Karlheinz Weinberger’s photography is often described as, “What happens to white Switzerland when black music is played by a white man, and then radioed across the Atlantic to Europe.” While there are clearly strong homoerotic overtones present and some may judge and decide to look no further… I’m drawn to the strong fashion stance and attitude of rebellion in these kids that is driven by the American music and movie scene of the time (Elvis, James Dean, Gene Vincent, etc.) that they masterfully embraced and evolved into there own subculture, Halbstark or “Half-Strong.” Almost 50 years later, it still inspires.
“In 1958, Karlheinz Weinberger met a member of a small band of teenagers and began photographing them both at his home studio as well as at the public parks and carnivals where they gathered. In post war Switzerland, these self-named “rebels” were comprised of working class boys and girls dissatisfied with the conservative and conforming culture of the day. Inventing their own code of behavior and dress they affected a powerful gang identity expressed by an affinity for like-minded American imports such as James Dean, Elvis, blue jeans and motorbikes. Later, in the mid-60s, the rebels dissipated both physically and in spirit, while others carried on their youthful resistance to the status quo, forming clubs of “rockers” and “bikers” that Weinberger followed with his camera on their outings into the Swiss countryside. Their retreat from the urban setting to a self-imposed isolation in nature embodied a more inward revolt, one of self-destructiveness and self-mutilation.” –Anna Kustera
“…these people are fucking amazing looking. These people have fashion gall, they were trendsetters. There are books on them 40 years later. They are artists. And I doubt if they followed contemporary art at the time… I don’t think there was that many. I think there were 30 or something. So you’re thinking in the entire nation of Switzerland there were these 30 people that looked like that. So it was a fashion cult in a way, disguised as a gang.” –Jon Waters, who wrote the forward for Rebel Youth, by Rizzoli New York, released 2011.
Karlheinz Weinberger (1921-2006). Living in Zurich, Switzerland, Weinberger was a self-taught “amateur” photographer whose day job working in a factory warehouse allowed him to pursue photography seriously in his free time. In the late 1940s Weinberger began to publish his pictures for a gay magazine using the pseudonym of Jim, and later was a freelance photographer for a Swiss sports magazine. Working in relative obscurity, Weinberger produced all the prints featured in this exhibition in his home darkroom, and these have remained inaccessible until recent years.
Weinberger’s portraits, together with magazines and clothing, document a youth subculture in Zurich that emerged in the aftermath of the Second World War. In 1958, Weinberger met members of a small band of teenagers and began photographing them at his apartment as well as at the public parks and fairgrounds where the group gathered. In post-war Switzerland, these self-named “rebels” (referred to by the Swiss as “Halbstark” or “half strong”) were comprised of working class boys and girls dissatisfied by the conservative climate of the day. They adopted a gang identity expressed in their self-styling–exaggerated hairdos and homemade clothing of embellished jeans and customized belt buckles–that referenced American film icons like James Dean and Elvis Presley. Through the empathetic and obsessive gaze of the photographer, the defiant teens are revealed as poseurs trying to disguise vulnerability, like rebellious adolescents anywhere. Typical of portraiture, this study of a particular social scene by “an intimate stranger” is also a self-portrait of the photographer who saw in his subjects a complex expression of social identity.