1906 - 2002
In the fall of 1935, Albrecht Becker (1906-2002) is arrested and imprisoned for three years by the Nazis for violating Paragraph 175, the penal code that outlawed homosexuality in Germany until 1994. Five years later he signs up for the military service and is transferred to the Russian front. Here he begins to tattoo his own body and discovers the pleasures of pain. After the war Becker is introduced into the German film industry, where he becomes one of the most prominent set designers and film architects of the late 1950s to 1980s, working on over a hundred film productions, some of which awarded with prestigious film prizes.
Albrecht Becker begins his photographic self-portrayal in the early 1930s and continues to explore his body and his sexuality without apologies in an increasingly self-determined way for decades to come. Hundreds of photographs taken over a period of forty years show an equivocal mise-en scène in which Becker engages in role play on multiple levels: He stages performative scenes and presents his body as a sculpture or uses it as a canvas, which he paints on, adorns and dresses up. He places himself in carefully composed film sets and becomes the lead character, director, screenwriter and cameraman all at once. Permeated with a wry and witty theatricality, his self-portraits tell stories of seemingly irreconcilable versions of himself, an interplay between the sophisticated, dapper gentleman and the sexually empowered individual.
The photographic documentation is accentuated by the technical processes of post-production manipulation: Becker takes control of his physical transformations, and modifies his body through the very manipulation of the image by applying experimental techniques such as photographic duplication, multiple-exposure, mirror reflection, collage and reworking the material. In a clever game of deception arising from different layers of medial-representation, his photomontages recall the work of Pierre Molinier in the way that they play with viewer's sense of orientation. Capturing simultaneity in one static image, his photomontages render the impression of movement as seen in Eadweard Muybridge's early photographic studies in motion.
A pioneer of body modification, Becker's work situates his body as a site for mutable and constant transformation: good or bad, accidental or intentional, he carries the results of his physical explorations with a grandeur bordering tongue-in-cheek exaggeration evocative of an attitude familiar from such contemporaries as Genesis P-Orridge. The continuity of his self-reflection renders a complex, almost cinematic study that records the changes from middle- to old-age life and body. In this, it lucidly addresses the themes of time, mortality, sexuality and fetishism that are at the core of Becker's oeuvre. But his work is also an appeal to tolerance, to letting one be, thus gaining new significance in our times of rising radicalization and intolerance, in a growing climate of fear in Europe and beyond.
Becker has been the topic of several films and his testimony as a gay man in Germany of the 1930s-40s is featured in Rosa von Praunheim's documentary film Love and Torment - Albrecht Becker (2005), in Hervé Joseph Lebrun’s Albrecht Becker, Arsch Ficker Faust Ficker (2004), as well as in Epstein and Friedmann's Paragraph 175 (2000). An interview with Becker is included in the visual history archive of the Shoah Foundation, an organization founded by Steven Spielberg for the remembrance of the Holocaust. James Richards’ video contribution to the 57th Venice Biennale (What Weakens The Flesh is The Flesh Itself, 2017) takes as a point of departure the photographic archive of Albrecht Becker.
With special thanks to the Collection Hervé Joseph Lebrun for the collaboration.
Images: Courtesy Collection Hervé Joseph Lebrun, Delmes & Zander, Cologne.