In a large solo exhibition, the Museum für Fotografie (Museum of Photography) presents theatre photographs by Ruth Walz from the past 50 years. Between 1976 and 1990, Walz masterfully documented legendary productions by Peter Stein, Luc Bondy and Robert Wilson, among others, for the Schaubühne Berlin. She also accompanied many other milestones of recent European theatre and opera history as a photographer.
Viol – Schändung by Botho Strauß, Schauspielhaus Bochum, 2006. Directed by Luc Bondy, stage design by Lucio Fanti, Dörte Lyssewski as Lavinia, Gérard Desartheo Strauß as Titus © Ruth Walz
In the decade and a half that Ruth Walz (b. 1941 in Bremen) was closely allied with the Schaubühne ensemble, she perseveringly and no less poignantly captured the productions of Peter Stein, Klaus-Michael Grüber, Luc Bondy and Robert Wilson in the memorable spaces of Karl Ernst Herrmann, Gilles Aillaud and Eduardo Arroyo and the costumes of Moidele Bickel and Susanne Raschig. Following this successful and benchmark-setting era, she trained her lens on companions as they performed on many of Europe’s theatre and opera stages. During this period she also expanded her photographic range technically (from analogue to digital) and through new friendships with theatre directors, including Krzystof Warlikowski, Peter Sellars, Dmitri Tcherniakov and Romeo Castellucci.
Photography at the Theatre
Her instinct for choosing the “decisive moment”, which is no less valid in the theatre than in street photography, has produced compelling portraits of eminent actors and actresses through the years. Ruth Walz’s close-ups capture the actors’ countenances more minutely than we have ever seen them, while her long shots evoke enduring spatial narratives. Intimate gestures and eloquent facial expressions intertwine with the choral interplay of the ensemble.
One of theatre photography’s paradoxes is its enrichment of the most ephemeral art form with lifelike shadows, revealing the pleasure as well as loss of the immediate experience – both joyfully and painfully. Ruth Walz’s photographs bear her unmistakable signature; her images of the theatre reward us with insight into its recent history as well as present-day, with its urgency for contemporaneity.
A Glimpse into Ruth Walz’s Laboratory
In addition to extended image series from individual productions, including plays by Shakespeare, Aeschylus and Goethe, the exhibition also offers a look behind the scenes and into Ruth Walz’s laboratory – literally as well as figuratively. Separate sections in the exhibition feature the theatre of Bruno Strauss, as well as her partner Bruno Ganz, who died in 2019.