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Photo essay Urban


Berlin based photographer Michael Lange photographed the urban transformation of the city he lives in. It resulted in his latest book 'Sand', published by The Velvet Cell.

- Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to becoming a photographer, and to doing what you’re doing today?

I grew up in a small town in the state of Lower Saxony, Germany. My father brought me to photography when he gave me his old camera. Since I enjoyed photography, I did an apprenticeship as a photographer in a small photo studio. However, I was dissatisfied with commercial photography, so I didn't want to continue working as a photographer. Instead, I moved to Berlin to study Media and Communication Studies. Although I have always taken pictures in my spare time, it wasn't until the Sand Project that I really got back into photography. I took a sabbatical from my full-time job and completed the masterclass at the Berlin International Photography School, focusing on long-term projects. Since then I have been working continuously on various projects.

- Can you tell us a bit more about the project ‘SAND’?

Sand is a long-term documentary project that explores the urban transformation of Berlin. The photographs show places that are in the usually short phase between the removal of the old and before the construction of the new.

These are places where the building site has just been cleared or where the excavation work has just begun. So you can neither see what has disappeared nor which buildings have just been erected. Instead, the pictures provide insights into the urban fabric that are mostly no longer possible today. The photographs make clear the urban context in which the buildings are created.

The title of the project refers to the fact that sand comes to light during construction. Berlin is located in a glacial valley of the last ice age, which is why there is a lot of sand underground. It is also said that the city is built on sand. 

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the cityscape was extremely fragmented and heterogeneous. This was partly due to the destruction in the Second World War and the different reconstruction programmes in East and West, which were also accompanied by large-scale demolitions and followed the model of the car-oriented city. Then, in the 1990s, a building boom began that is still ongoing and has changed the face of the city significantly. The project, recently published as a book, includes photographs from the years 2017-2022, the most recent phase of urban redevelopment.

- Can you tell us a bit more about your process for this project?

At first I photographed buildings under construction or places that were likely to change in the future‒such as wastelands or buildings that had lost their old function. Then I concentrated more and more on my actual subject and specifically looked for the right places. I informed myself through newspapers, architecture blogs and satellite images from online maps. Friends also told me when they had seen an interesting place. Since most construction sites change relatively quickly, I had to be careful not to miss the right moment. In addition, I worked out a strict formal concept with regard to perspective and the lighting situation, for example.

- How would you describe your work?

It is a rather sober photography that usually keeps some distance, which is probably due to my scientific background and my documentary approach. On the one hand, I like to work conceptually, and on the other hand I try to be open to new impulses that come by chance‒which is an ongoing struggle.


- What does photography mean to you? 

Hard to say. On the one hand, I love walking through cities and taking pictures. On the other hand, I deal a lot with the topics of the city, architecture and urbanity in general and the history of Berlin in particular. I like the fact that I can combine content and aesthetic aspects when I approach a subject. And in the end, something different usually comes out than what I started with. That's an exciting process. But actually, that's a question worth thinking about further.

- Which other photographers, designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?

There are so many remarkable photographers, it's hard to choose. But to name a few: I am a fan of Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine’s photography. I also like Peter Bialobrzeski's City Diaries and the city photographs by Mårten Lange and Daniel Everett. Andreas Gehrke's photo book about the abandoned Berlin Tegel Airport is excellent. And when it comes to portrait photography, I like the unobtrusive approach of Göran Gnaudschun.

© Pictures by Michael Lange