In Pictures: Standing outside and looking in

Romeo Alaeff comes from a long line of “outsiders.” His photography resonates with the Monitor’s Alfredo Sosa, an immigrant himself.

Romeo Alaeff
A landmark of Berlin’s alternative culture will soon be replaced by commercial development and housing. The atmospheric lighting and colors capture the haunting mood of this otherwise nondescript spot.

My friend Romeo Alaeff comes from a long line of “outsiders.” His parents, Jews from Europe and Yemen, met in Israel. Romeo was born in New York City, later moved to Texas, and now lives in Berlin, where he is again an Ausländer (“outsider”). The way he sees the world seems to come from a position on the periphery, a perspective that is not so much physical as it is emotional. 

As an immigrant myself, I relate to the way he views his surroundings, that sense that I can never really be in the center. The fear that other people know it. Still, looking in from the periphery has some advantages. It gives me a more analytical point of view. In Romeo’s case, “looking in” also creates a sense of emotional displacement. One senses a longing for something, an endless search. At least that is how I feel when I look at his photos. 

Romeo Alaeff
A gallery complex hosts the opening of an exhibition during Berlin Art Week. The image reminds Romeo Alaeff of the Alfred Hitchcock film “Rear Window.”

These images from Berlin, which appear in his new book, “In der Fremde: Pictures From Home,” reflect his quest to understand the place he now calls home. The fact that they are taken at night after people are finished with their daily routines contributes to this sense of dislocation. The mostly empty spaces seem like stages where a performance has already taken place. The few people pictured don’t seem to be in a rush to go anywhere. They loiter. As I wander alongside Romeo through these photos, I get the feeling that whatever event occurred, we were not part of it. We were Ausländer.

Romeo Alaeff
Mr. Alaeff says the woman inside the Shell station eyed him suspiciously as he took the picture. Street photography is borderline forbidden due to privacy laws, he says.
Romeo Alaeff
Mr. Alaeff stayed at a rehabilitation center outside Berlin while he was recovering from an injury. He took this photo of the swimming pool just before lights out.
Romeo Alaeff
The colors in this metro stop are strangely beautiful, and the fluorescent lights give an eerie effect.

Romeo Alaeff
In the postmodern mashup that is Berlin, a pizza joint, Chinese takeout, and Turkish restaurant sit side by side in Neukölln’s Hermannstraße, a mainly Turkish neighborhood.

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