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Background Information about Robert Lebeck
IntroductionABOUT THE WORK
Neugierig auf die Welt
“Those who are not curious learn nothing.” These words of wisdom from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe very accurately describe Robert Lebeck’s life motto. Through Lebeck’s series Neugierig auf die Welt (English: “Curious about the world”), we can marvel at the famous photographer’s discoveries. This collection of pictures expresses Lebeck’s particular talent for making history a personal experience. The master of capturing moments was also always recording them with the utmost awareness of their political and social contexts.
Whether he was photographing celebrities or simple fishermen, city blocks in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district or boats on the Grand Canal in China – it made no difference to Lebeck. His virtuosity was visible in every slide he shot. A world renowned photographer from Berlin, his unique perspective on the world and history remains vibrant in his work.
A great photographer like Robert Lebeck could even publish his contact sheets without needing to fear being “exposed”. The genius behind the camera is recognisable in every photo. The contact sheets also give us a sense of how Lebeck worked. We experience the way Romy Schneider loosened up shot by shot or how Herbert von Karajan completely forgets about the camera.
The moments Lebeck captured feel almost intimate. Intense moments that remain unforgotten in his work. Lebeck’s gentle way of revealing people without ever simply posing them is what makes his work unique. At the same time, it doesn’t matter whether he staged and directed the subjects or was “merely” a fly on the wall – his expressive portraits always feel extremely natural.
Once labelled a “charming thief of moments,” by STERN magazine, Robert Lebeck was one of the most significant photojournalists of our time. “I’ve had the most unbelievable luck”, the master modestly explained. And he liked to share this luck by way of his pictures. Lebeck lets us take part in moments steeped in history, the experiences of German life, the beauty of distant lands, and extraordinary encounters with prominent figures and unknown personalities.
With a testimony of “I am a journalist”, Robert Lebeck defended himself against “allegations” of being an artist. After taking leave from his work as a photo-correspondent near the end of the 1990s, Lebeck discovered the possibilities presented by digital photography as well as the previously-avoided field of Art. Preußisch Blau (English: Prussian Blue) is an homage to his home town, Berlin.
The poetic images depict the capital city during the blue hour: an unreal time that Robert Lebeck captured with his legendary knack for sensing the right moment. Between day and night, between past and present, the familiar buildings make a very special statement.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
“My only training was the manual for my first camera,” admitted Robert Lebeck, who was born in Berlin in 1929. But the exceptionally talented artist did not need anything more to advance from being an enthusiastic layman to a sought-after photojournalist. Thanks to his unique gift for sensing the right moment, he became one of the most significant contemporary photographers.
In 1960, Lebeck photographed a young Congolese man stealing the Belgian King’s sword during Congo’s independence celebrations. This picture made it around the world, bringing Lebeck international renown. He spent the majority of his career years as a photographer for Stern. Lebeck travelled around the world, where he met the rich and famous as well as the poorest of the poor, capturing everything with his camera. So close and immediate, making the viewers feel as if they were a part of these very special moments themselves. At the end of the 1990s, his career as a journalist came to an end. He worked in art photography in Berlin right up until his death in 2014.
Neugierig auf die Welt and Unverschämtes Glück
As a photojournalist, Robert Lebeck knew how to go through the world observantly so that he would not miss out on any magic moments. The precision in his analog photographs is impressive. Instead of depicting the subjects, Lebeck dove into the situations. In this way, he always discovered a unique angle and composition for his shots.
In his capacity as a photojournalist for Stern, Lebeck managed to combine his personal view of the events with the actual subjects, revealing much more than a mere reproduction should allow.
Robert Lebeck had a talent for instilling trust, whether it was in strong personalities like Alfred Hitchcock or cautious stars such as Romy Schneider. The “Master of Suspense” willingly played along with the audience’s expectations of him. And actor Romy Schneider opened up to “Lebo” (as she called Lebeck) in such a way that the photographer himself ran away in panic from getting too close.
These portraits verify the special relationship the photographer built up with his “models”. The contact sheets show how it all developed. A game of challenging and yielding, flirting and dialog, until he captured the exact expression that would do justice to the personality behind the public façade.
When his wife Cordula gave him a DIGILUX 1 in 2002, Robert Lebeck began to take it out on walks. That’s how he discovered Berlin in the blue hour. He took the pictures while standing, but often while walking or from the upper deck of a bus. The latter method offered Lebeck the opportunity to let the special reflections of rain-soaked windscreens flow into his compositions.
You should always take pictures in such a way that you can return to them.
1929 Born in Berlin, Germany From 1952 Worked as a photojournalist at Stern among others 1960 Gained recognition for his photo of a young African man who stole King Baudoin’s sword during Congo’s independence celebrations 1977-1978 Editor in Chief of GEO magazine along with Klaus Harpprecht 2007 Received the Henri Nannen Prize for his life's work, Hamburg, Germany 2009 Comprehensive exhibition of his photographs at the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin 2014 Died in Berlin, GermanyAwards
2007 Henri-Nannen-Preis for his lifeworkExhibitions
2010 Robert Lebeck - Fotografien, Focke- Museum, Bremen, Germany 2009 Robert Lebeck - Musik im Blut, Bode Galerie & Edition, Nuremberg, Germany 2008 Robert Lebeck. Fotografien 1955-2005, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany Robert Lebeck - Neugierig auf Welt, Bode Galerie & Edition, Nuremberg, Germany 2004 Unverschämtes Glück, Willy-Brandt-Haus, Berlin, Germany 2001 Kiosk. Eine Geschichte der Fotoreportage, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany 1991 Robert Lebeck - Fotoreportagen, Perpignan, France 1983 Augenzeuge Robert Lebeck - 30 Jahre Zeitgeschichte, Kiel, Germany 1982 Sammlung R.L. - Fotografie des 19. Jahrhunderts, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany 1961 Tokio-Moskau-Leopoldville, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, Germany