Karlheinz Weinberger Photography
“The outfits in Karlheinz Weinberger’s photos might seem at first glance artificially produced, some over-stylized exaggerations from a Kenneth Anger movie. But the kids in Weinberger’s photographs are very real rockers from the late ’50s and early ’60s in Zurich who built a community out of a shared love for Elvis and American music. A new book of Weinberger’s work Rebel Youth shows how painstakingly he catalogued the Swiss subculture called the Halbstark or “Half-Strong,” hosting kids at his in-home studio and following them around town to snap photos.”
“In 1958, Weinberger met a member of a small band of teenagers and began photographing them both at his home studio as well as at the public parks and carnivals where they gathered. In post war Switzerland, these self-named “rebels” were comprised of working class boys and girls dissatisfied with the conservative and conformative culture of the day. Inventing their own code of behavior and dress they affected a powerful gang identity expressed by an affinity for like-minded American imports such as James Dean, Elvis, blue jeans and motorbikes. Later, in the mid-60s, the rebels dissipated both physically and in spirit, while others carried on their youthful resistance to the status quo, forming clubs of “rockers” and “bikers” that Weinberger followed with his camera on their outings into the Swiss countryside. Their retreat from the urban setting to a self-imposed isolation in nature embodied a more inward revolt, one of self-destructiveness and self-mutilation.” (Anna Kustera)
There is much to be said for Weinberger’s photography, who is one of my favorite photographers. Weinberger’s work is often described as “what happens to white Switzerland when black music is played by a white man and then radioed across the Atlantic to Europe.”
In a cultural sense, it is a beautiful time capsule of the emergence of Swiss youth culture in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s. You get the sense that a cultural game of telephone was taking place, starting in America with the uprising of rock ‘n roll and Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls circa 1957, and eventually hitting Switzerland with blind fury around 1959, leading to a sub-culture that had morphed itself into a distorted hyper-reality version of it’s original emulation.
Weinberger’s photo’s somehow produce a tone of affection for it’s rebellious subjects. There is a hint of playfulness to his work expressed through the cartoonish sense of revolt displayed by the topic matter. One of the main focal point is fashion – youth’s fascination with individualism; defining oneself’s place in society by means of dress; refusing to conform to conservative trends by altering one’s aesthetic while failing to acknowledge they themselves are becoming a trend. But the under current to Weinberger’s work is incredibly sexually charged, often borderlining on masochism. Whether this was intended or not is debatable – Weinberger did get his artistic start working in gay underground clubs in Switzerland.
Weinberger recently passed away, and a collection of his undoubtably retro work entitled Rebel Youth has recently been released. Even after his death, Weinberger’s work continues to be celebrated.