Department of Art History: ‘Photography and the Ministry for State Security in the GDR’
Donna Brett: The Business of Photography and the Ministry for State Security in the GDR
The Ministry for State Security for the German Democratic Republic (the Stasi), established a mass-surveillance machine that recorded the everyday activities of its citizens that took the form of documents, audio recordings, moving footage, and approximately two million photographs. The function of Stasi surveillance was to obtain ‘operationally meaningful photos in the observation process,’ in order to gain true and objective evidence. To this end, the Stasi established a photography and observation school to train operatives in camouflage and surveillance photography. They also invested in a large range of cameras and technologies, plus economical means of photographic surveillance in order to meet observational challenges. This paper investigates the business of photography for the Stasi regime in terms of its operative surveillance goals in the face of economic reality, and the protocols and practices put in place in order to photographically record evidence that resulted in real economic and social costs.