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Monday, June 17, 2024

STUDIO REX – Jean-Marie Donat Collection – C/O Berlin | 01.06.-05.09.2024

Editors’ Choice

From 1 June, C/O is showing the exhibition Studio Rex. What stories are hidden in the archives of photo studios? What do studio photographs tell us about the lives, dreams and hopes of the people portrayed? These and other questions are closely linked to the history of Studio Rex.

Image above: Unknown © Grégoire Keussayan, Jean-Marie Donat Collection

Located in the heart of Marseille’s working-class Belsunce neighbourhood, Studio Rex was founded in 1933 by Assadour Keussayan, a survivor of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey who found refuge in the port city at the age of 17. Together with his wife Varsenik, who herself came from Cyprus, and later with his two children Gregoire and Germaine, the studio became a family affair. It served as a contact point for migrants from North and West Africa and other countries until it closed in 2018. Ten years ago, French collector Jean-Marie Donat took over a large part of the extensive archive with tens of thousands of photos and photo negatives taken here between 1966 and 1985. An archive that combines personal and historical memories.

DEEDS NEWS STUDIO REX Jean Marie Donat Collection CO Berlin 3
Unknown, photo montage © Grégoire Keussayan

The pictures show people posing for an official passport photo in formal dress and with a serious look; in other photos, people in elegant clothing pose in front of various backdrops, with props such as flowers and screens decorated with ornaments. There are also hand-painted photomontages that reunite families separated by the Mediterranean. Some pictures were left behind due to the quick departure after a long-awaited work commitment – the next stop on the journey. From the anonymity of a group, the collection shows people and their individual stories, even if these can only be surmised. The backs of the photographs usually bear neither names nor dates.

Against the backdrop of the current rise of right-wing populist parties and xenophobic European isolationist policies, the human stories behind migration, the individuals and their motivations often remain invisible. The archive contrasts the often stereotypical and negative portrayal of migration in the media with the lack of images of the self-representation of marginalised groups of people.

For the first time in Germany, C/O Berlin is presenting a large part of this archive, which not only opens up a dialogue between Africa and Europe, but also between private and collective remembrance and forgetting, between past and present.

DEEDS NEWS STUDIO REX Jean Marie Donat Collection CO Berlin 2
Unknown © Grégoire Keussayan, Jean-Marie Donat Collection

Numerous photo studios with a history similar to that of Studio Rex also existed outside France. Under the title Where Have All The Studios Gone?, a separate room offers an excursion into the history and disappearance of local photo studios in Berlin using the example of Studio Mathesie, founded in 1885 and based in Kreuzberg from 1945, which had to close its doors in 1993 due to rising rents. The archive, which was the subject of a groundbreaking exhibition at the nGbK and Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien in 1998, comprises 300,000 negatives, which today belong to the FHXB City Museum in Kreuzberg.

C/O Berlin presents a selection of studio photographs and newspaper clippings about Studio Mathesie as well as the accompanying exhibition, which not only provide an insight into the practice of studio photography, but also bear witness to a past piece of Kreuzberg city life and its inhabitants, the changing times, fashions and gestures. A photo studio backdrop invites visitors to photograph themselves.

In dialogue with the Studio Rex exhibition, this local history intervention raises general questions about the role of photo studios in visual culture, the relevance of (self-)representation and the challenges that can arise when telling such stories. And finally, what significance the disappearance of this trade has. The exhibition was curated by Boaz Levin, curator and co-programme director of the C/O Berlin Foundation, and the collector Jean-Marie Donat.

WHEN?

Exhibition period:
Saturday, 1. June until Thursday, 5. September 2024

Opening hours:
Daily, 11 am to 8 pm

WHERE?

C/O Berlin
Amerika-Haus
Hardenbergstraße 22–24
10623 Berlin

COSTS?

Regular: 12 €
Reduced: 6 €

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