Gundula Schulze Eldowy’s immunity to tragedy and despair is impressive. Fear of not only witnessing the most harrowing of existential circumstances, but capturing them forever through the medium of photography, was conquered wholly by curiosity- a ruthless, unrelenting curiosity which gifted her with the courage to expose a reality which others would not dare to.
Fuelled by a backdrop of social crisis in the GDR, Eldowy spent her early years documenting the harshness of everyday city life in Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden. The results are classically composed and hauntingly beautiful images spanning various different series’, four of which are currently on display at C|O Berlin.
Loneliness, poverty, alienation, misery, and decay are predominant themes throughout each series. Particularly affecting is the collection ‘Tamerlan’ which documents the fragility and physical decline of a elderly woman over the course of nine years. In ‘Der Grosse und der Kleine Schritt’ -on display in its entirety at the gallery- we see a focus on birth, death, and the critical moments which epitomise the unceasing cycle of life. Images of decapitated animals in slaughterhouses and the bloody aftermath of difficult childbirth provoke immediate urges to look away. Within seconds you’re not only looking back- you’re staring- harder and longer than at anything ever before, in complete awe.
It soon becomes clear that Eldowy’s existential snapshots are not primarily out to shock. These seemingly ‘nightmarish’ scenes are nothing but hard, cold reality. Her prerogative was simply to capture this reality as honestly as she could. Birth, death, decay and renewal are exalted as things which we all must live through – things which unite us as human beings. For Eldowy, turning a blind eye to the harrowing brutality of the everyday is not an option. With a uniquely direct yet sensitive pictorial approach, her photographic narratives tug wildly at the heartstrings of anyone who experiences them. Such artistic courage allowed Eldowy to successfully fulfil her intentions in exposing the despair and intense beauty in truth. And let’s not forget that sometimes, the truth hurts.