Photographer Loredana Nemes takes the big stage in Berlinische Galerie, where her 120 works are shown under the title ‘Greed Fear Love’. Her photography, from between 2010 and 2018, is accompanied by lyrical poems. This is her first museum exhibition and almost a retrospective. ‘Greed Fear Love’ sounds rather like the title of a 1,000 page 19th century Russian novel, almost trying to capture life in its entirety – not a modest job. Here, she offers a new visual approach to these huge concepts that is subtle and somewhat peaceful.
Making predominantly black and white images, Nemes’ photographic works vary from documentary to abstraction. The different chapters of her exhibition make significant contributions to the big promise of the title. The chapter ‘Beyond’ shows cafés in Berlin where Turkish or Arab men spend a significant portion of their adult lives. These cafés are all-male environments, a safe space, where tea or coffee is consumed all day, daily newspapers or periodicals read, and everybody knows each other’s problems and happy events. They are places I know very well as my father used to go to a café like this in Turkey. Though open to everyone, the ones in Berlin are partially hidden beyond a huge frosted glass window, a curtain or a decoration, which makes it all but impossible to see what exactly is inside. Nemes looks through these windows and creates portraits of men, sitting for her behind the glass. Although they appear as a blurred human image, the men’s physical characteristics are visible. You can see if they have beards, dark eyes, thick hair or no hair, the shade of their jackets and shirts … Nemes photographs them as if they would like to come out of those windows and through the curtains, not as if they are hiding. It almost creates a tension: who is going to take the first step? Will I go in, or is he going to come out?
The images of these cafés and Nemes’ interest in them undoubtedly explore the theme of identity embedded in the processes of migration and integration. These are increasingly hot topics for Europe, from households to multi-national parliaments, though not at all new to Berlin. Migration is not a foreign subject to Nemes either. She was born in Romania, spent a period of her childhood in Iran and her family moved to Germany to seek asylum, leaving the Socialist Republic of Romania under Ceausescu’s rule when she was 14. She has been based in Germany since then and in Berlin since 2001.
Her take on her subjects and the concepts which make the title seems to come from a genuine interest of Nemes’, and she proves this with her poetry shown in the exhibition. I read these as a gesture of self-revelation – an act of voluntary vulnerability, unusual for a predominantly documentary photographer. Her poetry is hung next to the photographs, and therefore places her next to her subjects. “Fear breaths differently… Fear eats freedom … Fear makes power … Fear kisses children … Fear you you you … ” I believe that it makes the images richer and alters the experience of the exhibition.
Except for the chapter ‘Unbridled Greed’, where she beautifully captures seagulls’ often brutal ritual of fighting each other for food in black and white, Nemes photographs people. One could say that in ‘Unbridled Greed’, Nemes shows seagulls acting as humans.
Her photographs from a Rhenish carnival reveal her sitters’ true essence as they sit in their carnival costumes of super heroes or kings and queens. In her series ‘Blossom Time’, she tries to capture the friendship between teenagers, through which they attempt to overcome the hardship of growing up. Nemes pictures teenagers separately and then creates beautiful and genuine friendship portraits, and almost constructs a photographic work of social documentary. This sounds like a meta-statement, I am aware, but is also how these images look: very genuine and true, but not real. Nevertheless, the warmth and confusion comes through the images perfectly.
Her subjects in every chapter show quietness and comfort. In her series ‘Ocna: Closer Scrutiny’ a male body sinks into a dark liquid, some of the body parts show out of this liquid. Nemes manages to capture the body as fragments – the abstraction of one of the most tangible and real things one can have if lucky enough.
Nemes’ interest in identity, personality and vulnerabilities manifests itself in her photographic and written work. It invites the audience on a journey where different ways of conventional story-telling are explored and presented. The show strongly suits Berlin’s museum of modern and contemporary art, Berlinische Galerie, which is full of works exploring the same or similar topics.