Shops with history – sundry goods in Vienna



Businesses not only shape the identity of a city through their outward appearance, they always have been and still continue to be indispensable establishments providing convenient shopping, but also places to meet and communicate. The loss of a company of this kind is thus always also a disturbance in the social framework of the city, whose consequences and effects may become apparent very immediately or sometimes only in the long term.

For many years, we have been forced to note the disappearance, transformation or repurposing of Vienna’s traditional businesses and their shopfronts. This is why, in 2009, we began our project “Shops with history – sundry goods in Vienna”: taking the form of a work in progress, it involves a continuous photographic documentation of the businesses that still exist. In 2018 we took things a step further by adding the comparative photographic study SPURENSUCHE, which deals with the changes that have taken place: old photographs of the businesses were juxtaposed with the new situations that had developed.

In Vienna, shopfront architecture has a long and remarkable tradition: Adolf Loos, Otto Wagner or Josef Hoffmann for earlier examples and Hans Hollein, Hermann Czech or Coop-Himmelblau for the later ones – to provide just a brief sampling. Their work has already been extensively discussed, acknowledged and documented. Our interest is not so much in such classics of shopfront design; instead, it is above all the ordinary shopfronts of traditional retail shops and small businesses and service providers that we wish to capture. They can be found in every district of Vienna and in all kinds of locations, and they often stick out among the shopfronts of the shifting businesses around them. Architecturally they are usually idiosyncratic and unique, but they are often of only minor historical or aesthetic interest.

We select the businesses on the basis of the individual design of their shopfronts, typographically interesting lettering, their area of business, the design of their window displays or their unusual selection of goods. Through a focus on uniformly framed views, freed as much as possible from any distracting elements of their surroundings, we additionally seek to generate a serial character in the images, which provides the extremely diverse shopfronts with an equal force of presence.

We understand our work in terms of snapshots of these characteristic urban features caught in a process of rapid change. We have now captured over 500 businesses, and more than half of these photographs can already be seen here in our online gallery.

Stadtspaziergänge – Walks

We have been carrying out city walks on this topic since 2016. Based on our photographs, we seek out districts and streets where it is possible to find an interesting mix of different businesses and service providers. What is interesting is not just their shopfronts and displays and the form of presenting goods that go with them, but also the photographically documented changes in individual businesses. Beyond this, we also go inside selected shops, whose owners tell us more about the history of these businesses and their own stories. Through these walks, the photographic project has taken on another dimension for us. Together with our groups, we listen intently as we are provided with insights into the tradition or craft of the shops and businesses in the form of “oral history”.

In the context of the Jane’s Walk Festival and the city expeditions organised by the Wien Museum, we have already organised numerous city walks in the following streets in Vienna: Wollzeile, Wiedner Hauptstraße and Schleifmühlgasse, Neubaugasse and Kirchengasse, Josefstädterstraße. As part of the Vienna Art Book Fair 2019, we went on a city walk along the Landstraßer Hauptstraße.

Book Series

In 2016 we also decided to remove the photographs from the virtual realm and to publish them in the form of a photobook series, each in a small edition of 150 hand-bound, numbered and signed copies.

The book blocks are produced using four-colour offset printing, while the protective cover and text pages will be printed digitally. In selecting a printer, it was important to us to find a Vienna-based company that also does its production here.

The books’ pages are sorted and the printer delivers them to us folded in their final format, and we then produce their sewn binding by hand. We attach a photograph commemorating a shop that no longer exists to the front cover of each copy.

Each volume is packed inside a protective cardboard cover and cellophane: their outer form is meant to correspond to their content. This is why we have designed their packaging using materials reminiscent of what was formerly used for shirts or socks.

The books of the series are listed in the VLB database of books in print, and they are distributed through select bookshops and online. Volumes 1–4 have already sold out. Volume 4 was presented in 2019, during the Vienna Art Book Fair, and Volume 5 was published in October 2021. We will be presenting it in Leipzig in March 2022 at the first ever Leipzig Photobook Festival.

Film Portraits

On our city walks, we lead attentive groups into a wide variety of businesses to learn more about their history directly from their owners. Their stories and the experience of this special atmosphere inspired our wish to record these fleeting interactions.

In 2022 this has led to eight unique film portraits about equally unique people and their businesses:

  • Renate Houska‘s Pleating Workshop (Austria 2022, 6‘42“)
  • Carl Göbbel’s Hardware and Kitchen Goods: Karl Seiser, Proprietor (Austria 2022, 4‘27“)
  • Schnepf Workwear (Austria 2022, 5‘00“)
  • Milcic Tyres (Austria 2022, 6‘12“)
  • Rohrböck Inn (Austria 2022, 6‘11“)
  • Lackstätter Tableware (Austria 2022, 4‘29“)
  • Otto Feiler’s Silverware (Austria 2022, 4‘26“)
  • Bonbons Neubaugasse (Austria 2022, 4‘36“)

All films are in German with English subtitles.


Vienna Art Book Fair #2 (2023): SPURENSUCHE 2023
Geschäftsportale in Wien – Beobachtungen urbaner Veränderung
October, 20– Oktober, 22 2023
dieAngewandte – University of Applied Arts Vienna

For the SPURENSUCHE 2023, we again selected 28 business portals in the summer of 2023 and compared the changes with our own recordings from previous years. 17 of these pairs of images can be seen in the exhibition:
Vienna Art Book Fair #2

NÖ-Art, Lower Austria: Was Fotografie kann (2019)

In 2019 the NÖ-ART organisation invited us to participate in the exhibition “Was Fotografie kann” (What photography can do) with our photographs “Spurensuche 2018”. This show, curated by Herrmann Capor, was presented at four different locations in Lower Austria: Schüttkasten Allentsteig, Haus der Kunst Baden, Konzerthaus Weinviertel (Ziersdorf) and Gänserndorf town hall.
NOE ART: Was Fotografie kann

At FOTO WIEN 2019, we presented the accompanying photobook Spurensuche 2018 Geschäftsportale in Wien – Beobachtungen urbaner Veränderung (Spurensuche 2018: Shopfronts in Vienna – observations on urban change), which features the 22 pairings of images of shopfronts from the exhibition of the same name at Lia Wolf Cabinett.

Lia Wolf Cabinett, Vienna: Spurensuche 2018

In the autumn of 2018, we presented our exhibition “Spurensuche 2018” at the Viennese bookshop Lia Wolf Cabinett: that summer, preparing for the show, marked the first time we selected a group of images from our collection that featured businesses which no longer existed at that time. We sought out their locations and, in most cases, were able to photographically document the conditions we found there. The images of the old businesses were juxtaposed with the new situations; a period of two to six years separated the images being compared.
Lia Wolf Cabinett: SPURENSUCHE 2018

Media reports (selection)

FALTER – Nr. 43/2023
Martin Staudinger:
Was hinter den Fassaden liegt (PDF)
Martin Frey und Philipp Graf dokumentieren mit Fotos
und Kurzfilmen eine Kultur, die Wien sein Gesicht
gegeben hat – und die jetzt vom Verschwinden bedroht
ist: das Design der Portale kleiner Geschäft­e

Ö1 LEPORELLO – October, 19 2023
Einkauf wie einst
Die beiden Stadtfotografen Philipp Graf und Martin Frey porträtieren in ihrem Projekt „Geschäfte mit Geschichte – Waren aller Art in Wien“ einzigartige Traditionsbetriebe und die Menschen dahinter.

ORF III KULTUR HEUTE weekend – October, 15 2023
Foto- und Filmprojekt “Geschäfte mit Geschichte”

ORF TOPOS – Ocotober, 7 2023
Magdalena Miedl:
Geschäfte mit Geschichte: Geschäftsfassaden als Gesichter einer Stadt

Die Presse – October, 7 2023
Teresa Schauer-Wünsch:
Von Autoreifen bis Plissee (PDF)
Seit 2009 fotografieren Philipp Graf und Martin Frey Wiener Geschäftsportale. Nun haben sie einige Betreiber auch filmisch porträtiert.

Die Presse – Im Ersten – Autumn 2020
Daniela Illich:
Spurensuche – Philipp Graf und Martin Frey halten traditionelle Geschäftsportale und deren Auslagen fotografisch fest.
Spurensuche (PDF)

Jane’s Walk Vienna – April, 30 2019
Wer spaziert denn da? – Philipp Graf und Martin Frey von „2focus on – kunst.kultur.verein“
Jane’s Walk: Wer spaziert denn da?

Mein Bezirk – April 15, 2019
Wolfgang Unger:
Zeitreise von 1950 bis heute. Stadtexpedition durch Josefstadt
Mein Bezirk: Zeitreise von 1950 bis heute

KURIER – October 6, 2018
Stefanie Rachbauer
Wiener Fotoprojekt: Die Einkaufsstraßen-Biografen
KURIER: Wiener Fotoprojekt: Die Einkaufsstraßen-Biografen

ORF – September 23, 2018
Geschäfte mit Geschichte vor der Linse
ORF: Geschäfte mit Geschichte vor der Linse

Kleine Zeitung – September, 20 2018
Fotoprojekt würdigt Wiens alte Geschäftsportale
Kleine Zeitung: Fotoprojekt würdigt Wiens alte Geschäftsportale


Philipp Graf:

Interested in old structures and new architectures in Vienna and the world. For years a passionate photographer of the lettering of old shopfronts as well as street furniture related to all kinds of themes in Vienna.

From 2008 to 2010, the first collaborative project with Martin Frey: a photo documentary on Vienna’s Südbahnhof, the rail station torn down in 2010 in order to make room for the new Hauptbahnhof.

His photobook “Wiener Postbriefkästen” features 42 views of Viennese postboxes and was presented at the Vienna Art Book Fair in 2019. He discovered these finds along the way in Vienna and while exploring the city.

Martin Frey:

Realisation of a number of documentary photo projects, including those on markings related to Viennese cellars which had served as air-raid shelters (1992-2011) and on Vienna’s Südbahnhof (2008-2010, in collaboration with Philipp Graf)

In Budapest in 2017, together with Hanna Schimek, he realised the artistic and urban-research project “Budapest Windows – It’s all about shop windows – but also more…”, with exhibitions at the FUGA Budapest Center of Architecture and at two other locations.

In 2011, the first photographs were created for “Vienna windows – display in progress” – a photoblog on abandoned shopfront displays in Vienna, in collaboration with Hanna Schimek.

In 2009, he begins the long-term project “Döner macht schöner (with kebab you’ll need no make up)”, which explores changes in the appearance of Viennese (shopping) streets.

“The cheap-eaters” (2006–2008, in collaboration with Helmut Mörwald) was inspired by Thomas Bernhard’s novella of the same name. A hidden camera (a Nokia 6230i mobile phone)was used to create short photo stories about public canteens in Vienna and Berlin, some of which no longer exist.

vienna windows – auslage in arbeit @ tumblr
döner macht schöner @ flickr
die billigesser @ flickr