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„The ghosts of this house are still here – all remodels and renovations notwithstanding“

Artist Laura J. Padgett, a lecturer in theater, film and media studies, wants to photographically explore the historical complexity of both the IG Farben-Haus and the Westend Campus.

Laura J. Padgett during first „test shots“ in and around the IG Farben building. Photo: Dirk Frank

The IG Farben-Haus, designed by Hans Poelzig, is easily one of Frankfurt’s most photographed motifs. The eventful history of the monumental-looking building – first as the central holding of the erstwhile IG Farben group, then as the headquarters of the American military administration, and finally, since 2001, as part of Goethe University’s newly created Westend Campus – continues to attract attention. Countless photographers have immortalized the building from inside and out; there hardly is a corner of the huge Poelzig building that has not been snapshotted.

That doesn’t deter artist and film scholar Laura J. Padgett, an American by birth who has lived in Germany for many years. She wants to uncover the historical dimensions of the building and other neighboring sites on campus as part of a large-scale project that will run for several years: „Even if the building can be understood as a monument, it’s no museum-like building, whose past is simply over. The history of the house continues to shape us in our present. That is something I want to show in my photographs. But I still need to do a lot of research for that, I have to approach the object slowly,“ Padgett explains.

Photo: Dirk Frank

For Padgett, cell phone snapshots do not do justice to an object’s depth dimension: „Of course, I don’t reject this kind of fast-moving photography. But my approach is quite different: I want people to take time both to make a photograph, and also to look at it.“ Padgett explains that she doesn’t approach the building in a “frontal” manner. Instead, she prefers to approach her subjects from the side, to explore their history and their stories. „The ghosts of the building, if you will, are still here, even after many remodels and renovations,“ she says.

They might take on the form of a word on the chalkboard of a seminar room that wasn’t wiped away. „Sometimes coincidences are part of it. But in my photography itself, nothing is coincidental,“ emphasizes the artist, who can look back on an exhibition at Frankfurt’s Dommuseum that just recently ended.

Between 2019 and 2021, Laura J. Padgett went on the trail of graphic artist Hans Leistikow in Frankfurt’s Westend Synagogue. Opened in 1910, the synagogue was destroyed during the Nazi regime, only to later be rebuilt and reconstructed. History has inscribed itself in the building. The photographic series „Regenerating Permanence“ makes visible the presence of all these phases. Until the end of January, a selection of the motifs was on display at the Leistikow exhibition in the Dommuseum; other works will soon be on show at the Jewish Museum.

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