The photographs displayed at “Color Lehmitz” were taken in the port area of Hamburg at the end of the 1960s. In a place where the 23-year-old future photographer found the kind of “authentic” atmosphere, he had yearned for. Café Lehmitz was located in the same street with several dozens of brothels open around the clock in a place that never slept. This area was a meeting point, where many different fates congregated: sailors, dock workers, neighbourhood residents, prostitutes, young drifters, or ageing people trying to hold on to some kind of vigour. This was a place, where everyone, regardless of their life choices or background, could feel they belonged. The 23-year-old Petersen was welcomed with open arms.
That place was Café Lehmitz, where a true meeting took place in 1967-1970, and this is where Petersen’s first exhibition was held during four days in 1970. After bar manager Kurt had given his approval, 350 images were hung with thumbtacks, and anyone who recognized themselves in a picture was welcome to take it. Petersen saved the second copy for a book that would eventually become a world-famous photo-book. Published in 1978, this book gave space to some of society’s most vulnerable, portrayed with tenderness, belonging, and stringency. This is what made these portraits both universal and timeless.
Photos by Anders Petersen, Café Lehmitz
The camera lens makes Anders Petersen’s gaze visible. He looks at people with a sensitive curiosity and with his camera captures fleeting moments that serve as proof that we are all connected to one another. The moments he has captured show a connection between people, a bond between us humans that we might not be able to explain scientifically, but we can all sense it, and recognize when someone manages to capture it on film.
If you really want something, it’s a question of life and death.
“Then nothing but a kind of razor-sharp intuition works for the onset, and daring to be weak enough. Not strong, but weak, and welcoming an unbiased meeting – we are all, after all, family. For me, it was never actually about being a photographer, it was always about the human connection. The camera is just my tool,” discusses Petersen his philosophy of photographing.
From that point of view, the legendary photo series Café Lehmitz, exhibited at Fotografiska Tallinn as “Color Lehmitz”, is as relevant today as when the pictures were taken during the late 1960s. Authored by a young man, escaping his complicated childhood and adolescence and longing for connection – always looking for a father figure and belonging beyond class and barriers.
“Anders Petersen’s black and white photographs are essentially documentary, however, they are intimate and hypnotic at the same time. These photos show a specific time in the history of the port area in Hamburg, yet Petersen’s style has significantly contributed to the artistic development of the documentary photography genre,” says Maarja Loorents, co-founder and exhibitions manager at Fotografiska Tallinn, pointing to the uniqueness of the exhibition. “He didn’t photograph life in the margins of society, but people, who were ready to share an authentic moment of their life in front of the camera. For the photographer, that meant, above all, establishing a connection with the people he was shooting. So, his photographs are not moments stolen from people but intimate and authentic portraits in their familiar surroundings,” continues Loorents.
The legendary photo series is also recognised in pop culture. One of the people portrayed in the series reminded the singer and songwriter Tom Waits of himself and so, with permission from Petersen, the photograph found its way to the album cover of “Rain Dogs” (1985).
Anders Petersen’s exhibition “Color Lehmitz” is open in Fotografiska Tallinn until 7 February 2021. The exhibition is produced in collaboration with curator Angie Åström.