The Museum Ludwig holds an outstanding collection of photographs encompassing some 70,000 works from the beginning of photography in the nineteenth century to the present. Starting March 24, parts of the Photographic Collection will be showcased in a special Photography Room within the permanent collection of the Ludwig Museum in an effort to gradually present the collection. The room provides the Museum Ludwig with a permanent space dedicated to photography.
Henri Cartier-Bresson and Heinz Held: People with Pictures is the title of the first presentation, which will be on view until August 20. The French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004) and the Cologne-based photographer Heinz Held (1918–1990) met several times: In 1956, when Cartier-Bresson traveled to Cologne, where his pictures were shown at the photokina fair, Heinz Held not only assisted in installing the exhibition but also photographed it. It is likely that they also met at the house of their mutual friend L. Fritz Gruber, the founder and head of the photokina exhibitions. We do not know what they talked about, but they shared a similar approach to photography: using a small camera, strolling around unnoticed, and waiting for the moment when something unexpected, touching, or funny would happen—usually unnoticed by the persons photographed. Cartier-Bresson called this the “decisive moment.”
In 1967 the Kunsthalle Köln organized a solo exhibition of Cartier-Bresson’s work. The corpus of around two hundred photographs mounted on wooden panels is now part of the Museum Ludwig’s Photographic Collection and was last shown in its entirety on the occasion of Cartier-Bresson’s death in 2004. The estate of Heinz Held is now also part of the Museum Ludwig and currently the focus of research. Embracing the spectrum of both their oeuvres, this exhibition presents images of people in museums and cities. The paintings, sculptures, posters, or street signs in these images often enter into a dialogue with their viewers or passersby. Cartier-Bresson identified the surreal potential of photography in this sort of correspondence, and Heinz Held characterized it as a “magic” that “stirs the heart.”
To expand our exhibition area, we are also simultaneously opening the FOTO LAB, a space in which children and adults can participate and experiment. Visitors will be able to experience how a camera obscura—the original camera—works, pose in front of a photo mural, or put together their own exhibition using fifty reproductions from the Photographic Collection. These reproductions were provided by Pixum, an online photo service based in Cologne. This space will animate the Museum Ludwig’s Photographic Collection in a number of ways while also making it more accessible.
The digitization of the collection in a scholarly database for researchers is another important part of the work of the museum’s Photographic Collection. Thanks to the generous support of Pixum, the Museum Ludwig has been able to digitize 4,000 photographs from the Agfa Collection in the last two years. The Photographic Collection will be published sequentially, in sections, at www.kulturelles-erbe-koeln.de, making it accessible to everyone. The digitization will continue with the Gruber Collection, the acquisitions of the Museum Ludwig, and the Mrazkowa Collection, and will also be supported by Pixum for the next two years.
The Museum Ludwig preserves one of Europe’s largest and most significant collections of nineteenth and twentieth-century photography. From the outset it was above all dedicated collectors who contributed to its diversity and quality. Just one year after the founding of the Museum Ludwig in 1976, for instance, the cornerstone of the present Photographic Collection was laid with the purchase of works from the L. Fritz Gruber Collection. This nucleus was then continually expanded through further donations from the couple L. Fritz and Renate Gruber. Gruber fostered first-rate contacts to photographers in Germany and abroad and, as the organizer of the photokina-Bilderschauen (photokina photo exhibitions), helped to bring their work to public attention after the collapse of the National Socialist dictatorship.
Together with the collections of the Agfa Photo-Historama, the photographer Robert Lebeck, and Daniela Mrazkova, as well as a large body of Russian photographs of the 1920s and 1930s on loan from the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation, the Photographic Collection of the Museum Ludwig incorporates early daguerreotypes, unique incunabula from the nineteenth century, major artistic photographs, albums, and portfolios, as well as wide-ranging materials on the cultural history of the medium. The photographer Robert Lebeck, for example, amassed nineteenth-century photographs and albums on a large scale—including numerous travel photographs—that have been housed in the Museum Ludwig since 1994. And, at the outset of the twentieth century, the photography historian Erich Stenger began systematically collecting photographs and historical materials on photography, such as caricatures and books. These were purchased by Agfa in 1955 and presented at the Agfa Foto-Historama Museum on the Bayer/Agfa factory premises in 1974. A recognized “national treasure,” the collection was acquired by the Museum Ludwig in 2005.
A first-rate expansion of the Russian Avant-Garde collection area was made possible with the purchase of the Daniela Mrazkova Collection in 2008. Regular special exhibitions make the Photographic Collection in the Museum Ludwig accessible.
In recent decades the collection has been brought up to date through purchases and gifts, including works by Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Wolfgang Tillmans, Christopher Williams, and Sherrie Levine, to name only a few.
All works in the museum's collections have to undergo conservational manners on a regular basis. Photographic works are extremely sensitive to light and can only be on display for three months, before they have to be taken back to storage where they recover. These phases of recovery can take up to five years. We do our best to present a selection of works from the photographic collection in the permanent collection and in special exhibitions regularly.