Michael Schmidt (photographer)

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Michael Schmidt (6 October 1945 – 24 May 2014) was a German photographer.[1] His subjects of interest were Berlin and "the weight of German identity in modern history."[2]

In 1965 Schmidt began photographing the streets, buildings and people of West Berlin in a semi-documentary approach.[1] He went on to make a series of "ambitious projects" there, all in black and white and becoming more impressionistic, until his death in 2014.[1] Each project was exhibited, then published as a book. Schmidt was a member of the Düsseldorf School of Photography.[1]

In 1976, he founded the Werkstatt für Photographie (Workshop for Photography) in Berlin.[1][2][3]

U-nit-y was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1996, Frauen was shown at the Berlin Biennale in 2010 and Lebensmittel, a series about the global food industry, at the Venice Biennale in 2013.[1] A retrospective of his work was held at Haus der Kunst in Munich in 2010. His book Waffenruhe (1987) was included in Parr and Badger's The Photobook: A History, Volume II.[1] He died in 2014, a couple of days after winning the Prix Pictet for Lebensmittel.[4]

Life and work[edit]

Michael Schmidt's gravestone in Dorotheenstadt cemetery, Berlin

Schmidt was born on 6 October 1945 in East Berlin,[1] five months after the German surrender ended World War II in Europe. His family crossed to West Berlin before the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.[1][2] He began photographing in 1965 when he was 20 years old.[1]

In 1976, Schmidt founded the Werkstatt für Photographie [de] (Workshop for Photography) at the Volkhoschschule (Adult Education Center) in Berlin.[1][2] The school "played a critical role in Berlin becoming a transatlantic forum of exchange between European and American photographers."[2]

His early series about Berlin, Stadtlandschaft (Urban Landscapes) (1974–1975) and Berlin, Stadtbilder (Berlin, Urban Images) (1976–1980), "mapped out the city in which he lived in a semi-documentary way".[1] Other series about Berlin include Berlin-Wedding (1976–1978); Berlin nach 45 (Berlin after 45) (1980); Waffenruhe (Ceasefire) (1985–1987), about the Berlin Wall and those affected by it;[5] and Ein-heit (U-ni-ty) (1991–1994), contemporary urban landscapes and portraits from Germany mixed with historical images from the National Socialist / Nazism period, his response to the fall of the Wall in 1989 and the subsequent reunification of East and West Germany.[2]

Natur (Nature) (1987–1997) contains black and white images of the German landscape.[6] Lebensmittel (foodstuff) took seven years to make, with Schmidt travelling worldwide. He photographed "across the spectrum of mass food production, from factory farms"[7] (including salmon farms and dairy farms), and bread factories,[8] "to industrial slaughterhouses and on to plastic-wrapped, sanitised portions of food in supermarkets."[7][9]

He died on 24 May 2014.[8][10][11]


  • Berlin Kreuzberg. Berlin: Bezirksamt Kreuzberg, 1973.
  • Berlin, Stadtlandschaft und Menschen. Berlin: Stapp, 1978. ISBN 3-87776-208-5.
  • Berlin-Wedding: Stadtlandschaft und Menschen. Berlin: Galerie u. Verl. A. Nagel, 1978. ISBN 3-9800057-1-2.
  • Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder = Berlin-Kreuzberg, Urban Images. Berlin: Public Verlagsgesellschaft, 1984. ISBN 3-89087-001-5.
  • Stadtlandschaften 1981 = Urban Landscapes 1981. Essen: Museum Folkwang, 1981.
  • Benachteiligt. Berlin: Senator für Gesundheit, Soziales und Familie, 1982.
  • Bilder 1979–1986. = Images 1979–1986. Hannover: Sprengel Museum, 1987.
  • Waffenruhe = Ceasefire. Berlin: Dirk Nishen, 1987. With a story by Einar Schleef.
    • Second edition. Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive; London: Koenig Books, 2018. ISBN 978-3-96098-302-6. With a new afterword by Thomas Weski.
  • Ein-Heit. Zürich/Berlin/New York City: Scalo, 1996. ISBN 3-931141-17-9. Edited by Thomas Weski.
  • Landschaft – Selbst – Waffenruhe – Menschenbilder (Ausschnitte). Münster: Westfälischer Kunstverein; Munich: Kunstbunker Tumulka, 1998. ISBN 9783925047428. "Published in conjunction with an exhibition held at the Westfälischer Kunstverein, Oct. 24, 1998-Jan. 3, 1999, and the Kunstbunker Tumulka, Feb. 2-Mar. 7, 1999."[12]
  • Frauen = Women. Cologne: Walther König, 2000. ISBN 3-88375-423-4.
  • Irgendwo. Cologne: Snoeck, 2005. ISBN 3-936859-18-3.
  • Berlin nach 45 = Berlin after 45. Göttingen: Steidl, 2005. ISBN 978-3-86521-090-6. Edited by Ute Eskildsen. With contributions by Janos Frecot.
  • 89/90. Cologne: Snoeck, 2010. ISBN 978-3-940953-43-8.
  • Lebensmittel = foodstuff. Cologne: Snoeck, 2012. ISBN 978-3-940953-93-3.
  • Natur = Nature. London: Mack, 2014. ISBN 978-1-907946-58-5.



Solo exhibitions[edit]

Group exhibitions and during festivals[edit]


Schmidt's work is held in the following public collection:

  • Museum of Modern Art, New York City[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q O'Hagan, Sean (28 May 2014). "Michael Schmidt obituary". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Michael Schmidt: German, 1945–2014", Museum of Modern Art. Accessed 22 December 2017.
  3. ^ Sabrina Mandanici, "A Different Kind of Protest", Aperture Foundation, 18 October 2017. Accessed 23 December 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Michael Schmidt: Lebensmittel", Prix Pictet. Accessed 22 December 2017.
  5. ^ "Waffenruhe (Ceasefire): Michael Schmidt", Dashwood Books. Accessed 23 December 2017.
  6. ^ "Michael Schmidt: Natur", Mack (publishing). Accessed 24 December 2017.
  7. ^ a b Tom Seymour, "Michael Schmidt wins Prix Pictet as V&A unveils new sustainability and photography exhibition", British Journal of Photography, 22 May 2014. Accessed 22 December 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Michael Schmidt: German photographer dies aged 68", BBC News, 25 May 2014. Accessed 22 December 2017.
  9. ^ a b Sean O'Hagan, "Michael Schmidt wins Prix Pictet for sprawling global food series", The Guardian, 22 December 2017. Accessed 1 June 2014.
  10. ^ Ella Alexander, "Michael Schmidt dead: German photographer dies aged 68 - days after winning prestigious Prix Pictet award", The Independent, 26 May 2014. Accessed 22 December 2017.
  11. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/11/arts/michael-schmidt-photographic-storyteller-dies-at-68.html Accessed 22 December 2017.
  12. ^ "Landschaft, Waffenruhe, Selbst, Menschenbilder (Ausschnitte)", Worldcat. Accessed 24 December 2017.
  13. ^ Mark Brown, "Source-to-table food project takes Prix Pictet photography prize", The Guardian, 21 May 2014. Accessed 22 December 2017.
  14. ^ James Pickford, "Food for thought: Michael Schmidt scoops photography prize", Financial Times, 21 May 2014. Accessed 2 June 2014.
  15. ^ "Michael Schmidt: U-ni-ty: January 18–March 26, 1996", Museum of Modern Art. Accessed 22 December 2017.
  16. ^ "Conflict, Time, Photography". Tate Modern. Retrieved 24 December 2017.

External links[edit]