© Thomas Hoepker, 1964, Children of the Iban tribe, Borneo

Thomas Hoepker is among the most successful presentday German photographers. From 1964 to 1989 Hoepker worked for the magazine Stern; from 2002 to 2007 he was President of the Magnum Agency, whose full member he became in 1989 – the first German photographer to do so.

When he visited Borneo in 1964, the world’s third-largest island was embroiled in a territorial conflict between Indonesia and Malaysia which was to continue until 1966. During this journey, the present photograph was taken, depicting children of the Iban tribe.

The twelve children are lined up on a steep stairway leading to a typical longhouse, in which an entire village usually lives together and which can be several hundred metres long. These stilt houses constructed of bamboo contain all the living, working and storage quarters. This photograph, like many of Hoepker’s images, stands in the tradition of an involved style of reportage which is interested in people – a style which had its second heyday immediately after 1945. (+)

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© Thomas Hoepker, 1954, Old woman in a snowstorm, Hamburg

"Well, I know now. I know a little more how much a simple thing like a snowfall can mean to a person.” (Sylvia Plath)

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© Thomas Hoepker, 1956, Cinema on the outskirts of Naples / Italy

“Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.” (Jean-Luc Godard)

Movie posters:
(left)   Dov’è la libertà…? (by Roberto Rossellini, Italy, 1954; with the legendary Totò)
(right) Vortice (by Raffaello Matarazzo, Italy, 1955)

                 © Unknown photographer, undated, Portrait of Totò

Prince Antonio Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneno De Curtis di Bisanzio Gagliardi, best known by his stage name Totò and nicknamed il principe della risata (“the prince of laughter”) was an Italian comedian, film and theatre actor, writer, singer and songwriter.

He is widely considered one of the greatest Italian artists of the 20th century. While he first gained his popularity as a comic actor, his dramatic roles, his poetry, and his songs are all deemed to be outstanding; his style and a number of his recurring jokes have become universally known memes in Italy.

Writer and philosopher Umberto Eco has thus commented on the importance of Totò in Italian culture:

"In this globalized universe where it seems that everyone’s watching the same movies and eating the same food, there are still abysmal and overwhelming fractures separating one culture from another. How can two peoples, one of which unknowing of Totò, truly understand each other?"

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© Thomas Hoepker, 1975, Erich Honecker poster in Neubaugebiet, Halle-Neustadt

In 1961, Erich Honecker, as the Central Committee secretary for security matters, was in charge of the building of the Berlin Wall. In 1971, he initiated a political power struggle that led, with Soviet support, to his becoming the new leader, replacing Walter Ulbricht as First Secretary of the SED Central Committee and as chairman of the National Defense Council. In 1976, he also became Chairman of the Council of State (Vorsitzender des Staatsrats der DDR) and thus the de facto head of state.

Under Honecker’s leadership, the GDR adopted a programme of “consumer socialism,” which resulted in a marked improvement in living standards already the highest among the Eastern bloc countries. More attention was placed on the availability of consumer goods, and the construction of new housing was accelerated, with Honecker promising to “settle the housing problem as an issue of social relevance.” Yet, despite improved living conditions, internal dissent was not tolerated. Around 125 East German citizens were killed during this period while trying to cross the border into West Germany or West Berlin.

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Magnum photographer Thomas Hoepker discusses 40 years spent chronicling life in strange, sad, vicious and sometimes hilarious East Berlin.

The Berlin Wall was a barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) starting on 13 August 1961, that completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin. It was officially referred to as the "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart" by GDR authorities, implying that neighbouring West Germany had not been fully de-Nazified.

The West Berlin city government sometimes referred to it as the "Wall of Shame" while condemning the Wall’s restriction on freedom of movement. Along with the separate and much longer Inner German border that demarcated the border between East and West Germany, both borders came to symbolize the "Iron Curtain" between Western Europe and the Eastern Bloc.

In 1989 a non-violent revolution overthrew the Communists. The Soviets refused to intervene, and the country soon reunited with West Germany and is now part of Germany.

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