22 July 2016 until 22 January 2017
Labour/Leisure in the Works of J. Hamann
The Photography Department in Context

The MKG is showing two selections of work from the J. Hamann photography studio in Hamburg: scenes depicting the world of work in foreign trading offices, craft workshops, or out in the fields are juxtaposed with images of organized leisure in sports clubs. The idea of leisure – understood in the modern sense as spare time away from the workplace – and the resulting separation of the realms of work and free time were a byproduct of industrialization. These themes inform the range of motifs produced by the J. Hamann Studio, which record daily life, often with a special flair for situational humour, and in the process sketch a vivid picture of Hamburg at the beginning of the twentieth century. The exhibition shows 45 historical prints and, in parallel with the sports/no sports exhibition, gives a suggestive impression of the world of work and of clubs and associations in the city. Johann Hamann and his son Heinrich documented the working conditions of their time: child labour in rural areas, work in a modern abattoir or in a port office building. They made portraits of the employees of the shipping companies and, at the behest of the Hapag shipping line, the ships’ captains, as well as the emigrants in the specially allocated departure halls on Hamburg’s Veddel Island in the River Elbe, which was the point of embarkation for Europe’s economic refugees setting off abroad. Leisure time was also organized in parallel with work. The establishment of the eight-hour day, which had been fought for since 1860, and the introduction of half-day Saturdays meant that free time could be meaningfully used for recreation and to restore a sense of physical and mental balance. Critics like Theodor W. Adorno saw leisure in the late-industrial period as a “compulsion to amuse oneself and relax, an aspect of the need to recover the energy expended in the alienated work process.” The J. Hamann Studio photographed women doing synchronized gymnastics went along on gymnastic club outings, and illustrated various types of sport such as pole vault, Swedish gymnastics, and physical exercises on the parallel bars and horse.

Ill.: Atelier J. Hamann, Gymnasts on a Bench, 1905-1909, gelatin silver print, 11,9 x 17,2 cm, © Staatsarchiv Hamburg