DATE: 1/25/2012 | BY CORY REYNOLDS
Below is Swiss Institute curator Gianni Jetzer's introductory essay on cult photographer Karlheinz Weinberger's Jeans portfolio, followed by a selection of images from SI's new book.
"For most of his adult life, Karlheinz Weinberger (1921-2006) worked in the warehouse department of the Siemens-Albis factory in Zurich. In his free time, he escaped his job's monotony by immersing himself in photography. Self-taught and working under the pseudonym 'Jim,' Weinberger began his artistic career taking pictures of his lovers and of people in the street. Some of these pictures were first published in the Swiss gay journal Der Kreis (or The Circle).
The images in this publication—a facsimile of a self-designed portfolio that Weinberger made in the mid-1950s—showcase the evolving documentary style that would define much of his later work. Jeans focuses on individual portraiture and his fascination for men in blue jeans, an article of clothing whose scarcity in post-war Switzerland and close association with American pop stars implied more than just a fashion statement.
Blue jeans were a badge of status, differentiation and rebellion for working class Swiss boys and girls dissatisfied with the conservative climate of the day. Weinberger's interest in this emerging youth culture subsequently gave rise to a larger project. In 1958, he began to photograph a group of Rockabilly teenagers at the public parks and fairgrounds where they gathered and at his makeshift home studio.
This group, who were derided by the Swiss middle class as 'Halbstark' (or 'half strong'), adopted Weinberger as a friend. Despite the generation gap he became an 'intimate stranger' whose images sympathetically captured their youthful defiance and the unfiltered attitude of their generation.
Weinberger processed and developed his photographs in his home darkroom and until recently, his life's work was largely unknown.
Thankfully, now that his extraordinary images are gaining wider recognition, Weinberger can be appreciated as more than a documentarian, and as an artist whose photographs offer a genuine contribution to the history of portraiture." - Gianni Jetzer, excerpted from Jeans.
Karlheinz Weinberger: Jeans
SWISS INSTITUTE/PRESENTATION HOUSE GALLERY/MUSEUM GEGENWARTSKUNST/BYWATER BROSHbk, 9.5 x 14.75 in. / 108 pgs / 54 b&w.