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Disposable camera snaps creativity in Dresden

An American scientist is trying to stir up creative spontaneity in the eastern German city of Dresden by leaving disposable cameras around for strangers' use, before collecting them and displaying the results online. Jessica Ware reports.

Disposable camera snaps creativity in Dresden
Photo: A Peoples' Picture

Utah-native Matthew Jorgensen has been running the website “A Peoples’ Picture” for a number of years in the United States, leaving disposable cameras with a note taped to them in public places. He decided to bring his project with him when he moved to Dresden, Saxony, last May.

“At first I thought that Germans might not pick up the camera at all,” he told The Local, explaining that he imagined they would be less likely to do something so random. “But I was wrong and they took to it as well as people in the States.”

So far Jorgensen, 28, has dotted four cameras around Dresden, largely in parks. The resulting photos showed, he said, that the Germans were trying to be more seriously creative compared to their US counterparts.

German snappers also tended to take a couple of photos nearby and return the camera, while in the United States, people would take the camera for several hours before returning it.

“This project was started as part of an effort to get people to notice the beauty around them every day,” the note stuck to the camera reads, inviting the finder to pick it up and be creative. Instructions can also be found on the website detailing how people can make their own disposable drop, should they have the urge.

“People clearly like taking photos of the most beautiful things around them, normally their partner, family or friends,” said Jorgensen. “This makes it a rewarding hobby and one which reminds me of the good in people.”

A gallery of photos from ‘A Peoples’ Picture’ cameras

None of the developed films have rendered any weird photos, which initially was a shock to the Humboldt scholarship scientist. “It’s a chance for people to take a picture of anything without consequences as it’s completely anonymous.”

One of the only hitches so far with the German edition of “A Peoples’ Picture” is that two of the cameras disappeared, something that was more unusual in America.

“I don’t think people are stealing them though,” said Jorgensen, adding that it was more likely that they were a little confused.

Jorgensen, a nano-scientist at the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research Dresden hopes, he said, to take on some of the country’s bigger cities. “Especially Berlin, it’s a really creative place and creates some really interesting photography,” he said.

Until then, he’s waiting for an unfinished camera which he has been trying to get Dresden students to use. But putting it out in the morning “accompanied with a note in very basic German” on the university campus before returning in the afternoon to collect it has yet proved unsuccessful.

“I’m not too sure the university students are into it, maybe they’re too serious,” he said.

Jessica Ware

[email protected]

twitter.com/jesscware

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RACISM

Berlin State Ballet’s first black dancer stands strong in racism row

Berlin State Ballet's first black dancer Chloe Lopes Gomes said she has been made to feel different because of her skin colour since she first donned ballet shoes as a child.

Berlin State Ballet's first black dancer stands strong in racism row
Lopes Gomes in front of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP

But after she was again subjected to what she described as “racism” at Germany's largest dance company, she has launched a fightback that has forced the State Ballet to launch an internal investigation into her complaints.

In an interview with AFP, Lopes Gomes stood by her allegations against the Berlin company, arguing that it was time for the classical ballet world to address the issue.

Recalling instances where she was made to feel uncomfortable, Lopes Gomes cited a rehearsal for a production of the 19th-century ballet “La Bayadere”, when the company's ballet mistress was handing around white veils for the dancers to wear.

READ ALSO: OPINION: When will Germany deal with its casual racism problem?

When she got to Lopes Gomes, she laughed, the 29-year-old French dancer told AFP.

“I can't give you one. The veil is white and you're black,” she was told.

Another dancer from the company confirmed Lopes Gomes' account on condition of anonymity.

The ballet mistress “said it like it was a joke… I was completely shocked,” she said.

'Harassment'

Lopes Gomes, who studied at the renowned Bolshoi ballet in Moscow, felt humiliated — but not surprised.

She had been subject to “harassment” at the hands of her boss ever since her arrival in Berlin in 2018, she said.

Lopes Gomes at the Deutsche Oper. Photo: Odd Andersen

“In our first rehearsal for 'Swan Lake', six of us were new but all of the corrections were directed at me,” she said.

The remarks continued for months. “She used to say to me, 'When you're not in line, you are the only person we see because you are black'” — comments also confirmed by the other dancer.

Lopes Gomes carried on, because she is a “hard worker” who wanted to show “that I deserved my place”, said the dancer, born to a French mother and a Cape Verdean father.

But the stress took its toll. She injured her foot, leading to eight months off and a course of anti-depressants.

READ ALSO: OPINION: My experiences of everyday racism in Germany

After her return, last February, she was asked to wear white make-up for a production following the departure of a director who had opposed the idea.

“Lightening my skin felt like denying my identity,” said Lopes Gomes, who has also performed with the Opera de Nice in France and Switzerland's Ballet Bejart.

When told of the allegations in the autumn, the company, which employs people of 30 different nationalities, responded with shock.

“We didn't think we could be affected by everyday racism simply because of our diversity. In fact, we never thought about it. But we were wrong,” acting director Christiane Theobald told AFP.

Asking a black artist to wear white make-up is an “absolute no-go”, she admits.

In December, the Berlin State Ballet launched an internal investigation into discrimination and racism.

“All employees can anonymously report any incidents of discrimination,” Theobald said.

The ballet mistress at the centre of the scandal has refused to comment and the company does not wish to speculate on possible disciplinary proceedings against her for legal reasons.

Lopes Gomes will leave the Berlin State Ballet in July as her contract was not renewed.

'Tuck in your black ass'

Lopes Gomes in front of the Deutsche Oper U-Bahn. Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP

In a world that is “very elitist and exclusive”, she knows she has taken a risk by speaking out.

But she has the support of others in the dance world, including her brother Isaac Lopes Gomes, a dancer at the Opera de Paris, and his colleagues.

“I don't know anyone who hasn't had racist comments like 'You have to straighten your hair because you have a lion's mane, you have to tuck in your black ass, you jump like Kirikou (the African child star of an animated film)',” Lopes Gomes said.

READ ALSO: 'Black lives need to matter in Germany': New project to uncover racism in everyday life

Since she began dancing as a child, she has been made to feel like an outsider.

“They never had the right make-up for my skin tone, I had to bring my own. And I was the only one who had to adapt my hairstyles” because the hairdressers didn't know how to style frizzy hair, she said.

She was always “so desperate” to fit in that she just went along with it. “But these are details that make you feel excluded.”

It's an uphill battle, given that classical ballet is governed by strict rules dating back to the 19th century that are designed to create an impression of homogeneity.

But it's time for that to change, Lopes Gomes said. “I'm tired of hearing that you can't hire black people because they don't have the bodies for ballet. It's just an excuse.”

By Yannick Pasquet

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