Is this the Real Workers’ Revolution? (Or Are We Just Horny?) A Salute to KARLHEINZ WEINBERGER

“My real life began on Friday evening. And it ended every Monday morning,” Swiss-German photographer Karlheinz Weinberger remembered during his first major exhibition in 2000. For most of his life, the semi-professional photographer worked in the warehouse of the Siemens factory in Zurich’s Oerlikon district, up until his retirement in 1986. But on weekends, the confirmed bachelor documented Zurich’s margins, developing a devoted cult following through his published works in gay magazines under the pseudonym Jim. For Weinberger, Saturdays and Sundays were more than the institutionalized intervals allocated to relieve a salaryman’s stress—they were pockets of freedom and desire.

His posthumous book Swiss Rebels – an oxymoronically titled volume published by Steidl – catalogues Weinberger’s voyages into society’s alternate universe. They are studies of the mundane, the strange, the frightening. The fascination that Weinberger harbored for “the outsider” was validated through his own status as an outcast among them. Yet his camera mimicked a translucent barrier, keeping both sides safe. He photographed shirtless construction workers drilling tram tracks in the dusty road-sites that soaked up their sex-appeal. His Jeans series follows nubile and pock-marked teenagers through carnivals, galavanting in full-denim ensembles punctured with rusty nails and cinched by saucer-sized belt buckles bearing Elvis’s likeness. In Italy, he found bare chested Tuscans smoking cigarettes as they balanced contrapposto on Terracotta rooftops. Weinberger invited hustlers to his home to sit for him in weekly sessions, such as the homeless Alex, who spent afternoons at Weinberger’s watching television, drinking liquor, and masturbating for the camera.

It is not until the section titled Elisabethenstraße that Weinberger closes in on the “Halbstarke” [Half-Strong], the German term for teenaged hooligans. Intent on subverting Swiss decorum, Weinberger’s adolescents stick horseshoes onto the crotch of their denim pants, comb their hair into messy bouffant dos, and dangle necklaces that either resemble the shell of a small canon or a medium-sized dildo. Some pose on stools in Weinberger’s makeshift studio, a sheet partition, while others deflect their gaze. But, as John Waters once said: “Who dresses like that and doesn’t want to be photographed?” As the Halbstarke evolve into adults, their style graduates into darker territory. The 50s teens mutate into bikers. Weinberger’s portrayals of Switzerland’s first Hells Angels chapter are of a tender and observant nature—a continuous trait in his work. The proximity of his lens vouches for this intimacy.

The monotony of Weinberger’s unfulfilled workweek may have been the catalyst that drove him toward his artistic expression. In this post-Jobs era where the “Do What You Love” mantra still echoes on, Weinberger’s blue collar Jekyll-and-Hyde routine seems almost seductive. Here, the tired nature of the work-life-balance is dismantled, and we realize that an exhilarating chasm can exist between what you do and what you love.

Karlheinz Weinberger: Swiss Rebels is published by Steidl (Göttingen, 2017). All images courtesy of Steidl.

  • Text
    Eva Kelley
  • Photography
    Karlheinz Weinberger

Related Content

  • JUDITH BERNSTEIN: One Dick at a Time

    Dicks of Death surveys Bernstein’s decades of dick paintings. It is the ultimate book of dick pics, showcasing a body of work that is as pleasurable as it is intensely political.More
  • Hero, with Dildo: BORIS MIKHAILOV’s Nude Self-Portraits

    One of the former USSR's greatest art photographers, Boris Mikhailov took to the his studio in 1992 to shoot a gloriously grotesque send-up of the artist-genius, and the empty icons of the newly ex-Soviet Union – presented here in a new book.More
  • Deeper

  • 032c WWB Collection

    032c WWB Turtleneck Black

    €90
    Buy Now
  • “Seize the Right Moment”: We Salute Photographer and Publisher INGE FELTRINELLI (1930-2018)

    For over 45 years, Inge Feltrinelli helmed of one of Europe’s most significant publishing houses, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore. She was the widow of publisher cum-political activist, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, and heir to his fortune of billions. However, she was successful before her marriage when she was called Inge Schoenthal, taking iconic images of Greta Garbo and Ernest Hemingway. Read a personal conversation with Feltrinelli, who passed away on September 20, 2018, originally published in 032c Issue 23.More
  • Hood By Air founder SHAYNE OLIVER at Fashion Now:

    “The majority of streetwear that we wear today actually has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE STREET, and that’s very frustrating. Major brands manufacturing a pair of sneakers at outrageous prices do a lot of harm to the fashion industry, particularly to independent brands and young designers. THEY DISTORT THE BALANCE between the street and luxury and they break down the social hierarchy that maintains this balance, creating tension between these two worlds which are both FULL OF CREATIVE POTENTIAL.”

  • 032c WWB Collection

    032c WWB Turtleneck Camouflage

    €90
    Buy Now
  • 032c Pays Respect to the Munich Machine

    Last week we held a cocktail launch party at WOMAN / MAN in Munich (the original Helmut Lang store, whose interior remains untouched!) for 032c Apparel. Hundreds of people showed up. The police weren't amused, so we had to close an hour early.More
  • GQ Style editor Will Welch on Virgil Abloh’s ascent:

    “The paradigm he really shattered was the one where instead of the celebrity being the most aspirational figure, it was the guy behind the guy.”

    Read the full interview at SSENSE.

  • Alessandro Michele on VANITY:

    “It’s humiliating to stand in front of a mirror wracked with self-doubt. On the other hand, vanity is the strongest productive power I know. It keeps the world buzzing because it incites people to want to be beautiful and to impress others. Without vanity, there would be neither seduction nor rockets flying into space [. . .] Looking at beauty is like a healing medicine, but it also has a painful sting because it shows us how imperfect we are in comparison.”

    Read the full interview with Gucci’s creative director from 032c Issue 34.

  • The Book of Gucci According to Alessandro Michele

    The Italian's arrival as Gucci's creative director was more like an alien invasion than a typical fashion coronation. It was fast. Overwhelming. Utterly strange and world-dominating. Michael Ebert and Sven Michaelsen visited Michele in Rome to discuss the burden of vanity, the terror of symmetry, and the faith of being devoted to objects.More
  • “Born in 1968, Tillmans belongs to the first generation of Europeans who, after the wars, were allowed to move easily between countries, reject a single national identity, and have legal gay relationships. He was given a diagnosis of H.I.V. in 1997, when antiretroviral therapy was available to him. He responded to the relative optimism of his era with images that blended into what he called, in an interview, ‘one reality, where people were happily taking Ecstasy together or partying in a park, as well as being solitary, serious individuals, or sitting naked in trees, as well as sucking cock in some dark toilet corner, with Moby lying in the sun.’” Read Emily Witt’s unguarded profile of 032c contributor Wolfgang Tillmans in this week’s New Yorker, covering European fragility, personal utopias, and ways of looking.

  • 032c Resist Collection

    032c Resist Sweatshirt

    €160
    Buy Now
  • Apparel

    032c Paradise T-Shirt

    €50
    Buy Now
  • 032c Classics Collection

    032c Classics Bralette White

    €35
    Buy Now