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Michael Schmidt

Photographer

Photographer

Born: October 6, 1945; Died: May 24, 2014

Michael Schmidt, who has died of cancer aged 68, was a photographer most famous for documenting his home city of Berlin in stark black and white images before and after the wall came down. The wall itself often featured in his work - looming and grey - but in more recent years he had turned his attention to the food and drink industry, documenting the work of the likes of abattoirs and fish farms.

He was born in east Berlin just after the end of the Second World War, but his family crossed to the west just before the wall went up in 1961. Although Schmidt was interested in photography, he studied painting but ended up training as a policeman at the insistence of his parents.

He began taking pictures of the people and life of west Berlin in the mid-1960s and, although he was largely self-taught, he eventually gave up his job in the police to pursue a career as a photographer. He founded the Workshop for Photography in Berlin in the mid-1970s.

He always preferred to work in black and white and his pictures were published in two striking collections in the 1980s and 90s. Ceasefire, which was published in 1987, showcased his photographs of west Berlin just before the wall came down in 1989 while Unity, which was published seven years later, features pictures of the city in the immediate aftermath of the reunification of Germany. The latter book placed Schmidt's pictures next to images from newspapers, magazines and propaganda issued by the Communists and the Nazis.

His most recent project was Foodstuffs, which explores the modern food industry and took seven years to complete. Just three days before his death, the project won the Prix Pictet, a prize for photography which tackles sustainability and environmental issues.

The French photographer Luc ­Delahaye, who won last year's Pictet prize and who was one of this year's judges, said of Schmidt's work: "His language is a language of precision and his tool is the most simple one: a small, 35mm camera, and a few rolls of films. His pictures look simple at first glance, and their anti-sentimentality, their refusal of all the tricks of the usual seduction, their concision and their clarity, give them great efficiency. They show what they show but they manage to retain an opacity, a mystery, and they become a support for our imagination."

Schmidt's work had been exhibited all over the world including The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1996. His work is also currently on display in an exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum until June 14.

He is survived by his wife Karin and a daughter.

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