Bottrop-Ebel 76 is a series of photographs taken by Michael Wolf in a small coal mining village in the Ruhr District, Germany in 1976, while he was still a student at the Folkswangschule für Gestaltung. The photographs were exhibited at Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road in May 2018 and The Josef Albers Museum in Bottrop, Germany until May 2019.
Wolf sought to capture the collective identity of the community, documenting their way of life in a changing industrial region, where the future was looking uncertain and unemployment was on the rise. He returned often to the district during a year of intensive research, even living there for a time, in order to get closer to his subject matter.
The project marked the beginning of Wolf’s interest in socially engaged documentary photography, which has centred throughout his work on the lives of people drawn together in urban cities. In Bottrop-Ebel, Wolf photographed the public lives of the villagers, working in local mines and factories, and socialising at parties and celebrations; and also gained access to private domestic scenes, witnessing a home haircut, or a man bathing in a tin bath in his kitchen. A distinct sense of community emerges from his images of daily street life, where he observed neighbours slaughtering a pig, and young people hanging out, smoking, flirting and drinking.
Wolf’s striking formal compositions demonstrated an acute eye for linear form and the modernist grid, seen later in the frontal viewpoints of his series Architecture of Density. In Bottrop-Ebel, Wolf composed his images around the readymade geometry within the environment, for example, the stacked cubic tower formed by a ladder carried across a street, rythmic vertical railings counterbalanced by overhead powerlines, or a minimally composed procession of stark white underpants drying on a washing line.
The Bottrop-Ebel 76 publication features more than 100 pages of photos and an epilogue by Sigrid Schneider.