One of the books presented by the renowned publisher Hatje Cantz at Paris Photo in November 2019, was Land in Sonne (Land in Sun), by the German photographer Christine Fenzl (@christine_fenzl_photography). The year of publication of the book marked the 30th anniversary of Gemany's reunification after the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And it’s the generation of young women and men who grew up during this period of transition that Christine Fenzl chose to portray: the Wendekinder (children of German reunification) - as a Berliner would say.
Christine Fenzl was born in Munich in 1967 - where she studied photography - and moved to Berlin in 1992, based in the former West and then, some years later in Berlin Mitte, a popular area of the former East. In her first 2 and a half years in Berlin Christine worked as a full-time assistant for Nan Goldin. “That experience opened the door to a new world of photography and friends for me”, Christine says.
I admire Nan’s courage. Her way of taking pictures without judging influenced me. I learned a lot from Nan's dedication.
Christine’s dedication to photography and people is clear: her portraits are honest and direct. Her subjects open up to her and look sincere, posing naturally despite standing in front of the camera. A bond is created behind the lens can be felt.
Christine met Michelle, Tobias, Ilka, Jenny, Richard and Rico and many others while travelling around on her bike in the Berlin areas of Hellersdorf, Marzahn, Lichtenberg, and Hohenschönhausen. Sometimes the portraits were the result of more than one meeting, which created greater trust between the photographer and the subjects. “We spent time together, we talked. But I did not interview the people I photographed. My intention was to make photographic portraits, to let each picture speak for itself” Christine explains.
Through Land in Sonne Christine returns to her personal amazement discovering a new Berlin after the fall of the Wall. “When the Berlin Wall came down I had just moved to New York,” Christine explains. “So when I moved to Berlin, in 1992, the reunion had a great impact on me. I felt like living in an ongoing change every day. Me and my friends explored the former East, we went to Poland, to the former borders and borderlands…there was so much to discover. I saw how fast Berlin Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg changed, I saw how the gentrification that took place. All this formed the wish and the need to photograph the young generation who is living in the former East part of the city. It was important for me to create a picture of what it does look like now, who is living there, how it changed: portraits of youngsters in their environment, and in their private homes in Berlin - in a country/state that does not exist anymore”. The first picture was taken in 2008 and the last in 2019.
Land in Sonne is not the first project through which Christine captures a generation in a time or space of transformation. In Along the Peacelines, for example, Christine portrayed children living in Belfast along the peacelines of the wall separating Protestant and Catholic communities. “Preferably, I portray teenagers or young adults. To me, they indicate the edges of society and mark tendencies of where a society might be heading”, Christine says.
In Land in Sonne, the images of youth are mixed with environmental pictures and interiors. The landscape or the background sometimes recalls elements of the young people’s bodies, and their figures seems to belong to the landscape. The people she portrays are both the result and the cause of a transformation.
Caught by the political transformation of Berlin, they have been influenced and shaped by it as much as they have influenced and shaped it.