Introduction to the exhibition Karlheinz Weinberger oder die Ballade von Jim, Photobastei Zürich, 1. Nov. – 23. Dez. 2018
by Patrik Schedler (translation: Bruce E. Hackney)
„I am an absolute esthete.
I’ve been interested since I’ve been photographing, only human beings, be it in their environment, or just as a portrait. My whole weakness was the photo coverage in all areas of my photographic work. I just photographed what I enjoyed and I also sublimated all my erotic feelings into photography. As you can see from the exhibition, my senses were always focused on the beautiful and the extravagant things that were characteristic of me. Even if some things sometimes did not meet my expectations, I was fascinated by the power of the motif.
I was incredibly lucky that I was allowed to take full pictures wherever I appeared. What you see today is my life lived, a beautiful life that was entirely devoted to photography. Thanks to all those who I was able to capture with my camera and the thanks to all those who took pleasure in being photographed by me.
Highlights in my life were my holidays in Sicily, Lampedusa, Lipari, Tangier, Paris, Salzburg and Vienna, as well as my photo exhibitions. (…)
Zurich, February 6, 2002 „
This short statement was written by Karlheinz Weinberger for his exhibition „A Live lived to its full“, which was shown in 2002 in my gallery, three streets away from here.
This summer I wrote a short biography about Karlheinz Weinberger. The analysis of the exhibition helped me to reconstruct who Weinberger was, as a person and as an artist.
This exhibition, which see here in the Photobastei, I have designed to show the most important stages of his life organized into groups, as he himself wanted to see his work divided: workers, travel to the south, Fasnacht, circus, sports, portraits, Halbstrarke” (rebel youth)”, rockers, tattoos and most recently the story with Alex, who’s life was, at the time of the exhibition of 2002, still in progress.
Weinberger was born in Zurich in 1921. Except for a few years in his childhood, he spent his entire life in the house on the Elisabethenstrasse. His apartment was also the center of his photography. He photographed at least half of the pictures there, in the room that had been converted into a studio, in the stairway, on the roof or in small gardens behind the house.
The title of the exhibition is “Karlheinz Weinberger or the Ballad by Jim” to acknowledge Weinberger’s former creative nom de plume, “Jim”.
“The Ballad of Nigger Jim” was a German song from 1931, which was sung in the repertoire of the working youth groups. At the time, Weinberger traveled around Swiztzelrtand with his guitar and learned the song from a lover. The song is about a black man who is thrown out of a tram just because he’s black and later gets killed.. In heaven, Jim asks if there is an area for white gentlemen and an area for “niggers”, as was the case in the tram. The song was sung to point out the injustice of a segregated society; something Weinberger was against.
A few years later, Weinberger was inducted into the „Circle,“ a pioneering, “out” homosexual organization, where he presumably sang it on a club night in the early fall of 1948. Since that evening, his comrades called him “Jim”.
I came across “Jim” when, in 1990, shortly after we started the Gay Archive, I flipped through the pages in “The Circle” magazine and studied the illustrations. The best photos, and there were many of them, were labeled ‚Jim‘. However, I met this “Jim” only ten years later in person.
“Jim” was first active in the „circle“ as a singer and actor, but from 1952 his photos were regularly published in the magazine. Around the same time as the first “halbstarke” started to appear in Zurich – around 1958 – Jim gradually withdrew from active participation in “Der Kreis”. From then on, Weinberger became interested in this “rebel youth” movement that was developing right out his front door and even in his own apartment. But it is also the time when he travels a lot, to the south, to Italy, south of France, Sicily, Lampedusa and Morocco. These trips are made possible by a wealthy member of the „Kreis“, his lifelong patron, Eugen Laubacher. Since 1962, Weinberger also shot photos for the sports magazines, “Satus-Sport” and “Sport”, for which he has twice traveled to World Championships in the East Germany (GDR).
By 1964, the “Halbstrake” era had begun to fade. In 1964. Weinberger travelled with them to St. Peter’s Island in the middle of Lake Biel, where Halbstarke from all over Switzerland met for the last time. Some burned their clothes and become bourgeois, others, such as Tino Schippert, (later on a founder of the Hells Angels in Switzerland) go underground. Weinberger continued to follow them with his camera.
At the end of 1967, “Der Kreis” ceases its publication. Weinberger still using his pseudonym ,Jim, has his photos published in another magazine, “Club68”. 1967 is also the birth year of the “rocker” scene the next phase of the “halbarke” in Switzerland. Weinberger travels and photographs them at the “Lone Star” Camps‘ in Gossau and in Bad Ragaz.
Weinberger forms strong friendships with these rockers and welcomes them to his Elisabethenstrasse home celebrate Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. When one of the rockers lands in jail, it is always Weinberger who sends him cigarettes, encourages him and helps him when he comes out again.
He is present at virtually every occasion in the lives of the rockers and bikers: weddings, funerals, at the camps, club evenings, later the Harley meeting and always as a photographer. Tattoos have always fascinated him. The rockers decorate the tanks of their machines and they get tattooed. Weinberger devotes his own exhibition to this subject in the 1990s.
Weinberger photographed only in his free time from his full time job in the warehouse department at Siemens. Only after his retirement was he now able to devote himself fully to photography.
Since Weinberger was not a “professional” artist, the public did not know of his creative life until 2000, when the curators Mattioli and Binder organized a large exhibition at the Museum für Gestaltung (Museum for Design” in Zurich.
In the 2000’s. Weinberger was internationally perceived as only a photographer of the “Halbstarke”, a small body of work in his entire oeuvre; a perception that vexed him extremely. Only gradually could this perception be corrected.
The dispute over the recognition of his work, I suppose, has been settled for the time being. With the successful exhibition at the ‚Rencontres d’Arles‘ 2017, designed by one of the most important photography curators, François Cheval, Weinberger has now been elevated to the Mount Olympus of photographers.
One topic, however, still bothers me today. There is a strange reservation, a tense relationship between the public and those who speak for the public, about his homosexuality.
In doing research for my book last summer, and in numerous conversations between myself and filmmaker, Michele Cirigliano, we both concluded that their are two different assesments of Weinberg’s work: Weinberger, the “homosexual photographer”, took pictures “gay images” of the Halbstarke and rockers and therefore the work is only halfway interesting. The other assesment: despite being homosexual, Weinberger has taken good pictures. What I’ve never actually found is the evaluation that because Weinberger was gay, he was able to create such magnificent work – his homosexuality and the special way he dealt with this social labeling and classification allowed him to create masterpieces. The homoerotic gaze, in his case, is indeed a gift that mingles within a gift.
It turns out that Weinberger is not a pornographic but a metaphysical artist.
Seen today, his artistic work is much deeper than what we think we see at first sight. It requires a mental effort to capture its vast dimension, the intensity of the experiences it depicts.
Because of the disposition of their inner reality, Weinberger, like the greatest photographers has been able bring this vision to his exhibitions.
We must call this work existential photography, which hardly knows any pre-education, except in the literature of existential or pre-existential authors like André Gide, Jean Cocteau, Jean Genet or Tennessee Williams, all authors who Weinberger read.
Between Weinberger and other photographers such as Nobuyoshi Araki, Mark Morrisroe, Peter Hujar, Allen Frame or Nan Goldin, there is a similar, parallel sensibility. If there is an early influence to his work, it’s most likely from Californian photographer Bob Mizer, whose publication “Physique Pictorial”, Weinberger owned.
Weinberger has the aesthetic conscience that Jean Genet spoke about in all his works, but Weinberger is – and this is one of his extraordinary atributes – completely independent in his choice of his subjects; without any prudence or consideration. His photos give us the secrets of his personal desires.
The curators of the major exhibitions of Weinberger: Ulrich Binder & Pietro Mattioli, (Museum of Design, Zurich, 2000) Gianni Jetzer (Swiss Institute, NYC, 2011), François Cheval (Rencontres d’Arles, 2017) removed him from conventional photographic categories. I see him much more in an art-historical context and compare his work with artists like Caravaggio, Goya, Courbet, Balthus and Warhol as much as contemporary photographers.
His commitment to his vision, his revealing of his ‚deviant desires‘ in the form of his photographic work denies his viewers a reassuring and convenient categorization and defies being diluted by liberating individual parts and trying to devalue or make others invisible.
This is reflected in the slide show about Alex realized by Michele Cirigliano in this exhibition. Weinberger met Alex in 1995 in Shopville. He took Alex home, photographed hima and from then on frequently met with him over the next eleven years.
The more than 1700 pictures are from the interior of a sanctuary. Weinberger first made these pictures out of a private fascination, developing a relationship with a person whom he loved and desired but did not touch. His „touch“ reached him through the lens of the camera and through the projection of slides. But then Weinberger discovered he had created a great body of worki. What may seem superficial as pornography is actually a huge eleven year portrait that tells of the story of life complete with it’s depiction of decay.
With a special thanks to Michele Cirigliano, who supported me in my research and Romano Zerbini and his professional team, who made this exhibition possible, I conclude and wish you a pleasant evening.