Heinz Held, Heinrich Böll with manuscript, 1953, © Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Photo: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln, Cologne

The Humane Camera
Heinrich Böll and Photography

Septem­ber 1, 2017 – Jan­uary 7, 2018

On the cen­te­nary of Hein­rich Böll’s birth, in its new rooms for pho­tog­ra­phy the Mu­se­um Lud­wig will ex­amine Böll’s re­la­tion­ship to pho­tog­ra­phy and tak­ing pho­to­graph­s—as a public fig­ure, as an ob­ject of study, as an aid to his lit­erary work, and as a mo­tif in his writ­ings.

One year af­ter Hein­rich Böll’s death, in 1986 the Mu­se­um Lud­wig was opened in a new­ly con­struct­ed build­ing. The ad­dress: Hein­rich-Böll-Platz. The mu­se­um’s pho­tog­ra­phy col­lec­tion con­tains nu­mer­ous works that show Hein­rich Böll. Af­ter all, as an au­thor he was a sought-af­ter sub­ject for pho­to­g­ra­phers. Dur­ing Böll’s life­time, two vol­umes of por­traits of him pho­to­graphed by Heinz Held, among others, were pub­lished. Böll main­tained a friend­ship with Held and al­so al­lowed him to doc­u­ment his pri­vate life—a re­mark­able ex­cep­tion, since Böll tend­ed to be cam­era-shy. A se­lec­tion of por­traits of Böll from Heinz Held’s es­tate will be pre­sent­ed for the first time.

Yet texts by Hein­rich Böll ap­peared dur­ing his life­time in nine pho­to books, re­vised or reprint­ed, such as in Chargesheimer’s Un­ter Krah­nen­bäu­men, Im Ruhrge­bi­et (both 1958), and Men­schen am Rhein (1960). In 1964 Böll pub­lished his es­say “The Hu­mane Cam­era” in the ca­t­a­log for the Wel­tausstel­lung der Pho­to­gra­phie. In it he for­mu­lat­ed a mo­ral­i­ty of pho­tog­ra­phy: “When the cam­era is in­tru­sive, when its in­stru­ment, the lens, be­comes the in­stru­ment of the pho­to­g­ra­pher who aims to catch, de­nounce and ex­pose some­one, pho­tog­ra­phy cross­es its aes­thet­ic and mo­ral boun­daries.” He al­so speaks of “vi­o­la­tions.” And such a vi­o­la­tion is trans­formed in­to lit­er­a­ture in The Lost Ho­n­our of Katha­ri­na Blum (1974, En­glish trans­la­tion 1978), when words and im­ages in the yel­low press rob Blum’s dig­ni­ty. The hu­mane, the qual­i­ty of be­ing hu­man—therein lies Böll’s in­ter­est in lit­er­a­ture as well as in pho­tog­ra­phy. Af­ter all, on one thing he is clear: “I don’t care much for lav­ish pho­to books.” To him, see­ing was the cen­tral sense to un­der­s­tand­ing the world: “… a good eye is one of the writ­er’s tools,” he states in “Beken­nt­nis zur Trüm­mer­lit­er­a­tur” (1952). For his nov­el Wo­m­en in a Riv­er Land­s­cape (1985, En­glish trans­la­tion 1988) Böll asked his son René for pho­to­graphs of se­lect­ed places in Bonn, which he then de­scribed in the nov­el. Pho­to­graphs and cor­re­spond­ing pas­sages from his writ­ings will be com­bined in the ex­hi­bi­tion. Böll’s re­la­tion­ship to pho­tog­ra­phy is al­so re­flect­ed in his nov­els and sto­ries about pho­to­g­ra­phers and pho­to­graphs. Pho­tog­ra­phy cont­in­u­al­ly ap­pears as a mo­tif and a me­taphor, most promi­nent­ly in “Anec­dote Con­cern­ing the Low­er­ing of Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty” (1963). With some fif­ty ex­hibits in­clud­ing pic­tures, books, and texts, the ex­hi­bi­tion will show­case Böll’s varied en­gage­ment with pho­tog­ra­phy.