In 1929 Renger-Patzsch moved with his family to the city of Essen in the Ruhr Valley, the largest industrial area in Germany. He struck up commercial relationships there with architects, industries, companies and publishing houses. However, in this period, his most outstanding occupation was not a commission, but rather a project initiated two years before the move, and which was to last until approximately 1935. This was a strictly personal project on the landscape (both natural and urban) in the Ruhr Valley, a unique, distinctive mix of countryside and city, nature and industrial spaces, with an enormous diversity of bourgeois homes and working-class districts, patios, wasteland, mines, foundries, railroad tracks, roads, refuse dumps, streets, gardens and agricultural plots. Renger-Patzsch was not so much interested in the urban centers, but rather in the intermediate zones between the cities, and also the areas between the countryside and the city: spaces undergoing a transformation process. A change in Renger-Patzsch’s photographic eye can be perceived in these photographs. The frames widen and, in many cases, become panoramic views.

The images are now focused on a multitude of elements and explore the interpretive relationships and associations these same elements throw up. The landscape emerges as a genre that makes it possible to incorporate and contrast very different elements, and play with the boundaries between rural and industrial territory, between the city and suburbs. The vertical and the horizontal, the high and the low, the near and the far, blend together and are juxtaposed. The relationship between the planes (from the foreground to the background) intensifies to show how industry has molded the landscape and turned it into a heterogeneous territory. One of the most notable examples of this period is the image Landschaft bei Essen und Zeche “Rosenblumendelle”, from 1928. A photograph that conveys the idea of a collage of two layers – two realities, two areas – the contrast between the idyllic serenity of the rural world, in the foreground, and the background revealing the massive, outsized nature of the new industrial complexes, the terrible fate of the modern world. In between, a road, a metaphor of history, an intermediary for two different realities, suggesting the dilemma between tradition and modernity. A dilemma that was already present in Die Welt ist schön and which is an indicator of the ambiguous, paradoxical stance Renger-Patzsch adopted with respect to industrialization.

* Sérgio Mah, curator of the exhibition Albert Renger-Patzsch. The Perspective of Things, is a professor at the New University of Lisbon.