“My work is schizophrenic,” explains Joseph Wolfgang Ohlert. “I believe the one in front of you makes you alive. I define myself through the portraits I take of others.” The 27-year-old photographer has lived and worked in Berlin for the most part of a decade and in that time he’s become part of the furniture, making a mark on the city’s creative scene that will no doubt extend far beyond his abrupt (at least to us) departure. Ohlert founded Prenzlauer Berg’s P7 gallery back in 2017 and his contribution to Berlin’s aesthetic identity is unmistakable. His first photobook, Gender as a Spektrum, conceived in collaboration with political artist Kaey, harnessed the power of artistic activism through its thoughtful handling of gender’s fluidity. And these overarching themes of freedom, sexuality and social acceptance are ones that run throughout Ohlert’s work, shaping his approach to photography. His latest photobook, Darlings! is more intimate still, a kind of a scrapbook-meets-diary which traverses “the Berlin years”, taking a retrospective and irresistibly nostalgic look at all the friends, faces and experiences this city gave him.
Diaries, for the most part, are private, even secretive possessions, hidden from the world. Brimming with our innermost musings, instinctive outpourings and subconscious scribbles, diaries are a way of organising our minds and collecting our thoughts—therapy in its most DIY form. “I wanted to make something more personal,” Ohlert explains. “Making Darlings! felt like a puzzle, and piece by piece I understood the concept of a diary better and better. I felt relieved to let go of so many memories. I realised only by publishing these personal treasures am I able to look forward again.” Leaving his home of eight years and putting P7 “on ice”, as he puts it, Ohlert has a lot to look forward to. “Often I feel stuck in the past,” he admits. “I am a nostalgic person.” Darlings! is the manifestation of progress, reflective, yet preparative, the closing of a chapter, the cathartic closure that makes way for a fresh start.
The subjects of Darlings! range from ex-lovers, boyfriends, strangers and friends to Ohlert himself. “I started walking through my apartment and collected photos and little souvenirs from travels and exhibitions from the walls, and put it all together in a box,” he explains. “In the end, it’s a collection of people who made me the artist I am today.” It’s an intimate glimpse into the artist’s life that’s heightened by almost childlike scrawlings and colours, notes and memoirs penned roughly alongside his candid and captivating portraits. Drawing on Walter Pfeiffer’s charming and vibrant scrapbooks, Ohlert’s Darlings! is a poetic ode to life in Berlin that will resonate with anyone who’s heart this city has touched.
Darlings! is available to order via [email protected]