by James Kraus
In April of 1953, German photographer Peter Keetman (1916-2005) spent a week at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg. Peter was a founding member of Fotoform, a group of German photographers whose work meshed abstraction with objectivity, often incorporating close-ups and repetition. The images resulting from the Volkswagen project eventually became some of his favourite and best known.
When Herr Keetman visited, VW was at a pivotal point in its history. The Beetle and the Type II Transporter/Microbus were the only two products Volkswagen produced. However, a third model, the Karmann Ghia, had been developed and was little more than a year from introduction. The Wolfsburg plant was still VW’s only automobile manufacturing facility, but their second European assembly plant (Hanover) was in the planning stage, and Volkswagen do Brazil was in the process of beginning pilot production.
The German Economic Miracle, in which the German economy rose from the ashes of WWII, was in full bloom in 1953. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer became Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. Volkswagen had just completed its first year of producing over 100,000 Beetles. By 1965, they would be routinely manufacturing over one million annually.
The Beetle itself still retained the WWII-era 1.1-litre engine, and just a few weeks prior to Peter’s visit, received its most dramatic aesthetic change since its inception. In March of ’53 the original split rear-window was replaced by a one-piece oval window that would remain a hallmark of the Beetle for the following four-and-a-half years.
Here is a selection of images from Peter’s week in Wolfsburg.