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Deutsches Technikmuseum - Rusty Pictures

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Photo: The base of two huge chimneys and a yellow brick factory building, seen from below in soft afternoon light. A lattice girder and old electricity lines cross the top of the picture

Chimneys of the briquette factory Lauchhammer, 1990 © Manfred Wilhelms

Photo: View into the middle of a group of large steel pipes leading into and out of the generator. Many of them are bent at right angles. The evening sun picks out their rusty surfaces.

Gigantic steel pipes Leuna, 1991 © Manfred Wilhelms

"Rusty Pictures"

Open-Cast Mining and Industrial Architecture in Eastern Germany

Special exhibition in the gallery of our section "History of Photo Technology"

7 July to 31 October 2010

Photo: A cylindrical metal coal gasification furnace stands on a low brick base. The door is wide open. Pipes in various stages of corrosion shed bright-red rust.

"Witch" furnace in former Chemiekombinat Leuna, 1991 © Manfred Wilhelms

These 44 photographs by Manfred Wilhelms were taken shortly after reunification, in 1990–91, at the same time as his film footage of historic industrial sites in the former East Germany. The resulting film, "Rusty Pictures", premiered at the 1992 Berlinale film festival.

Dinosaurs of the Industrial Age

In the former East Germany cameraman, photographer and director Wilhelms and the artist Fritz Kreidt found an abundance of historic and often ruined industrial plants that exceeded their wildest expectations. Especially in the open-cast lignite mines around Leipzig they found "dinosaur cemeteries" with rusty old excavators and machinery and run-down factories reflecting industrial history since the very beginning of the twentieth century.
A breath-taking backdrop against which to start a search for artistic motifs in a singular landscape full of fantastic discoveries.

Photo: The end. The photo shows the bucket wheel and part of the boom. Seven buckets are visible on the wheel, which has a diameter of several metres and is resting on a pile of sand.

Rusty shovel excavator © Manfred Wilhelms

Wilhelms: "Images of a lost reality never to be repeated, as the visible work of the past is steadily transformed into invisible digital processes. In the hour when the ‘dinosaurs of the industrial age’ lie down to die, a painter and a filmmaker/photographer appear on the scene to document their last stand before extinction."

The photographs were taken on a Mamiya medium format camera using 4.5 x 6 cm colour negative roll film.


Manfred Wilhelms studied painting, graphic art and photography in Bielefeld and scriptwriting, directing and camerawork in Berlin. He works as an author, director, cameraman and producer, and makes his own films and documentaries as well as pursuing photographic and art projects.

Films include:

  • "Rusty Pictures" (1990-92, premiere at the 1992 Berlinale)
  • "Berlin – A Cycle in Seven Films" (1995-2001;
  • "Berlin - Pictures of a City (1995-98, premiere at the 2001 Berlinale)
  • "The Flaneur of Berlin" (with photographer Henry Ries, premiere 2005 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Rusty Pictures received the Grand Premier Prix (Paris, 1992) and the Prix du meilleur essai (Montreal, 1993).

Exhibitions include:

  • "Visible Past", at Kraftwerk Plessa, 2006.

Header photo: Rust composition in Leuna, 1991 © Manfred Wilhelms