First Look: Alan Luft’s Berlin portraits

A photobook capturing Berlin’s diverse community over 30 years

While raised in the US, photographer Alan Luft led an insular childhood in the German-speaking community of Fredonia, Wisconsin. It was only when he was 19-years-old, when his grandmother died, that his family started using English.

“My family never fully assimilated to the American experience,” says Luft. “As farmers, they were self-sufficient, growing their own food and butchering the animals they raised[...] This independent spirit was passed down from generation to generation and has greatly influenced my own way of existence and thinking.”

At university, Luft was at a point of rebellion from his family’s restrictions – such as the encouraged tradition of marriage to a German Protestant – and began exploring his own identity. In an ironic turn, while trying to break away from his upbringing, he ended up taking German Studies and became immersed in the films of Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, and modern artists such as Otto Dix and George Grosz. Luft was returning to his roots.

In 1985, he started visiting Berlin to photograph its inhabitants. Since then, he has shot over 15,000 images. What draws him to the city the most is its mixed demographic. Unlike the largely German community he grew up with, Berlin's has always been diverse. A selection of Luft’s portraits have been published in a new book published by Kehrer. It includes images of Albanian boxers, a Turkish couple embracing in their home, newly arrived families from Afghanistan and Nigeria, and members of the LGBT community.

“My work in Berlin has helped me understand and redefine my own identity,” says Luft. “What inspires me is the transformation of the city from its tragic past. In many way the wild spirit and democratic visions of 1920s Weimar culture have come true. Berlin today is a diverse mix of people, and I think it represents what the future will look like elsewhere.”