born in April 1943 in Bonn, worked from 1961 to 1969 for Lufthansa in Bonn and Munich before becoming assistant to Professor Otto Steinert at the Folkwang School for Design, Essen, in 1969/70. In autumn 1971 she began a photography and photojournalism degree under Steinert which she completed in 1976 with a dissertation on free theatre ensembles in Europe. She first met Pina Bausch and made friends with her when still a student. After her photography course she worked as a freelance photographer and also completed a degree in theatre studies and German literature.
An unpretentious eye
She first photographed pieces by the Tanztheater Wuppertal in 1976, a role she continued up until her death. She was Pina Bausch’s favourite photographer and, in the early years especially, was responsible for the company’s image in the media. She remained modest, however, when asked about her photographs; she saw herself more as a theatre- than a dance-photographer. But perhaps for precisely this reason she had the right approach to Pina Bausch’s work from the start: both restrained and precise. She knew how to capture both the aesthetic of dance theatre as well as it’s emotion dimension, and this in movement too. Her work was never dominated by the construction of her own perspectives; instead she sought to connect with the pieces from within and render them palpable. Her eye was unpretentious and yet forceful. Ulli Weiss never placed her own artistic vision in the foreground, always the work. This could be seen right from her earliest publications such as Setz dich hin und lächle (‘sit down and smile’, 1979, with texts by Ille Chamier) or the large-format, illustrated volume Applausfotos (‘applause photos’, 1984, with a text by Raimund Hoghe).
In her intimate observations of the end of performances, when the choreographer and ensemble appear in front of their audience, it is especially clear what revolutionary changes have taken place here, what unusual intimacy and directness this work is seeking, what new authenticity is being generated and what fresh humanity striven for here. In the faces and from the bodies we can sense both the battles just fought and the exhaustion as well as the feeling of release and cautious joy at having arrived. The dancers have overexerted themselves, exposed something of themselves, but also played a role. Ulli Weiss makes these balancing acts visible, without her eye becoming intrusive.
Pina Bausch rated her work and soon incorporated her into her team of closest colleagues. Up until her death Ulli Weiss was involved in almost every Tanztheater Wuppertal publication: festival leaflets, programmes and books. Alongside this she continued to publish her own books, together with Raimund Hoghe, Anne Linsel and Peter Pabst amongst others, and held solo exhibitions in locations including Milan (Isadora Duncan, Pina Bausch. Danza dell’anima) and Frascati (Pina Bausch, la danza dell’anima) and frequently in Wuppertal. Her admiration for Pina Bausch’s work remained consistent and unshakable. In 2010 she was awarded the Kulturpreis der Enno und Christa Springmann Stiftung (‘arts prize of the Enno and Christa Springmann Foundation’).
Ulli Weiss died in early July 2014 at the age of 71 in Wuppertal.
Text by Norbert Servos
Translated by Steph Morris
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