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OCTOBER 19, 2012 12:07PM

Show 'em! A Berlin photo exhibit goes "over the top"

Rate: 4 Flag


 Berlin taxi

Berlin, where taxis sometimes double as erotic photo studios

PHOTOGRAPHY IS THE ART of the obvious. The trick is to come up with this obvious idea in the first place.

Sixty-seven year-old Berlin taxi driver and self-styled “woman whisperer” Hans-Jürgen Watzlawek had just such an idea and is now reaping the fame. A skilled photographer whose previous work never paid the rent, Watzlawek came up with his obvious idea while driving his cab through the nighttime streets of Berlin. “Show ‘em,” he told one of his female passengers. And she did. This is the stuff of which artistic careers are made.

Breasts are “the fingerprint of any woman,” Watzlawek believes. The amazing thing is that it’s easier to get a woman to flash her tits at a camera in a taxicab than to take her fingerprints at a police station. Some fifty female passengers on their way from A to B have opened their tops to him over the past four years. Most of the women have been around thirty, and in about a third of the cases their male companions encouraged them to take the leap. One evening, the accompanying boyfriend or husband used all his persuasive power to talk the woman into exposing her bosom to Watzlawek’s lense. While many of the women had had a few quick ones before entering his taxi and giving their consent, he swears that none of them were stinking drunk.

Twenty of Watzlawek’s candid black and white breast photos are now gracing the walls of the “Galeria Casablanca” in Berlin-Charlottenburg. The artist believes that breasts say a lot about a woman. They come in all shapes and volumes, nipples vary in size and color, some have piercings and others do not, and some breasts bear the scars of breast augmentation or reduction. Each pair stands for a female life. In some images, the women eagerly push their breast out towards the camera, whereas in others their owners lean back passively and let Watzlawek focus on the cleavage. Each in her own style.


In his element: Artist/cabdriver Watzlawek at his "Berlin Flash 0.1" exhibition 

Watzlawek started taking the pictures for free, although, in a few cases of charmingly casual prostitution, women consented to the photos in exchange for a free taxi ride. But his fame has since spread, and he is now selling them to art dealers at up to 800 euros a pop. And he wants his models to get a piece of the action as well. Nowadays, when he shoots a woman’s breasts he also asks her for her email address. So far, no one has accused this “charismatic person,” “the king of taxi drivers,” of sexual harassment.

I enjoyed the exhibit – to say that it “gave me a rise” would be saying too much – and more than anything else it made me ponder the nature of taboos. Just a century ago, a woman could be arrested on the beach for wearing a sleeveless swimsuit. Then topless bathing became a fad in the 60s, and today women are showing off their busts to dirty old men in a Berlin taxicab and allowing them to be displayed in all their glory on the walls of a West End art gallery. Is “decency” just a figment of our imagination? An ephemeral, ultimately meaningless social construct? If you visit the Galeria Casablanca, you just might start believing it.


OS regulations prohibit me from displaying any of the images on this site, but if you go HERE, you’ll see what all the fuss is about.


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Very interesting post, Alan. I think "decency" is certainly constructed, but not meaningless. I think the setting is the most interesting thing about this. There seems to be something about the taxi-cab that validates or even encourages transgression. They're confessional spaces that are neither safe nor dangerous. I doubt he would have received as much accommodation from women in other settings, and even in the tax-cab I'm sure he's heard "verpiss dich!" once or twice.

Imagine that being a renowned artist was this simple! r.
I suppose you're right, but the links do the trick too, and in any case, I doubt there's anything hanging in that exhibition that you haven't seen before ;-)

That's a great point, and I'd like to read more about the psychology of taxi rides. (Although I should point out that Jim Jarmusch made a wonderful movie on the topic called "Night on Earth.") While I normally mind my own business, I've been known to engage in profound conversations with perfect strangers in taxicabs, although without dropping my drawers so far. I think the reason for this sort of instant intellectual intimacy is the certainty that you will never encounter this person again after 20 minutes or so. The same applies to encounters in youth hostels, transcontinental AmTrak journeys, and the occasional airplane flight. People who know they are going to be dealing with each other for longer - or for the duration, in the case of romantic relationships and marriages - are wise to watch their tongues. Speaking of which, my theory about "why men can't talk" is that they know full well that everything they say to the women in their life can and will be used against them at the least favorable moment. But that's the subject of a different blog post altogether...

Yes indeed, a simple but ingenious idea and the persistence to see it through is frequently the key to greatness. I must admit that this particular idea has never occurred to me, and yet I've never driven a Berlin taxi on the graveyard shift, and I guess that makes all the difference. You know what they say about idle hands and the devil's playground...