At first glance, French photographer Ed Broner’s stripped-back reportage paints a picture of Berlin as we know and love it. Through candid black-and-white snapshots, he speaks of the city’s hedonistic parties, lovers’ kisses, graffiti-adorned walls and derelict buildings with a visual language that’s as arresting as it is nostalgic. But beyond the epicurean revelries, Broner’s latest project, “Vagabondage”, is about the bonafide power of photography.
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but it was some years before Broner came to understand the truth behind the cliché — following the tragic death of his best friend in 2010. “When I looked at what was left of our 20 year friendship, I had just 10 or 15 pictures of him and of us together,” he laments. Responding to this lack of documentation, the photographer picked up his camera and began the project that would later become “Vagabondage” — a visual journal of his day-to-day life. “I felt the need to photograph everything I was doing, and all the people I met,” he explains. “It was the hardest time of my life, but at the same time I was free, and was able to find myself again.” Capturing fragments of his everyday experience, Broner’s photographs find beauty in the mundane. “The subject of this diary is what I love most,” he explains: “realness, creative people, beauty, love, friendship, art…” The result is a collection of intimate photographs that paint a true portrait of Berlin life.
Like many Berliners, Broner’s relationship with Berlin is love and hate. “I love it for the exciting contemporary art scene, its underground touch and the freedom Paris has lost,” he says, “but I miss the beauty and warmth of France.” It’s something that comes across in his photographs, which oscillate between jarring and stark scenes of Berlin’s gritty streets and heartfelt portraits of its residents.
Broner’s “Vagabondage” is the second in a series of visual essays, published by Hatje Cantz, which traverse the city of Berlin through the lenses of some of its most visionary photographers; the first is the product of Ama Split and Riky Kiwy’s six week trip on the Ringbahn — and both are available to buy now.