Digital Wondering 09
Digital Wonderings are a series of online speculations around the curatorial theme of TRUST. They can take any form, from a conversation, a short statement, a film or a photographic series. Invited contributors come from a wide range of disciplines and can respond and react to the theme and the format as they wish.
Trust and the Media
ND870316 – Autopsy Of A Newspaper (2017) by Fred Hüning is an intervention into the newspaper pages of “Neues Deutschland” from March 1987. It presents the GDR as economically solid and a globally respected and networked country just three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the destruction of East and West Germany. By redacting the text Hüning highlights that in the 48 photos shown, the then Head of state, Erich Honecker, was in 43 of them, reminiscent of a personality cult. In a world of fake news and alternative facts this work makes parallels to the past and the ever-increasing tension between citizens, the press and government.
Definition: An autopsy or post-mortem examination is an examination of a body after death to determine the cause of death.
The ND or Neues Deutschland (New Germany) was the official party newspaper of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), which governed East Germany (officially known as the German Democratic Republic). As such it served as one of the party’s most important media apparatus. More than the other newspapers in the GDR, the ND not only endorsed all policy decisions of the government, but also frequently changed its editorial position to support the party line. It also sought to elevate the prestige of each member of the leadership, perhaps most importantly Erich Honecker, the then General Secretary of the Central Committee of the SED.
This edition of Neues Deutschland, from March 16th 1987, has become renowned. Over eight pages, 48 photos are reproduced – the Head of state Erich Honecker can be seen on 43 of these. Many of the articles are about Honecker or at least mention him. In 2016 I got to know about this legendary edition and wanted to find out what was actually shown on these images, I wanted to know how Honecker was staged, presented and ‘put into the picture’. The redaction of the text for this project illustrates the stage-management of Erich Honecker and illustrates the personality cult around him by the media.
At first glance, the eight newspaper pages have much in common with today’s phenomena of the digital world in terms of fake news, alternative facts, flexible realities and parallel worlds. The pictures and texts suggest that the GDR and its economic balance sheet were solid and successful. The GDR was presented as a world recognized and well networked country. And back then this was by no means news that nobody believed or read it in East Germany. However, only three years later, after the fall of the wall, the West German secret service BND was extremely surprised how desolate the state of the GDR and its economy was.
The state newspapers positive media strategies regarding Honecker and the GDR are reminiscent of Trump and his self-promotion and praise on Twitter. In our age of alternative facts and Fake News where the talk of the alleged „LÜGENPRESSE (Lying press)“ is getting louder – especially in Eastern German areas – my work raises questions about the possible origins of this current development and the ever-increasing tension between citizens, press and government.
Fred Hüning is an artist based in Berlin. He studied photography at Ostkreuzschule School of Photography and completed a summer academy in Leipzig with Gundula Schulze – Eldowy. His diploma work Einer became the first book in the trilogy Einer, Zwei, Drei. This trilogy takes the form of three small softback books and was later reprinted in2013 as one book titled one circle (Peperoni Books). This work concentrates on the lifecycles of Hüning’s family, and was shown in the exhibition Home Truths at the Photographers’ Gallery in London (2013/2014) and The Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago (2014). His work has been shown extensively in Germany. International venues include: Lisboa Photo Festival (Lisbon – forthcoming in October 2021), Le Bal (Paris) and Fotofestival Łódź in Poland. He has published six monographs and his work has appeared in many survey books on international photography, including OUTS by SKYLARK EDITIONS (Chicago) and Fw:Books (Amsterdam) coming out later in 2021. www.fredhuening.de