Duke Undergrads Exhibit Documentary Photographs in Berlin

Friday, August 5, 2016


Wenqin Wang in front of her photographs at the exhibition opening at tête. 
Photograph by Susanne Freytag (detail).

In late June, during the final week of the Duke-in-Berlin summer program, students, faculty, and local Berliners spilled out onto the sidewalk outside of the gallery tête, an innovative art space in the Prenzlauer Berg district of the city. Inside, a pop-up exhibition by eight undergraduates in a documentary photography course featured prints of their projects from the six-week program. Offered for the first time in summer 2016, the course DOCST 271S — Capturing the City: Documentary Photography in Berlin — pushed students to immerse themselves fully in one of Europe’s most dynamic capital cities. (Watch a short video of the pop-up exhibition opening; iPhone video, Christopher Sims.)

“Like our other Duke-in-Berlin courses, we really conceive of the city as our ‘classroom.’ Because Berlin has so much to offer — from galleries, museums, an incredible variety of neighborhoods, and, of course, an endless range of historically-significant sites — we were rarely in our regular classroom sitting at desks,” said course instructor Christopher Sims, the undergraduate education director at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies.

The students’ projects explored scenes of cultural life, public spaces, landscapes, and people in Berlin. Project fieldwork sites included the U-Bahn — Berlin’s subway system — as well as Tempelhof airfield, a Nazi-era airport made famous during the 1948 – 1949 Berlin Airlift that is now a public park and a reception center for refugees. Students also wrote fictional short stories based on vintage photographs purchased at Berlin flea markets and met with Berlin-based documentary photographers and writers.


Tempelhof Field. Photograph by Duke-in-Berlin student Barbara McHugh

“The highlight was definitely the pop-up exhibition at the end of the course,” said Katlyn Walther, an undergraduate from Harlingen, Texas, who will be continuing with the Duke-in-Berlin program in the fall. “It is one thing to view work on a laptop screen, but it is a different experience to step into a space showcasing the culmination of hard work and artistry by my peers and I.”

A version of the exhibition will be on view this fall at the Center for Documentary Studies, with work by Rachel Corr, Dai Li, Ellen Liew, Barbara McHugh, Iliana Sun, Genevieve Valladao, Katlyn Walther, Wenqin Wang, as well as Deanna White, who worked with Christopher Sims this summer in Berlin through an independent study as part of her Program II major.

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