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Stephan Erfurt. On the Road

Parallel to the exhibition "America 1970s/80s" with works by Evelyn Hofer, Sheila Metzner, Joel Meyerowitz and Helmut Newton, the Helmut Newton Foundation is showing more than 50 photographs by Stephan Erfurt taken in the 1980s between New York and the Californian Pacific coast in the project room. There is a close connection to the main exhibition on the first floor of the museum, as Erfurt first assisted Evelyn Hofer and later had Joel Meyerowitz give him decisive pointers for his own group of works.

Cover Photo, Wall Street, New York 1985 © Stephan Erfurt

From the series: Highway No 1, California, 1988 © Stephan Erfurt

Erfurt's photographic career began in Vienna in 1980, where he observed the dancers at the Opera Ball, and a little later in Paris, where he took portraits of the musicians in the branching corridors of the metro at night. The medium soon began to fascinate him so much that he studied photography at the Gesamthochschule Essen in parallel. But Paris was just the beginning; in 1984 he moved on to New York's East Village, where Erfurt lived in a tiny loft. And America was and remained the place of creation and the centre of life for the young photographer for five years - until the fall of the Wall.

From the series: New York Bridges, 1988 © Stephan Erfurt

In the mid-1980s, the magazine of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung became the client and buyer of his pictures and picture stories from the streets and restaurants of this legendary cultural melting pot and from his travels across the vast country. Whether in New York, Miami, Las Vegas or Los Angeles, intensively researched reportages for the FAZ magazine were produced everywhere, often accompanied by texts by Jordan Mejias. Inspired by Evelyn Hofer, for example, he created the "Wall Street" series in 1985, whose hard, sharply drawn contrasts of light and dark still inspire today.

Odeon. From the series: New York Restaurants 1985 © Stephan Erfurt

The black-and-white shots were taken with a Polaroid slide film on a Sunday morning; the otherwise bustling metropolis seems completely deserted. Structures and traces in the asphalt, the wandering points of light caused by light reflections from the surrounding skyscrapers, and the cars parked at the side of the road fill the deserted, almost dystopian situation. In the parallel series "New York Restaurants" we also encounter people, but they disappear again in a timeless atmospheric blur. Only a year later, after a conversation with his colleague Joel Meyerowitz, Erfurt dips everything in colour; first for a second restaurant series in New York, his first publication in FAZ magazine, and shortly afterwards in Miami with the pastel Art Deco colourfulness so characteristic there. Also in 1986, in Las Vegas, the colours are now even clearer. The natural light of the sky shines in the photographs just as much as the artificial light of the coloured neon lamps of the motels and gambling halls. He exhausted the creative possibilities of colour slide films like few colleagues, in the most diverse lighting situations, especially early in the morning in the twilight shots that became his speciality. This in turn connects him with the work of Joel Meyerowitz, whose photographs of Provincetown from the 1970s and 1980s with their intense local colour are being shown publicly for the first time on the first floor of the Foundation.

Empire Diner. From the series: New York Restaurants 1985 © Stephan Erfurt

Erfurt was always able to adapt perfectly to the different situations on location - and to the corresponding commission. At the same time, he worked on freelance projects that he offered to FAZ magazine. Some were accepted, others remained unpublished, such as the 1989 series of pictures of what he called the "urban jungle", which marked the end of his time in New York. During his active time in America, Stephan Erfurt put black-and-white and colour films of different light sensitivities into his cameras, he switched between medium format and 35mm, and in parallel he used Polaroids.

Empire Diner. From the series: New York Restaurants 1985 © Stephan Erfurt

With the surprising end of FAZ magazine in 1999, Erfurt also lost the main buyer of his photographs and at the same time ended his restless life. Only a short time later, he and two like-minded people developed the idea for a new, contemporary exhibition venue for photography: C/O Berlin. In the meantime, the renowned institution resides in the former Amerika-Haus and, together with the Museum für Fotografie, forms a photographic cluster that is unique in Germany - and this exhibition once again manifests the close connection between the two houses.

Stephan Erfurt. On the Road
13 August - 10 October 2021
Helmut Newton Foundation, Project Room Museum of Photography,
Jebensstraße 2, 10623 Berlin.

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