Kraftwerk Heidersberger (Power Plant Heidersberger)
A Photographic Icon Turns 50
The iconographic photograph Kraftwerk der Volkswagen AG (Volkswagen Power Plant) from 1971 by Heinrich Heidersberger is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary—a suitable opportunity to (re)discover the photographic work of one of the most interesting German photographers, who developed his own unique photographic language with his elegant, high-contrast style. To honor the occasion, three institutions in Wolfsburg, including the Kunstmuseum, are presenting the works of the photographer.
In a variety of events from September through November 2021, the photograph will be examined from different perspectives together with partner institutions under the title KRAFTWERK (POWER PLANT) by Heinrich Heidersberger – A Photographic Icon Turns 50. The Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg is presenting an exhibition on the iconic image of the Kraftwerk der Volkswagen AG (Volkswagen Power Plant) together with twenty-two other photographs under the title Kraftwerk Heidersberger (Power Plant Heidersberger), the Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg delves into the identity-forming moment of his images, and the Institut Heidersberger is offering a look behind the scenes in archive tours in the former studio in Wolfsburg Castle, thus providing an overview of his oeuvre. The highlight of the events will be a podium discussion on November 4 in the Autostadt Wolfsburg.
Heinrich Heidersberger achieved fame with his architectural photography; he also worked for the German weekly magazine Stern, among other publications, and throughout his life wove surrealist influences into his photographs. Particularly in the carefully arranged and expressive black-and-white photographs, an enigmatic humor can be discerned. Through its stylistic and thematic diversity, Heidersberger’s work reflects the most important lines of development in twentieth-century German history.
When Heinrich Heidersberger (1906–2006) photographed the power plant of Volkswagen AG in November 1971 for an exhibition at the Haus Wolfsburg in conjunction with the 1972 Munich Olympics, he created an image that crowned his success as an architectural photographer. “In it, the various influences he was exposed to throughout his artistic life converge,” explains Bernd Rodrian, Director of the Institut Heidersberger.
Heidersberger was among the leading photographers of the modernist era and is considered one of the key figures of abstract photography in the 1950s. He was affiliated with the New Objectivity movement and made a name for himself as an outstanding experimental photographer. A perfectionist, Heidersberger also gained notoriety for his experiments with light, which had a significant impact on his work. As a representative of generative photography, which used technical aids outside the camera to influence the image, he contributed to expanding the boundaries of the medium.
The Photographic Icon Kraftwerk (Power Plant)
A rare wind from the east, a cool, clear autumn morning, the shifting of the vanishing point to the left half of the image, the opposite bank parallel to the horizontal—technique, timing, and weather conditions of the photo were cleverly chosen. The view under the bridge magically draws the viewer into the deserted scene. While color filters provided a deep dark sky and snow-white steam, the long exposure time virtually froze the water surface. According to Andreas Beitin, Director of the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, utopia and dystopia seem to converge in this unreal yet impressive image. “While at the time of its creation the picture stood for a new awakening, the economic miracle, and pride in what had been achieved, in later years the oil price crisis, the environment, and ‘limits to growth’ were added. It thus also makes Germany’s transformation visible,” explains Benjamin Heidersberger, Managing Director of the Institut Heidersberger.
Heidersberger was a European par excellence. Born in Ingolstadt in 1906, he grew up in Linz, Austria, and spent part of his childhood in Denmark. In Graz, he studied architecture and eventually turned to painting. In the late 1920s, he was drawn to the Paris bohemian scene. Inspired by the Surrealism of the Parisian avant-garde around Giorgio de Chirico and Fernand Léger, he enrolled in the latter’s Académie Moderne, where he turned to the medium of photography. From Surrealism, he retained the mischievous play with image details and the special choice of perspective. After World War II, he became one of the most sought-after architectural photographers in Germany.
For Stern, he set off on journeys around the globe and also shot journalistic photographs in color. In 1961, after working in Salzgitter and Braunschweig, he was invited by the City of Wolfsburg, where he lived and worked until his death in 2006. In 1963, his photos for the book Wolfsburg – Bilder einer jungen Stadt (Images of a Young City) defined the self-image of the city, which was just twenty-five years young, and its inhabitants. He remained dedicated to the end, committed to dealing with Wolfsburg’s history and the legacy of forced labor. Heidersberger’s oeuvre comprises approximately 130,000 images from the fields of architecture, reportage, industry, and advertising, as well as algorithmic experiments. Since 2002, his work has been archived, scholarly processed, and published by the Institut Heidersberger, based in the former studio rooms of the photographer in Wolfsburg Castle.
The project KRAFTWERK (POWER PLANT) by Heinrich Heidersberger – A Photographic Icon Turns 50 is supported by the City of Wolfsburg, Volkswagen AG, and Freunde Heidersberger e. V.
Publication: Heinrich Heidersberger, Wolfsburg – Bilder einer jungen Stadt, reprint of the photobook from 1963, with contributions by Andreas Beitin and others, photographed and designed by Heinrich Heidersberger, hardcover, 104 pages, 3rd unabridged edition, 2020, available in the museum shop for € 24,95.
KRAFTWERK (POWER PLANT) by Heinrich Heidersberger – A Photographic Icon Turns 50
For further information and an overview of all events, see: