Ursula Schulz-Dornburg donates archive to the Getty Research Institute

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Ursula Schulz-Dornburg donates archive to the Getty Research Institute
Ursula Schulz-Dornburg (German, b. 1938) Ploshchad Vosstaniya – Uprising Square – Metro, St. Petersburg, 2005/printed 2013. Gelatin silver print. Getty Research Institute © Ursula Schulz-Dornburg.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Getty Research Institute has acquired the archive of artist Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. Chronicling her entire photographic work from the late 1960s to the present, the archive provides a unique understanding of the artist’s development and will support research into the political climate and changing environment unfolding in the second half of the 20th and early 21st centuries.

“Operating at the interface of archaeology, anthropology, and documentary that is grounded in substantial research, Schulz-Dornburg's conceptual practice directly aligns with the GRI’s mission to support research in the humanities, while her emphasis on early civilizations and the legacy of the trace complements both the Research Institute’s and Museum’s interest in the ancient world,” remarked Mary E. Miller, Director of the GRI.

As one of the major photographers of her generation, Schulz-Dornburg has created profound visual stories on peoples and empires, past and present, that touch upon the very existence of life. Since the mid 1970s, she has sought out and photographed transit and border zones, monuments, religious sites, and the remains of former cultures in Europe, Central and Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. An early practitioner of what has been termed "late photography," Schulz-Dornburg makes visible the otherwise buried historical, political, and religious residue of global change.

The archive spans the artist’s entire career from her earliest photographic prints taken in the late 1960s to the present. It holds several unknown aspects of her production, such as a series of 12 prints made in 1973 along the Nile to her most traveled work, a series of 50 portraits of diverse varieties of wheat exhibited along with actual wheat specimens housed in metal boxes emulating those used in the Vavilov Institute, St. Petersburg, the world’s oldest seed bank where the artist was granted permission to work at the end of the Cold War. Since 2011, Wheat has been mounted in nearly twenty venues around the world from Mumbai to San Paolo to Addis Ababa. Capturing 50 distinct native wheat varieties, this series points to a larger narrative on how industilization, in this last century, has reduced wheat culture from over 60,000 native varieties to just a few dozen high-yield breeds.

Although 2012 marks Schulz-Dornburg’s last project trip, when she traveled to Kazakhstan to photograph the Soviet nuclear test site Opytnoe Pole, the artist has continued to print, on a limited basis, from her extensive negatives to create new series often inspired by or reflecting on current events. She is interested in the monuments and marks human beings have left behind in the course of historical developments with her later work frequently referencing the social and cultural consequences brought about in the lands constituting the former Soviet Union.

“A serious student of history, Ursula uses the camera to record a voyage of discovery while framing a personal narrative, frequently interspersed with irony, on the state of the past with the underlying pursuit of understanding human existence. Using largely analog processes, she challenges the indexicality of the photographic medium by rendering spaces heavy with memory and layers of historical time.” said Senior Curator Frances Terpak.

The archive, which will come in stages, includes her negatives and contact sheets, research files, library, ephemera and installation views documenting her many exhibitions, and photographs ranging from early student work to editioned series. Additionally, it contains Drawing the Line, the 2006 video of Mount Ararat that evokes the symbolic position this mountain has held in the mythological imagination and throughout millennia, as humans have struggled to possess and divide the land on which it stands.

Not insignificantly, the archive holds a number of notable works by other artists, ranging from an 1864 albumen print of Palmyra by Louis Vignes to late-20-century conceptual pieces by Lawrence Weiner.

Ursula Schulz-Dornburg

Born in Berlin in 1938, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg discovered her passion for photography when as a teenager she started using her uncle’s large-format, glass-plate camera. In 1958, she moved to Munich to study ethnology at the university, but by the end of 1959 switched to the Institut für Bildjournalismus, Munich, where she studied photojournalism until late 1961.

In the late 1960s, during a period of educational reform in Germany, she created an early series of photographs shot in Amsterdam, London, and Berlin showing structures built by children in adventure playgrounds, which was published as a book in 1969. A reinvestigation of this work will be released by MACK in 2022.

Following two collaborative projects in Venice and Brighton with architect Tina Sattler in 1973 and 1974, she established her artistic practice, adopting a pattern that has been her lifelong model: after intense research on a topic she travels to a site, often remote or restricted because of current international tensions, and focuses her lens on the subject at hand.

Deeply involved in current political affairs, Schulz-Dornburg has shown uncanny timing in her 1980 journey to Iraq, three months before the Iran-Iraq war, or in her 2005 and 2010 trips to Palmyra preceding this region’s occupation by ISIS.

The collection will be cataloged over the course of a number of years and made available to researchers at the Getty Research Institute.

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