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Deutsches Technikmuseum - VEB Pentacon Dresden

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Black and white photograph: A young woman in a white smock testing flash contacts. She has various tools and pieces of equipment laid out in front of her.

Testing the flash contacts on the Praktica B

VEB Pentacon Dresden –
The Last Day of Camera Production

Gallery in the exhibition "Foto Technology"
30 June to 1 November 2009

Black and white photograph: A stack of dismantled camera parts.

Disposing of camera parts

The last day of camera production

Dresden has a long tradition of camera manufacturing. East German maker VEB Pentacon produced more than nine million SLR cameras. Popular worldwide, the Praktica is still regarded as a robust, reliable and affordable camera today.

In the summer of 1989 the GDR celebrated 150 years of photography and 150 years of cameras from Dresden, presenting the state-run VEB Pentacon as preserving and carrying on Dresden’s camera-manufacturing tradition. But in the autumn of 1990, only a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this renowned company was closed down on the grounds that it was uncompetitive.

This exhibition of black-and-white photographs by Roland Horn and Andreas Neumann documents production of the SLR Praktica BX 20 on 27 November 1990  – the last working day at VEB Pentacon.

Reasons for the closure

A report published by the news magazine Der Spiegel in June 1990 revealed some of the reasons behind the decision to stop camera production at Pentacon in October of that year and to dismiss the factory’s 5,700 employees with compensation agreements.

At that time sales revenues lay well below the cost of producing the cameras, and Pentacon was losing half a million deutschmarks every day. Praktica SLR cameras – which were technologically outdated compared with their competitors from the Far East – cost 1,000 deutschmarks each to produce but were sold in the West for only 200 deutschmarks. What is more, production of the camera’s 800 separate components, more than 90 percent of which were made by Pentacon, was spread among fifty-eight plants and buildings, some of them hundreds of kilometres apart. None of this was very good news for a company planning to compete on the free market and Pentacon’s attempt to come up with a concept for making the company economically viable ultimately failed.

Black and white photograph: One side of the factory. Various historical remnants can be seen on the old plaster between the barred windows: the logos of Zeiss Ikon and the nationalised VEB Pentacon, and the slogan “Working for Peace”.

The VEB Pentacon building in Dresden

In 1991 the West German camera producer Heinrich Mandermann (then owner of Rollei Fototechnik, Schneider Optische Werke and Beroflex) took over production of the Praktica, continuing to build the last model of the BX 20 at the Dresden production facility – initially under the name Schneider Feinwerktechnik GmbH. (In 1997 the old name Pentacon was revived in Pentacon GmbH Foto- und Feinwerktechnik.)

Production continued with just 150 employees until 2001 when the long tradition of camera production in Dresden finally came to an end. Today the name Praktica can be found on compact digital cameras produced in the Far East.

The Photographers

Roland Horn was born in Hannover in 1964. In 1991 he moved to Berlin, where he works as a freelance photographer with his own studio. He initially trained as an advertising and industry photographer, later working as an assistant to Hamburg-based photographers and from 1988 for Jim Rakete in Berlin. He has also realised a number of book projects and is currently working on a long-term project about Berlin’s new main railway station.

Born in Berlin in 1962, Andreas Neumann now works as a freelance photographer in Hamburg. Before studying journalism and political science he gained practical experience in film and photography in Berlin. In 1990 he moved to Hamburg, where he worked as an assistant and freelance photographer in the fields of advertising, reportage, portrait photography, DTP graphics and screen design. His clients include a number of prominent figures (German and international) and many journals and magazines.