For over twenty years photographer Birgit Kleber has been making portraits of German and international film stars at the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale): Monica Bellucci and Chloë Sevigny, Willem Dafoe and shooting star Franz Rogowski, director Wim Wenders and producer Artur Brauner, to name just a few. They’re always in the same posture, always in the same setting – and she’s always searching for that special moment. “I want the proverbial five minutes.” Enough time for surprisingly personal things to surface: people’s life stories, feelings and all their vulnerabilities.
The portraits were first exhibited at the DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum in Frankfurt am Main in early 2019. Several dozen of these images of intense visual contact can now also be viewed in a salon-style exhibition at the Berlin Museum für Fotografie (Museum of Photography) to mark the Berlin International Film Festival’s 70th anniversary. Black-and-white shots hang next to colour, women next to men, old next to young. “I like strong contrasts”, says Birgit Kleber. No glass, no reflections, no distractions.
This reinforces the feeling of looking directly into the eyes of the person portrayed, and being looked at in return, according to Kleber. “Physical alertness is crucial. Sitting, leaned forward. That’s when they are focused on what’s going on.” The photographs taken using this approach create an odd tension in space – between the image and the viewer, between me and you, between public and extremely private –showing disarming details in what is supposedly familiar to us.