Beginning in 1954, on assignment for the US Army, Perlmutter traveled through Europe. “Europe in the Fifties. Through a Soldier’s Lens” shows a selection of his images taken in Germany, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. The 82-year old’s work is a historical treasure that will be presented for the first time in Berlin.
The photographer’s view of war-torn Europe is direct and intuitive. Without much background knowledge and with a somewhat biased opinion primarily shaped by films he had watched, the young GI set out to start his coverage in a discrete manner; always conscious of his subjects privacy. With an open mind and obvious interest in people, he witnesses a Europe, which is marked by visual reminders of a war that had been fought ten years earlier. Despite post war and the austerity he witnesses a Europe determined to move forward. It is all there in front of Perlmutter’s camera, which captures street scenes as a curious and impartial spectator. He never judges, but always leaves his subjects with a sense of dignity. “The streets became a stage and the people the actors, in a constantly changing and fascinating theatre of reality”, Perlmutter comments on his photographic inspiration.
It all started in December 1954, when the then 22-year old soldier boarded a troopship to Germany, to start his new assignment as a photographer for the U.S. Army. The first images from Perlmutter’s Rolleiflex were taken during the rough transatlantic voyage. Even though he had never left the United States and was a bit apprehensive about his future, Perlmutter was “looking forward to photographing Europe and visiting all those wonderful places that I had read about and seen in the movies.” His first leave after his deployment to Augsburg Germany, brought him to Paris, the city of light and home to many of his favorite photographers. “The hotel was 4th class but the city was in a class by itself”.
Permutter‘s view of post-war Italy was strongly influenced by the gritty realistic films such as “The Bicycle Thief” by Victorio de Sica. His preconceptions of Italy were further challenged when he found most Italians to be congenial, outgoing and optimistic about the future. „Rome was a living history lesson and Venice the most enchanting city I had ever seen.”Perlmutter’s photographs taken in Spain and Portugal display an honest interest in the conditions and the cultural distinctions that existed post war. His images are a testament to the different living standards in various parts of Europe.
Almost 60 years after the images were conceived, they clearly document the photographer’s sense of the special moment. Every image becomes a lively piece in the puzzle of remembrance and an accurate report on the historical period inserting great meaning into personal encounters. His insightful work will continue to inform and delight for many years to come. Even as time passes, the images remain fresh.
Bill Perlmutter was born in New York on September 5th, 1932. He began his career whith the Bachelor of Arts in Motion Picture Techniques from the City College Film Institute in New York. In 1954 after graduating from the United States Army Photography School, he spend two years in Europe as a staff photographer for the U.S. Army newspapers based in West Germany. After, he traveled extensively all around the world as a free-lance photographer. From 1978-1997 he worked for a company specializing in photographic and digital retouching.
Perlmutter‘s images have been collected and exhibited by fine art galleries world wide and are in many private collections. His images are in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Smithsonian Museum and The Museum of the City of New York. His entire exhibition from his show “Return to Ground Zero” is currently housed in the new 9/11 Memorial Museum.
Europe in the Fifties. Through a Soldier’s Lens
8 May – 17 Jul 2015