She was considered the Grande Dame of East-German photography, though she always preferred to stay out of the limelight. Her way of seeing was unsentimental and precise, her style characterised by a stringent earnestness. At the same time, her work is imbued with a subtle melancholy and profound empathy for those she portrayed. People were always at the centre of her oeuvre – whether she photographed passers-by, travellers and factory workers, or captured portraits of artists, writers and musicians.
Working as a freelance photographer, Richter (b. 1930 in Bautzen) used her discreet Leica to document life in her home country. However, far from presenting an idealised image of the GDR, she produced astute observations of “Real Existing Socialism” in all its nuances and contradictions. The result is a multi-faceted, social-documentary oeuvre that has made Richter one of the most important autonomous voices in German photography. It was only after the German Reunification that Richter’s work – created over decades, in parallel to her assignments – became accessible to a wider audience, and was internationally recognised.
The photographer received numerous honours, including the Art Prize of the GDR (1989), the Cultural Award of the German Society for Photography (1992), a Villa Massimo Scholarship in Rome (1997), and an Honorary Fellowship at the Saxon Academy of Arts (2013).
The Evelyn Richter Archive has been housed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig since 2009. Last year, the Albertinum in Dresden presented an exhibition of Richter’s work. The photographer also became the first recipient of the Bernd and Hilla Becher Prize, awarded by the City of Dusseldorf.
Evelyn Richter passed away on October 10, 2021 in a residential home in Dresden, where she had been living since suffering a stroke. She was 91.
LFI Magazine introduced Evelyn Richter as a Leica Classic in issue 6/2016.