematically—house by house or, in the case of the logos, from all directions. When one studies these photographs, one’s interest immediately turns toward a sociological classification, examining, for example, the curtains in relation to the architecture or the merchandise in relation to the signs, while calculating the legacy of the postwar years and the relative wealth of the shops. These small buildings are typical for the inner city of Krefeld. As a result, one can question property values or population density and structure. Naturally, a city is constantly in flux, and Döhne’s photographs are based on the minute details of permanent change.

There is no evaluation—the small jewels of the city stand next to its flaws. In this juxtaposition the habits of the populace are reflected even though they are not the subject of the photographs. Döhne portrays indirect living spaces. His basic attitude is his connection to this region, which does not beautify or unmask it, but, rather creates relationships and connections. And through these various orientations mankind becomes a central theme despite the lack of human presence in the photographs themselves.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.