Monotony – reflections on working class’s modus operandi
About two years ago I created a little set of pictures I then named every day’s drab monotony. These couple of photographs were the result of a simple idea. The plan was to get onto the first train at 4 am that would take me to the huge satellite towns far out in the east of Berlin in order to dive into commuter traffic and travel back to the city during rush hour.
I went to places such as Marzahn, Hellersdorf and Hohenschönhausen. Mostly erected on drained marshland these satellite quarters were built from the beginning of the 1960s until the 1970s as a modernist triumph of former German Democratic Republic. The prefab construction system allowed to put up a vast number of apartment blocks in a very short period of time.
Back then whole new cities rose from the grounds all over the country – erected as a tribute to the ideal of working man. The hugest plattenbau agglomeration was Halle-Neustadt which by the end of the seventies accommodated close to 100,000 inhabitants. The socialist regime passed away, the bedroom suburbs remained.
The first one of my trips resulted in two rolls of expired high sensitive slide film. A few of the heavily grainy pictures turned out quite well and their muddy colors conveyed the atmosphere of every day’s drab monotony. But what seemed more important was the bunch of questions I kept asking myself about what I had just experienced.
Was this the way it is like to be a worker? Getting up at 5 or 6 am feeling the freezing cold of an early winter morning? Was this how it felt like to get ready for work and do the same thing everyday? Have I just had a glimpse on what it is like being caught up in monotony? Why would people do over and over again what they most obviously despise. What is their daily motivation? Apart from the necessity of working to earn a living may it be fear of not being able to do anything else?
This winter I decided to start new early morning trips to find out more. My questions were the fuel when I set out again to Friedrichsfelde and the city’s fringes at Wartenberg, Hönow and Ahrensfelde. I completed a whole new series of black and white medium format pictures which I now simply call monotony.
It is hard to define what exactly my observations in commuter traffic yielded. Reflections of wrung out blue-collar souls in tired eyes. Wear marks on the faces: witnesses of a numbness of spirit caused by daily repetition. Commitment to a desperately monotonous way of coping with life. Cynic indifference towards inevitable futility.
In the end I found a peculiar form of respect for the people I observed – each of them an Atlas carrying the weight of his own world around with him every day.
These are the pictures: