Photographer Helga Paris, Who Captured Life in East Berlin, Dies at 85

Photographer Helga Paris, who captured daily life in Soviet Union-occupied East Berlin, has died at the age of 85.

According to the DPA international, Paris’ daughter confirmed that the photographer had died on February 8 in her apartment in the German capital.

Paris is one of few East German women who was recognized for her photography at the time of Soviet Union occupation in the country.

Self-taught photographer Paris was born in 1938 in Goleniów, Poland, and grew up in Zossen, Berlin.

Paris grew up with a passion for photography — after being inspired by her two aunts who were enthusiastic photographers. She constantly took pictures from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Paris moved to Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood after marrying her husband Ronald Paris in 1966. She began seriously taking photographs a year later.

Her work focused on people and streetscapes, initially in Berlin where many of her subjects were neighbors and friends.

However, Paris is perhaps most famous for her photo series Women at Work.

In 1984, the German photographer spent several weeks at the state-owned Treff-Modelle clothing factory in Halle, East Berlin capturing over 1,500 photographs of female employees.

Paris’ black-and-white pictures for Women at Work captured the garment workers in the clothing factory and their “unforeseen beauty.”

According to The Brooklyn Rail, Paris often snapped the camera shutter before her sitters even realized — leaving little time for preparation, but brought an authenticity to each image.

Paris also never used flash in her photography, instead using natural light to establish focal points on each face.

‘I have always been drawn to the every day, the unspectacular,” Paris said of the portraits.

“But I didn’t photo­graph it clinically, aseptically; rather, I tried to reproduce it as realistically and as hauntingly as possible.”

Paris also traveled outside of Berlin, shooting in Transylvania and Georgia. Paris said that no matter where she was, she tried to photograph everything “like a foreign city in a foreign country.”

Her career as a freelance photographer survived German reunification in 1989 and Paris’ photographs gained a wider interest as a historical record of the GDR.

Paris was a member of Berlin’s Akademie der Künste arts academy since 1996. She has left her archive of almost 230,000 negatives and around 6,300 films to the art institution.