In the sea of the city

In the se of the city – (c) Jürgen Bürgin —


Cities are peculiar formations. They are noisy, hectic, reckless, confusing, emotionally cold, alienating, and lonely. Nevertheless, all cities preserve a slice of the seemingly naturalistic village. Their inhabitants are always looking for familiar settings to call home, just like in villages. In the residential building in Berlin-Kreuzberg, where I lived until recently, there was a street kiosk operated by a wonderful Turkish family. It used to sell beer, cigarettes, detergent, newspapers, rolls, sausages, cheese, milk, coffee, eggs, and chocolates. Above all, the kiosk was a contact point for us – a social meeting place, a pub, or a village well. Over the years, we experienced how people first met there and came together as they escaped from their solitude. We also witnessed how people found happiness, drew hope, and received help. We knew all the dogs in the neighbourhood, such as Lady, a stray that used to roam the area and regularly scrounge from the kebab shops. We met people who despaired over rising rent and those who suffered as a result of alcohol and drugs. We made friends in this kiosk. We watched how residents moved away from the area, as they were unable to afford the rent and other people who came and gave the locality a facelift. We celebrated together, danced and drank together, and even changed our sons’ diapers in the back room of the kiosk. The kiosk was our village square and the neighbourhood was our home.

I grew up in a small town in Southern Germany and moved to Berlin in 1999. Later, when I started to take pictures with the city as my muse, I especially captured the residents and how they arranged their lives. I always try to discover the poetry of everyday life, such as the moments that make me stop and small scenes that trigger stories in the viewer, who reflects on minute details of the person portrayed – who he is, what he is doing, where he comes from, where he is going, what preoccupies him, and what is important to him.

 If I walk through big cities, my movements within the city affect my photography. I climb into the subway at any station and get off it somewhere else; I meet up with friends, go to the museum, the concert, and the movies. I get to know people as I watch strangers. Moreover, I have no strict photographic concepts that I wish to implement. Life does not follow a concept. It is influenced by chance, encounters, ideas, and events. As a photographer, I believe that my role is not to create order where there is none in life. That is why this book is marked by scenes of encounters and impressions of people and life in general. If you compare the book with a literary form, it would be a book of poetry; each photo, like each poem, stands on its own, generates feelings, conveys impressions, and triggers thoughts.

 Likewise, there are also influences of the big city films in my pictures. I have been working in the film industry for many years and feel affected by films, whether they are from Woody Allen’s New York homages or Wong Kar-Wai’s Hong Kong melodramas. Sometimes, I think of the still photos hanging in front of cinemas, which are intended to denote the film’s story and convey its mood.

 Above all, this book highlights my love of big city life and the people I meet, but often only observe, and whom I sometimes photograph. In addition, at times, the outcome captivates me, draws me towards it, and concerns me. The effect strikes my fancy and causes me to think about the life of the people I have photographed. Several questions arise in my mind with regard to my subjects – how they live, whether they are happy or lonely, and how they spend their time. Some of these photos are marked by the hectic restlessness of the metropolis, while others capture the silence and thoughtfulness of city life. Almost all of them express a singular mood: the big city fever.

Jürgen Bürgin
An excerpt of: Jürgen Bürgin: URBAN FEVER. SCENES FROM CITY LIFE. Berlin 2016.

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