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Stretching realms of photography

Deutsche Vita (German Life), the exhibition at the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre, can only be described as an unusual yet compelling visual chronicle of German society.

The collection of 46 black-and-white photographs not only provides a record of divided Germany and a period after the fall of the Berlin Wall through portraits that showcase the intimate interplay of person, profession and surroundings, but also brings to the fore photographer Stefan Moses's ability to make his models comfortable posing for the camera.

Moses, who chose his subjects from a wide spectrum of society ' from well-known academics, politicians, artists and writers to anonymous persons like street sweepers, construction workers and tram conductors ' has used equally extraordinary ways of staging the pictures, challenging accepted dogmas of portraiture.

People and animals, people and masks, people and nature, and personalities and their mirror images: the photographer has experimented with novel methods to pose people he chose to preserve for posterity on bromide. He has revealed their characters after having them shed their public persona. Gas attendants, in the series German East, standing stiff, stern and straight in a strange position, seem to embody the German demeanour of that period. Another photograph, Flower power, is a pair of 'flower children', eyes locked and oblivious to the camera intruding into their privacy.

Then there are the uses of props, like the grey, and in some cases white, that Moses uses to cut off his models from their su-rroundings and create a surreal stage on which they are lifted from their nameless existence.

The photographer's love for the absurd is, however, best highlighted in the series Artists Make Masks, in which Moses, who believes 'no one wants to be recognised', gives artists five minutes to masque themselves. Painter Jorg Immendorff transforms himself into a rather comic one-eyed Cyclops while Otto Dix, Moses's colleague, is frozen, staring through an upturned pair of scissors.

The self-portrait reveals the most about Moses's urge for stretching the realms of innovative photography. Camera mounted on the tripod, he stares with one eye into the mirror, while the other is just emerging from behind the viewfinder, as if seeking out differences in the two views of himself.

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