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Burning Down the House

01Norman Behrendt’s first published photobook “Burning Down the House” — subtitled “A photographic study of Berliner graffiti writers 2007—2012″ — offers an intimate and unusual foray into the most secretive artists of the german metropolis.

Graffiti writers belong to a fast track, invisible legion of subway, train yards & street roamers who usually operate without anyone in sight, a nocturnal secret society shrouded in mystery and whose anonymity is vital for their self preservation.  Their name travels widely across the whole city train lines but their identity is never revealed.

“To be a writer is a big secret. It’s the biggest secret that I keep from my parents. You don’t tell many people, you only tell people who you can trust. There’s a big impulse to maintain secrecy.”
– Duko.

97c2b968bd424fd14d76b4248f703599-mediumOver a period of 5 years, Behrendt has gained a prime access to graffiti writers, train and rooftop burners, exposing now in his book the mundane portraits of the many anonymous writers of Berlin.

Behrendt’s “tour de force” is to depict the inner face of this closed society without showing much of graffiti itself, staying away either from the usual adrenaline, action-driven iconography or the documentation process, but rather opting for the portrait, photographing young men in an environment and background that they have specifically chosen, taking out the excess and drama, leaving the quintessence of the writer.

66449404071f821a1d8418edf8049747-mediumPortraits come along sometimes with more scenic backgrounds, but mostly writers chose to expose something different, during the usual routine of daily life, in students’  apartments, sometimes even in the countryside, probably not far from train lines, maybe where the writers started to paint for the first time. With the portrait, there is something deeper that can here be touched, where the background sometimes reveals more of the personality and drama of the writer than the portrait itself.

The book includes more than 80 portraits, long interviews, and a series of Polaroid portraits that were sent to the writers and returned to the author with some add-ons, drawings, interventions, cut-outs and whose series adds to the book the point of view of the writers themselves and offers a low fi “contrepoint” to the main portrait series.
 
0fc0f95a8cbe131139eaee5ffadd7e7f-mediumBurning Down the House won the Dummy Award 2013 at the prestigious Kassel Fotobookfestival. The jury observed: “This dummy impressed the jury the most as it felt that not only had a great deal of work gone into photographing and compiling the extensive book as a whole, but that its »packaging« perfectly suited its subject matter on Berlin graffiti writers, i.e. in that the paper used for the cover was based on the design of the seating material used in Berlin S-Bahn trains. A well-conceived and striking object!” Notwithstanding that the cover is based on the infamous U-Bahn seat upholstery and not S-Bahn, the jury clearly awarded the dummy to a photographic work of considerable quality and commitment. 
 
Released late December 2014 by the Berlin based publisher seltmann+söhne in a limited edition of only 700 copies (with a book cover made with exactly the same seat upholstery as the Berlin U-Bahn!)the book is available in the Urban Spree webstore and in the shop on Warschauer Str. (opened by appointment only until end of February).

 

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