08
Jul
15

Exhibition: ‘Germaine Krull (1897-1985) A Photographer’s Journey’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 2nd June 2015 – 27th September 2015

Curator: Michel Frizot, historian of photography

 

 

Je l’adore cette femme. Je pense que je suis en amour.

I absolutely love this women’s art. Everything she touches is inventive, vibrant, made with panache. The light, the hands, the angles, the objects – cranes and barges, brooding ancient architecture hanging in time – and then, to top it all off, the sensuality!

Left-wing convictions, lesbian love affairs, “the love of cars and road trips, the interest in women (whether writers or workers), the fascination with hands, and the free, maverick spirit that drove her work and kept her outside schools and sects.”

How can an artist make two piles of cauliflowers seem so enigmatic, so surreal and wondrous – like so many excised eyes of dead creatures staring at you, coming at you from out of the darkness. Les Halles de nuit (en toute amitié à Van Ecke) (around 1920, below) amazes me every time I look at it.

If I had to name one period above all others that I enjoy looking at most in the history of photography, the avant-garde period of the 1920s-30s would be up there near the very top. Especially the female photographers.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to Jeu de Paume for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Germaine Krull. 'Rue Auber in Paris' about 1928

 

Germaine Krull
Rue Auber in Paris
about 1928
Gelatin Silver Print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of David H. McAlpin, by exchange
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Étalage: les mannequins [Display: mannequins]' 1928

 

Germaine Krull
Étalage: les mannequins [Display: mannequins]
1928
Gelatin Silver Print
10.8 x 15.7 cm
Amsab-Institut d’Histoire Sociale, Gand
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Mannequins in a shop window' 1930

 

Germaine Krull
Mannequins in a shop window
1930
Gelatin Silver Print
13.7 x 23.5 cm
Collection Bouqueret-Rémy
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Hans Basler. 'Portait of Germaine Krull, Berlin' 1922

 

Hans Basler
Portait of Germaine Krull, Berlin
1922
Gelatin Silver Print
15.9 x 22 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Nude' Nd

 

Germaine Krull
Nude
Nd
Gelatin Silver Print
Collection Dietmar Siegert
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Anonymous. 'Germaine Krull in her car, Monte-Carlo' 1937

 

Anonymous
Germaine Krull in her car, Monte-Carlo
1937
Gelatin Silver Print
13 x 18.3 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

“Germaine Krull (Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia [after 1919: Poland], 1897-Wetzlar, Germany, 1985) is at once one of the best-known figures in the history of photography, by virtue of her role in the avant-garde’s from 1920 to 1940, and a pioneer of modern photojournalism. She was also the first to publish in book form as an end in itself.

The exhibition at Jeu de Paume revisits Germaine Krull’s work in a new way, based on collections that have only recently been made available, in order to show the balance between a modernist artistic vision and an innovative role in print media, illustration and documentation. As she herself put it – paradoxically, in the introduction to her Études de nu (1930) -, ‘The true photographer is the witness of each day’s events, a reporter.’

If Krull is one of the most famous women photographers, her work has been little studied in comparison to that of her contemporaries Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy and André Kertész. Nor has she had many exhibitions: in 1967, a first evocation was put on at the Musée du Cinéma in Paris, then came the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn, in 1977, the Musée Réattu, Arles, in 1988, and the 1999 retrospective based on the archives placed at the Folkwang Museum, Essen.

The exhibition at Jeu de Paume focuses on the Parisian period, 1926-1935, and more precisely on the years of intensive activity between 1928 and 1933, by relating 130 vintage prints to period documents, including the magazines and books in which Krull played such a unique and prominent role. This presentation gives an idea of the constants that run through her work while also bringing out her aesthetic innovations. The show features many singular but also representative images from her prolific output, putting them in their original context.

Born in East Prussia (later Poland) to German parents, Krull had a chaotic childhood, as her hapless father, an engineer, travelled in search of work. This included a spell in Paris in 1906. After studying photography in Munich, Krull became involved in the political upheavals of post-war Germany in 1919, her role in the communist movement leading to a close shave with the Bolsheviks in Moscow. Having made some remarkable photographs of nudes during her early career, noteworthy for their freedom of tone and subject, in 1925 she was in the Netherlands, where she was fascinated by the metal structures and cranes in the docks, and embarked on a series of photographs that, following her move to Paris, would bear fruit in the portfolio Métal, publication of which placed her at the forefront of the avant-garde, the Nouvelle Vision in photography. Her new-found status earned her a prominent position on the new photographic magazine VU, created in 1928, where, along with André Kertész and Eli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage that was particularly congenial to her, affording freedom of expression and freedom from taboos as well as closeness to the subject – all facilitated by her small-format (6 x 9 cm) Icarette camera.

This exhibition shows the extraordinary blossoming of Krull’s unique vision in around 1930, a vision that is hard to define because it adapted to its subjects with a mixture of charisma and empathy, while remaining constantly innovative in terms of its aesthetic. It is essential, here, to show that Krull always worked for publication: apart from the modernist VU, where she was a contributor from 1928 to 1933, she produced reportage for many other magazines, such as Jazz, Variétés, Art et Médecine and L’Art vivant. Most importantly, and unlike any other photographer of her generation, she published a number of books and portfolios as sole author: Métal (1928), 100 x Paris (1929), Études de nu (1930), Le Valois (1930), La Route Paris-Biarritz (1931), Marseille (1935). She also created the first photo-novel, La Folle d’Itteville (1931), in collaboration with Georges Simenon. These various publications represent a total of some five hundred photographs. Krull also contributed to some important collective books, particularly on the subject of Paris: Paris, 1928; Visages de Paris, 1930; Paris under 4 Arstider, 1930; La Route Paris-Méditerranée, 1931. Her images are often disconcerting, atypical and utterly free of standardisation.

An energetic figure with strong left-wing convictions and a great traveller, Krull’s approach to photography was antithetical to the aesthetically led, interpretative practice of the Bauhaus or Surrealists. During the Second World War, she joined the Free French (1941) and served the cause with her camera, later following the Battle of Alsace (her photographs of which were made into a book). Shortly afterwards she left Europe for Southeast Asia, becoming director of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, which she helped turn into a renowned establishment, and then moving on to India where, having converted to Buddhism, she served the community of Tibetan exiles near Dehra-Dun.

During all her years in Asia, Krull continued to take photographs. Her thousands of images included Buddhist sites and monuments, some of them taken as illustrations for a book planned by her friend André Malraux. The conception of the books she published throughout her life was unfailingly original: Ballets de Monte-Carlo (1937); Uma Cidade Antiga do Brasil; Ouro Preto (1943); Chieng Mai (c. 1960); Tibetans in India (1968).

In her photojournalism, Krull began by focusing on the lower reaches of Parisian life, its modest, working population, the outcasts and marginal of the “Zone,” the tramps (subject of a hugely successful piece in VU), Les Halles and the markets, the fairgrounds evoked by Francis Carco and Pierre Mac Orlan (her greatest champion). The exhibition also explores unchanging aspects of her tastes and attachments: the love of cars and road trips, the interest in women (whether writers or workers), the fascination with hands, and the free, maverick spirit that drove her work and kept her outside schools and sects.

The works come from a public and private collections including the Folkwang Museum, Essen; Amsab, Institute for Social History, Ghent; the Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris; the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris; the Collection Bouqueret-Rémy; the Dietmar Siegert Collection.”

Press release from the Jeu de Paume

 

Germaine Krull. 'Self Portrait with Icarette' around 1925

 

Germaine Krull
Self Portrait with Icarette
around 1925
Gelatin silver print
23.6 x 17.5 cm
Purchase through the patronage of Yves Rocher, 2011. Former collection Bouqueret Christian. Centre Pompidou, Paris. National Museum of Modern Art / Industrial Design Centre
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Photo: © Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN / picture Centre Pompidou-CCI MNAM

 

Germaine Krull. 'Self Portrait, Paris' 1927

 

Germaine Krull
Self Portrait, Paris
1927
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 17.9 cm
Foundation Ann and Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Assia's profile' 1930

 

Germaine Krull
Assia’s profile
1930
Gelatin Silver Print
22.2 x 15.8 cm
Collection Bouqueret-Rémy
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Étude pour La Folle d’Itteville [Study for The Madwoman of Itteville]' 1931

 

Germaine Krull
Étude pour La Folle d’Itteville [Study for The Madwoman of Itteville]
1931
Gelatin Silver Print
21.9 x 16.4 cm
Purchase through the patronage of Yves Rocher, 2011. Former collection Bouqueret Christian. Centre Pompidou, Paris. National Museum of Modern Art / Industrial Design Centre
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen.
Photo: © Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN / Guy Carrard

 

Germaine Krull. 'Advertising Study for Paul Poiret' 1926

 

Germaine Krull
Advertising Study for Paul Poiret
1926
Gelatin Silver Print
Purchase through the patronage of Yves Rocher, 2011. Former collection Bouqueret Christian. Centre Pompidou, Paris. National Museum of Modern Art / Industrial Design Centre
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Photo: © Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN / Georges Meguerditchian

 

Germaine Krull. 'Female nude' 1928

 

Germaine Krull
Female nude
1928
Gelatin Silver Print
21.6 x 14.4 cm
Purchase through the patronage of Yves Rocher, 2011. Former collection Bouqueret Christian. Centre Pompidou, Paris. National Museum of Modern Art / Industrial Design Centre
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Photo: © Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN / Guy Carrard

 

Germaine Krull. 'Jean Cocteau' 1929

 

Germaine Krull
Jean Cocteau
1929
Gelatin Silver Print 1976
23.7 x 17.2 cm
Bouqueret Remy collection
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'André Malraux' 1930

 

Germaine Krull
André Malraux
1930
Gelatin Silver Print
23 x 17.3 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Tibetan religious ceremony offering of the white scarf' Undated

 

Germaine Krull
Tibetan religious ceremony offering of the white scarf
Undated
Gelatin silver print
24.1 x 18.5 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) A Photographer’s Journey

A famous figure of the avant-garde in the 1920-1940s, Germaine Krull (Wilda, Poland, 1897-Wetzlar, Germany, 1985) was a pioneer of modern photojournalism and of the photographic book. Produced mainly between 1928 and 1931, her innovative work cannot be understood outside the context of her chaotic and poorly educated childhood and her activist youth, which saw her become involved in the Spartacist uprising in Germany in 1919.

After Berlin, where she produced some ambiguous nude photographs in 1923, Paris was where her career as a photographer took off. She won acclaim for her fers, the photographs of metal structures, bridges and cranes that featured in her portfolio Métal (1928), their unusual angles and framing typical of the New Vision in photography. In March 1928 she began producing innovative reportage for the newly created photographic magazine VU, focusing particularly on Parisian life, the marginal world of humble folk and popular neighbourhoods, and the “Zone.”

Often disconcerting and seemingly casual, these images taken with a hand-held Icarette were nevertheless well received by a number of illustrated magazines. Krull innovated even more as sole author of books and portfolios, which were a novelty at this time: 100 x Paris (1929), Études de nu (1930), Le Valois (1930), La Route Paris-Biarritz (1931), Marseille (1935), and the first photo-novel (phototexte) with Georges Simenon, La Folle d’Itteville (1931). Taken together, these publications represent some five hundred photos.

A woman of action and initiative, Krull had a great love of cars and road travel (which inspired  several books), and was particularly interested in behaviour, gesture and the work of women, as well as in the expressiveness of hands. Her free, maverick spirit was always in evidence, as if taking a fresh look at the world also meant constantly rising to new challenges in her photography. “Germaine Krull,” noted Pierre Mac Orlan, “does not create easy anecdotes, but she makes visible the secret details that people do not always see.”

Berlin and Paris: early days

After a free adolescence, Germaine Krull studied  photography in Munich, later contributing to a portfolio of female nudes. Her involvement with the Spartacist uprising of 1919 led all the way to prisons in Moscow in 1921. Returning to photography in 1923, she produced more female nudes, with strong erotic connotations (one series shows two women “friends”). Moving to Paris in 1926, she worked as a fashion photographer, mainly for Sonia Delaunay’s textile studio.

1928: “My fers” and VU

In 1928 Krull became known for her fers, dramatically framed photographs of cranes, bridges and silos, and of the Eiffel Tower. Often low-angle shots, these established her as an “avant-garde” photographer. At the end of  the year her portfolio Métal (64 plates) had a tremendous impact in modernist photographic circles and in progressive artistic magazines (L’Art vivant, Jazz).

Reportage and magazines

Krull’s greatest contribution was in the field of  reportage, which she pioneered in March 1928 for the magazine VU. Her favourite subject was Parisian popular culture – fairgrounds and flea markets, bars and dance halls, tramps. Her approach was free and spontaneous, favouring closeness to the subject, photographed at eye height (as enabled by her 6 x 9 Icarette), rather than elegance and balance of composition. Her idiosyncratic and highly evocative images were appreciated by the bolder magazines, which published some six hundred of them between 1928 and 1934.

Paris, Paris!

For a determined photographer like Krull, the big city represented a unique set of opportunities with real potential: department stores, shop window mannequins, effects of lighting at night and the banks of the Seine were among the subjects. Enthusiastic about the book format, she published 100 x Paris, a book of a hundred unusual views of Paris, in 1929, and contributed to Visages de Paris by Warnod (1930), and Paris by Adolf Hallman (1930). Her images gave visual expression to the “social fantastic” explored by her friend, writer Pierre Mac Orlan (Quai des Brumes, 1927).

Cars, the open road

Krull was fascinated by cars, speed and machines. In Paris she photographed the teeming traffic. After a commission to take advertising photos for  the Peugeot 201 in 1929, she developed a strong enthusiasm for road trips, the great novelty of the day, and photographed sites glimpsed from inside the vehicle. This daring work bore fruit in a new kind of photography book, Le Valois de Gérard de Nerval (1930), La Route Paris-Biarritz (1931), La Route de Paris à la Méditerranée (1931) and Marseille (1935), an aesthetic and mental as well as geographical journey to the south.

Women

As a woman photographer, Krull took an interest in artistic women such as Colette, the actress Berthe Bovy who played in La Voix humaine by Cocteau, and the singer Damia. She was especially keen to do social reportage on women’s themes, a notable example being her series on working women in Paris, published by VU in 1931-1932. Her Études de nu (1930) was an aesthetic manifesto by virtue of its  fragmented and unstructured vision of the female body. Another innovation was her photography for La Folle d’Itteville, a ground-breaking photographic version of a Simenon story, featuring an enigmatic Mrs Hubbell.

“My collection of hands”

Krull was fascinated by hands, which she  photographed with a blend of imagination and  invention. Her “collection” included Cocteau with his hand in front of his eyes or mouth, and Malraux with his cigarette. In her reportage, she homed in on gestures and postures in which the hands were signally expressive. Shown on their own, they became portraits, intriguing the viewer.

Le Courrier littéraire, 1930

The second issue (April-May-June 1930) of this ephemeral magazine contained an astonishing  portfolio of Krull’s work, with 24 photos over 17  pages. The rather emphatic presentation showed  her as a true artist, and as part of the avant-garde of the day. A letter from Cocteau was reprinted by way of an introduction. In it, the poet, Krull’s friend, expresses his surprise at her striking photos, both of Berthe Bovy in La Voix humaine and of his own hands.

Free spirit

Krull liked to concentrate on “the visual side  of things” and escape from the documentary imperatives of reportage. Her bold framing, details and situations, her use of cast shadow and touch of fantasy stimulate the imagination and create surprise. Her series on superstitions, published in VU and Variétés, was conceived with the enthusiasm of an amateur photographer exclusively intent on the narrative power of the images. Without ever entering the world of Surrealism, her very individual vision brought out an unexpected strangeness in apparently ordinary things.

War

In 1940 Krull took the boat to Brazil, aiming to work for Free France. In 1942 she was sent to Brazzaville to set up a propaganda photography  service. She also produced reportage around French Equatorial Africa. In 1943 she travelled to Algiers as a reporter, then sailed with the troops of De Lattre, arriving in the South of France and heading up to Alsace, where she witnessed the Battle of Alsace and the liberation of the Vaihingen  concentration camp.

Asia

Keen to continue working as a reporter in Southeast Asia, in 1946 Krull settled in Bangkok. Not long after, she became manager of the Oriental Hotel there, which she turned into a highly renowned establishment. Drawn to Buddhism, she photographed its temples and statues in Thailand and Burma. Leaving her position at the hotel, she travelled to India, where she took up  the cause of the Tibetan exiles (Tibetans in India, 1968). Ill, impecunious, and having lost most of her prints, Krull returned to Germany, where she died on 30 July 1985.

The films

Through Joris Ivens, Krull was in touch with many of the avant-garde filmmakers of the day, including René Clair, Georges Lacombe and Alberto  Cavalcanti. Although she claimed to dislike cinema’s complicated interdependence of machines, script and actors, she did make two short films, both in 1931: Six pour dix francs (9 min) and Il partit pour un long voyage (11 min 20 s). The second, about a young boy who dreams of travel and distant  lands and hides on a barge on the Seine at Bercy, allowed her to take some “photographically” meticulous shots of activities along the river.

.
Michel Frizot
Exhibition curator

 

Germaine Krull. 'Gibbs Advertising' L'Illustration, No. 4533, January 18, 1930

 

Germaine Krull
Gibbs Advertising
L’Illustration, No. 4533, January 18, 1930
36.7 x 27.8 cm
Private collection
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Pol Rab (illustrator)' 1930

 

Germaine Krull
Pol Rab (illustrator)
1930
Photomontage, Gelatin silver print
19.5 x 14.5 cm
Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. '100 x Paris' 1929

 

Germaine Krull
100 x Paris
1929
Cover, Publisher of the series Berlin-Westend
24.3 x 17.3 cm
Private collection
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Cover of the photogravure portfolio Métal (set of 64 plates)' 1928

 

Germaine Krull
Métal
Cover of the photogravure portfolio Métal (set of 64 plates)
1928
30 x 23.5 cm
Collection Bouqueret-Rémy
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Bridge crane, Rotterdam' from the series 'Métal', about 1926

 

Germaine Krull
Bridge crane, Rotterdam
about 1926
from the series Métal
Gelatin Silver Print
21.9 x 15.3 cm
Foundation Ann and Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Ancient architecture: printing house Clock' 1928

 

Germaine Krull
Architecture ancienne: imprimerie de l’Horloge [Ancient architecture: printing house Clock]
1928
Gelatin Silver Print
21.9 x 15.2 cm
Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Electric plant, Issy les Moulineaux' 1928

 

Germaine Krull
Electric plant, Issy les Moulineaux
1928
Gelatin Silver Print
22.6 x 16.6 cm
Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Halls of Night (in friendship to Van Ecke)' around 1920

 

Germaine Krull
Les Halles de nuit (en toute amitié à Van Ecke) [Halls of Night (in friendship to Van Ecke)]
around 1920
Gelatin Silver Print
22 x 16.2 cm
Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'At the right corner, Paris' 1929

 

Germaine Krull
Au bon coin, Paris [At the right corner, Paris]
1929
Gelatin Silver Print
14.2 x 10.5 cm
Collection Bouqueret-Rémy
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Marseille' June 1930

 

Germaine Krull
Marseille
June 1930
Gelatin Silver Print
21.2 x 15.3 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection.Gift of Thomas Walther
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Photo: © 2015. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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