To round off the first year in its new building – the former Amerika Haus – C/O Berlin is presenting the jubilee exhibition Eyes Wide Open! 100 Years of Leica Photography from August 22 to November 1, 2015. We spoke with the curator, Felix Hofmann, about the particularities of this, the third location, for the touring exhibition.
Q: Mr. Hoffmann, on August 22 Eyes Wide Open! opens for the third time. Where did you place the emphasis here at C/O Berlin?
A: We’ve defined a few focal points that are different to the previous locations. We want to have more colour photography in this exhibition, which is why we’re showing more works by William Eggleston. We also managed to get Mary McCartney, the daughter of Paul McCartney, to let us use more of her pieces. These pictures were not in Hamburg or Frankfurt. In addition, Hans-Michael Koetzle [Ed: curator of the Hamburg exhibition] negotiated with the executors of the estates of some photographers in Portugal, to get more pictures for the exhibition in Berlin. I’ve just heard that he was also able to bring three small photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, which were also not on display in Hamburg and Frankfurt.

Q: In addition to photographs, the exhibition includes cameras and contemporary documents. How are you linking the various exhibits together?
A: Of course, cameras are also on display at C/O Berlin, after all, the technical aspect is central to the exhibition. The historic exhibit reveals how photography went from the static photo studio of the 19th century out onto the streets. Photographs, cameras and contemporary documents are in a dialogue with one another. There is also a difference to the Hamburg exhibition in the magazines. New aspects flowed through the contemporary documents exposed there, and here in Berlin they amplify the exhibit that hangs on the wall: that’s how it was published; that’s how the layout was, and that’s how the general public saw this iconic picture.
Q: What is the exhibition’s particular appeal?
A: Eyes Wide Open! is a very special exhibition because it presents the history of photography as of 1914. The Leica brought aspects into photography that had not been there before. It can be summarised in one sentence: how photography learnt to walk. All of a sudden, both the voyeuristic and the reportage aspects came into play. All of a sudden, you could observe things and capture them in a way that was impossible before. There will never be a moment like that again. Photography is changing, but it’s hard to imagine a technical innovation equal to the Leica in the early 20th century. The invention of the Leica brought something to the light of day that had been thought impossible in previous years. This camera helped photography to blossom.
Q: C/O Berlin is presenting two other exhibitions in parallel, of which one is of photographic works by Rudi Meisel, who is also part of the Eyes Wide Open! exhibition. What is the idea behind this?
A: Among the exhibitions at C/O Berlin there is always the “flagship” one – in this case the Leica exhibition. The smaller exhibitions should also benefit from the big one with its famous names. To avoid any duplication, we decided not to show any of Meisel’s pieces in Eyes Wide Open! At the same time, there are aspects that appear in Eyes Wide Open! that we want to amplify in the Meisel exhibition. In an exhibition dedicated to 100 years of Leica photography it can’t all be about the Cold War, so we take a deeper look into the division of Germany by exhibiting over 80 photographs by Rudi Meisel.

Q: What other events are you planning within the Eyes Wide Open! framework?
A: There are all kinds of presentations, guided tours and workshops for all age groups. There is so much on offer that we had to produce a magazine exclusively for that. We start out with a presentation by Hans-Michael Koetzle talking about the concept behind the exhibition. Jutta von Zitzewitz talks about Street Photography. Anton Holzer, who also wrote an essay for the Eyes Wide Open! book, explains how photography moved from the studio out onto the street; and we have Roland Angst for a presentation on Japanese photography and the influence of Leica in Japan. So, it’s a very diverse side programme.

Q: With the exhibition that is about to begin, C/O Berlin is rounding off its first year in its new location – the former Amerika Haus. Can you summarize this first year?
A: The new location has proved to be an outstanding success. We’ve had the kind of numbers of visitors that we could never have reached in Oranienburger Straße. We’re really happy that the location, the exhibitions, and everything else that goes with it – café, bookshop, events – have gone over so well. Until now, the area around the Zoo Bahnhof was considered a problem district. We’re happy to play a small part in helping bring about a change of perception.
Thank you for your time, Mr. Hoffmann!
– Leica Internet Team
Read the interview in German here and learn more on the website.