Obituary Evelyn Richter
Evelyn Richter was one of the most important, internationally renowned representatives of humanistic artistic photography in the GDR. She died on the morning of 10 October 2021 at the age of 91.
Evelyn Richter was an outstanding artistic personality. Throughout her life, she was interested in the creative and social tasks of photography. For her, the medium was a way of perceiving history. An image should be aesthetically and formally convincing, convey content, trigger and condense emotions. Evelyn Richter's photographic studies of the living and working conditions of the people around her countered the GDR's self-image as a supposedly more humane society. "The official cliché demanded to see what should be and not what really existed" is how the photographer described the official requirements. As a lecturer at the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts, she was able to teach young photographers how to see and photograph from 1981 to 2001.
In October 2020, Evelyn Richter's life's work was honoured with the Bernd and Hilla Becher Prize of the City of Düsseldorf. Many of her works are anchored in the collective visual memory. Through her extensive artistic oeuvre, which has been preserved in the Evelyn Richter Archive of the Ostdeutsche Sparkassenstiftung at the MdbK since 2009, as well as many intensive conversations and joint travels, Evelyn Richter remains unforgotten for us. She will live on in her works.
Our thoughts are with her family.
Born on 31 January 1930 in Bautzen, she grew up in Upper Lusatia and attended a school run by the Herrnhut community. After an apprenticeship as a photographer in Dresden with Pan and Christine Walther, where she learned the traditional craft, she sought an artistic challenge: she began studying in Leipzig in 1953, but had to end it prematurely after two years due to her involuntary de-registration. Richter's high expectations of artistic teaching were not fulfilled. In the 1950s, the teaching goals and content at the university, as well as the cultural-political discussion and professional reality, were not yet tailored to the job profile of an artistically working photographer. The officially propagated image of the construction of the young socialist state and its confident and energetic citizens did not correspond to Evelyn Richter's ideas about images. She was looking for the "unadorned" image of people and life in her own reality. Inspired by the Magnum photography agency and the Family of Man exhibition organised by Edward Steichen, which Richter visited in West Berlin in 1955, she found photographic models outside the state borders. The approach pursued there of photographically capturing human life in its diversity and anchoring it in social consciousness as an aesthetic image confirmed and motivated Evelyn Richter throughout the entire period of her creative work.
Evelyn Richter found her first motifs in her private surroundings and at Leipzig Hochschule, less frequently on the street. Unlike Dresden, war-ravaged Leipzig was not an officially desired photo subject, yet she went her own way and dared to look out into everyday life. The attempt to exhibit pictures that were personally important to them and in which they wanted to express a new view of people and the environment, together with a number of fellow students in 1956 under the militant name action fotografie, failed in 1957 after the second exhibition due to the cultural-political framework conditions.
A trip to Moscow
In retrospect, a trip to Moscow for the World Youth Festival in the early summer of 1957 proves to be a formative experience for Evelyn Richter's work. She captured her touching encounters with the people in photographs. Since her medium-format camera, which she had preferred until then, was not working, she borrowed a 35 mm camera and finally found the right means of expression to record her impressions quickly and inconspicuously. In Moscow, she photographed museum visitors looking at art for the first time. Her initial aim was a single reportage, but the subject became her first long-term project.
Since this first visit to Moscow, the motifs of Richter's free artistic work were only influenced by her everyday environment. She began to work in series: With her camera, a Leica, she observed people on the move. Richter's pictures were never voyeuristic, however, but always sustained by empathy as well as the motivation to point out social conditions. For her, photography was a means of perceiving history. Her photographic studies of the living and working conditions of her fellow human beings countered the self-image of the GDR as a supposedly more humane society. She produced groups of works on the subjects of working women, apprentices, travellers on public transport, exhibition visitors and portraits of artists, as well as cityscapes that address the tristesse, decay and living conditions in the GDR.
Music and musicians
For Evelyn Richter, music developed into a highly valued field of work and a place of inner emigration. Without a flashlight, she photographed musicians and conductors at rehearsals and lessons from close range, and at performances from the distance of the auditorium or the orchestra pit. Of great importance to the photographer were the "working portraits" of violinist David Oistrakh and composer and conductor Paul Dessau, whom she accompanied in their work over several years. She dedicated a publication to each of them in 1973 and 1974.
Evelyn Richter always worked freelance. With commissioned works for the theatre, magazines and the Leipzig Fair, she was able to create a financial basis for her free artistic work. Occasional exhibitions in Cologne (1978, 1979), Munich (1985, 1988) and Duisburg (1987), among others, indicate the esteem in which she was held outside the GDR. In 1981, the photographer returned to the HGB as a teacher. She took over a class and encouraged her students to work independently. In autumn 1989, Richter urged them to document political events on the street. She organised light-sensitive films from West Germany and took to the streets herself, as a photographer, documentarian and demonstrator.
The Evelyn Richter Archive
The "Evelyn Richter Archive of the Ostdeutsche Sparkassenstiftung in the Museum of Fine Arts Leipzig" was founded with the signing of the contract on 12 November 2009. The foundation is formed by the complex of the photographer's most important groups of works acquired by the Ostdeutsche Sparkassenstiftung. The archive's work is determined by the fundamental museum tasks of collecting, preserving, researching and communicating. Her artistic concept can be studied on the basis of the more than 730 motifs. Currently, the Evelyn Richter Archive of the Ostdeutsche Sparkassenstiftung at the MdbK is preparing a comprehensive exhibition on the photographer's work together with the Kunstpalast Düsseldorf.