Posted in Exhibitions / Openings / Signings, Fashion, Historia & Memoria, Photography by Suzanne on February 21st, 2012 | BBC Wikipedia
In my early childhood, when we visited the fairgrounds in late autumn with a bag of Marroni (roasted chestnuts) warming my little hands, my mum would always tell me about how, when she was my age, the Halbstarke (“half-strongs”/”semi-toughs” – a movement both popularised and simplified by the movie Teenage Wolfpack) used to hang out near fairgrounds, looking intimidating, cool and… desirable.
Growing up in the 80s with unsightly skinny kids in stonewashed neon jeans and perms occupying fairgrounds, it always sounded like a completely different world to me and my imagination turned the Halbstarke into some half-men/half-wolves – pillaging and ravaging everything in their way that hasn’t fainted with hysteria yet.
In my teens – after studying the not unsimilar life and career of Swiss photographer genius and car crash fetishist Arnold Odermatt – I came across the photographic work of self-taught photographer and previous factory worker Karlheinz Weinberger (1921 – 2006 – GIVE THE MAN A WIKI PAGE!) and it took another year or two to link the stories my mother had told me to the hauntingly powerful yet disarming Weinberger portraits and to realise that post-WWII Switzerland really wasn’t just all quaint and perfect but riddled with very diverse youth movements creating their very own eclectic aesthetic. An aesthetic that would some decades later inspire and influence the Swiss punk, post-punk and goth movements.
Until mid-March, Galerie Esther Woederhoff in Paris is showing a vast selection of works by Weinberger in an exhibition entitled Rebels. They’re absolutely incredible snapshots of an often forgotten youth movement – shot partially in Weinberger’s own pretty bourgeois living room - putting them in the very same Bildungsbürgertum environment they wanted to liberate themselves from - or in the great outdoors snogging in forests, riding pimped bikes, displaying their DIY gear, and just generally being totally badass, fierce and very un-Swiss.
A motive that’s particularly prevalent throughout Weinberger’s work is the focus on the display of male genitalia. Halbstarke developed their very own style, distressing jeans by taking zips out, replacing them with bolts or string and therefore setting a very deliberate phallic accent to their attire. Having worked for “Der Kreis” (AGAIN, GIVE THEM A WIKI PAGE!), a homoerotic magazine published by a Zurich club of the same name that even dared to publish highly critical material during the Nazi era, Weinberger was well versed in an aesthetic celebrating the sensuous youthful male.
However, he documented the halbstarke females in an equally admiring way and his portraits of girls with outrageously backcombed hair, kohl cat eyes, animal print or boldly striped jumpers, very tight waistlines and a lot of chuzpe show a great amount of empathetic closeness to their cause. He was on their side without being one of them.
Analysing the stylistic elements that made you halbstark, it’s actually very interesting observing how certain elements broke with gender stereotypes while others enforced them with a shitload of testosterone:
For the guys this meant that the Hollywood version of the quiff was often grown longer and softened to look rather effeminate, jeans and leather jackets were often short and revealing but this was then counterbalanced with the masculinity of scary Hell’s Angelesque back patches and of course the infamous horseshoe used as pendant – which was like the heavyweight 50s grandfather of the safety pin/pentagram/ankh.
The girls too walked a dual path both enforcing and breaking visual gender roles being the hourglass femme fatale only to adapt to a very tomboyish look and borrowing their boyfriend’s horseshoes, jackets and bandanas the next day.
It was a fantastic and great experimentation ground for the days to come and a lot of it has survived until today – particularly in the goth, crust punk and biker movements. A political movement or not, a lot of the Halbstarke later joined the youth revolts of the late 60s and they have changed the visual landscape of Switzerland for good. Thankfully.
Exhibition details below.
On show: Feb 11 – Mar 17, 2012
Address: Galerie Esther Woerdehoff, 36, rue Falguière, 75015 Paris, France, tel: +33 (0)9 51 51 24 50, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hours: Tue – Sat: 2 – 6 PM
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