Posts Tagged ‘1930s social documentary photography

22
Aug
21

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt’ at the Fundación Mapfre, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 3rd June – 29th August 2021

Curator: Ramón Esparza (University of the Basque Country)

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'St. Paul's Cathedral in the moonlight' 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
St. Paul’s Cathedral in the moonlight
1942
25.72 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt: master of photography, master of reinvention

“I’m 70% sure this was a reality not a dream”

In 12 years of writing this archive, this is the first chance I have had to assemble a posting and really think about the work of Bill Brandt, one of the most significant and inventive photographer of the 20th century. Brandt exhibitions are few and far between.

Son of a British father and German mother, Bill Brandt was born in Hamburg in 1904. As an adolescent he contracted tuberculosis and spent much of his youth in a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland. In 1927 he travelled to Vienna, “to see a lung specialist and then decided to stay and find work in a photography studio. There, in 1928, he met and made a successful portrait of the poet Ezra Pound, who subsequently introduced Brandt to the American-born, Paris-based photographer Man Ray. Brandt arrived in Paris to begin three months of study as an apprentice at the Man Ray Studio in 1929 … his work from this time shows the influence of André Kertész and Eugène Atget, as well as Man Ray and the Surrealists.”1

“For any young photographer at that time, Paris was the centre of the world. Those were the exciting early days when the French poets and surrealists recognised the possibilities of photography.” ~ Bill Brandt

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Having visited London in 1928, upon his return to London, in 1931, Brandt was well versed in the language of photographic modernism. In 1933 Brandt settled permanently in North London with his wife. With the rise of Nazism in Germany, Brandt Anglicised his name and disowned his German background and would claim he was born in South London. “He adopted Britain as his home and it became the subject of his greatest photographs.” Here is his first reinvention: the obfuscation of his German heritage, but he could not hide that heritage in his photographs.

As a photojournalist working for magazines such as News Chronicle, Weekly Illustrated, Lilliput, Harper’s Bazaar and Picture Post, Brandt documented all levels of British society. In his first book, The English at Home (1936), “comprising sixty-three photographs, Brandt traversed the country to make a pictorial survey of sorts, moving across the social classes, and between rural life and the urban city.”2 In the book Brandt pairs upper and lower class photographs across double page spreads, mixing joy (girl dancing in the street) with sobriety (the parlourmaids). As David Campany observes in his excellent writing on the artist, “There is nothing overtly angry or revolutionary in the generally restrained tone of Brandt’s book. However it was unusual in bringing different classes into one volume, leaving the viewer to reconcile the social contradictions and inequities.”3

“The extreme social contrast, during those years before the war, was, visually, very inspiring for me. I started by photographing in London, the West End, the suburbs, the slums.” ~ Bill Brandt

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The book was not a success. Much like Robert Frank’s The Americans (published in France in 1958), another book by an émigré photographing as an outsider a foreign country, the British did not understand the book and probably did not like the mirror that was being held up to their society – much as the Americans hated Frank’s book for the pointed insights its probing images revealed of their fractured society, which had never been shown to them before. Campany notes, “In the 1930s Brandt was drawn to the rituals and customs of daily life, with what he saw as the deeply unconscious ways people inhabit their social roles and class positions. For him, to photograph these minutiae was not simply to document but to estrange through a heightened sense of atmosphere, theatrical artifice and a dreamlike sensibility. As an outsider he seemed to see English behaviour as bordering on passive automatism.”4

In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the photographs would have made the English feel very uncomfortable. Through their social commentary and poetic resonance, through their direct, modernist gaze and Surrealist dances (the women washing the blackened coal miner, a man sheltering in a coffin), Brandt squeezes (conflates?) documentary and art together, seeing the familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Through reinvention he recasts the very nature of his characters, finding out what else is essential in the photographs, challenging the viewer to understand the complexities of the image as it moves across time and from documentary to art. Often this left the viewer perplexed and grasping at the mystery, the unknown.

Other bodies of work and books followed. In 1937, Brandt visited the North of England for the first time, photographing the desperate plight of the poor scavenging for coal on the slag-heaps. In 1938 Brandt published A Night in London which was based on Paris de Nuit (1936) by Brassaï, photographing pubs, common lodging houses at night, theatres, Turkish baths, prisons and people in their bedrooms. By 1939, he was back in London, photographing the blackout and people sheltering from the Blitz in the London Underground.

“In 1939, at the beginning of the war, I was back in London photographing the blackout. The darkened town, lit only by moonlight, looked more beautiful than before or since.”~ Bill Brandt

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And so it went, on through Literary Britain (1951) which combined brooding, atmospheric landscapes and photographs of William Wordsworth’s room at Dove Cottage, Shaw’s Corner, Glamis Castle from Macbeth, and the scene of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment at Reading Gaol opposite British poetry and prose; from the 1940s onwards, portraits of the notable and creative, made during the 1960s using a wide-angle lens; and perspectives on nudes made from 1944 onwards using a 1931 Kodak mahogany and brass camera with a wide-angle lens used by the police for crime scene records, which allowed him to see, he said, ‘like a mouse, a fish or a fly’.

“The nudes reveal Brandt’s intimate knowledge of the École de Paris – particularly Man Ray, Picasso, Matisse and Arp – together with his admiration for Henry Moore. He published Perspective of Nudes in 1961. It featured nudes in domestic interiors and studios, and on the beaches of East Sussex and northern and southern France. He used a Superwide Hasselblad for the beach photographs. In 1977-8 Brandt added further nudes, published in Nudes, 1945-80.”5

Through all of this there is the reinvention… reinvention of the portrait where the sitter is now part of the whole scenario (the surroundings), reinvention of the landscape where the landscape emerges from chthonic darkness, and reinvention of the nude where Brandt transplants Brassai’s Distortions into domestic interiors and exterior beaches – where the Surrealist, distorted, enigmatic fragment, like an ear or a big toe, comes to stand for the whole embedded in an alien landscape. Finally, there was the big reinvention in the 1960s, where Brandt began to reprint his earlier photojournalist images with a much harsher contrast (see various comparison images in this posting) in order to enhance their (Surrealist) art credentials and keep them relevant in an Abstract Expressionist, Pop Art world.

As David Campany states, “In the 1960s there were two major changes in his work and its reception. Both were related to his emerging position in art photography. He began to print his negatives much more harshly, sacrificing the mid-tones for more modish graphic blocks of black and white. The rich descriptive information in his negatives would be subsumed, even obliterated in his new aesthetic… While his latest photography was pursued more openly as art, notably his nudes (published as a book in 1960), his expressionism was released anew upon his earlier work. His books from the 1960s are printed with graphic extremes of black and white.”6

These are the images that are now famous, these graphic reinventions of the work and the Self. The reinvention of the old into the new. Through rethinking, recalculating and reimagining his old photographs and how they looked (“the way in which the artist interpreted a single negative had changed over time”), Brandt opened up his way of seeing and opened up new matter… ‘in rerum natura‘: in the nature of things; in the realm of actuality; in existence. Perhaps never before in the history of photography had the negative just been a step in the production of an ever changing image.

It was in the totality of this new work that his eloquent eye emerged. To me Brandt is like a Zen master. Whether it be socio-documentary, portrait, landscape or nude, it was his ability to focus on a particular subject at any one time – to concentrate on seeing subjects and ideas clearly – that became a hallmark of his later artistic creation. Through bodies of work that mix reality and dream the artist challenges straight photographic seeing in order for us to understand that enigmatic fragments can stand alone from each other while at the same time combining to make the whole. While A snicket in Halifax (1937, below) may not be present in Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow (1937, below), it is when they combine that the circle is closed. It is in the entirety of his imaged (imagined) world, in the entirety of his vision, when all fragments combine, that Brandt emphasises that the whole of anything is greater than its parts.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “Bill Brandt.” Introduction by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, 2014 on the MoMA website Nd [Online] Cited 22/08/2021
  2. David Campany. “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue ‘Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now’, 2006
  3. Ibid.,
  4. Ibid.,
  5. Anonymous. “Bill Brandt Biography,” archived from the original on the V&A website Nd [Online] Cited 22/08/2021
  6. Campany, op cit.,

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

 

Fundación MAPFRE is presenting the first retrospective in Spain on Bill Brandt (1904-1983), considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. The exhibition brings together 186 photographs developed by Brandt himself who, over the course of five decades, made use of almost all the photographic genres: social documentary, portraiture, the nude and landscape.

 

 

“Each of Brandt’s well-known images aims for a tight formal organisation, its content given dramatic charge and dense psychological resonance. As documents they aim unapologetically to exceed visual description. In this sense what served him ill as a photojournalist was just what predisposed his images toward posterity via art. …

In the 1950s he continued to work professionally but concentrated on the more established genres of portraiture and landscape. In the 1960s there were two major changes in his work and its reception. Both were related to his emerging position in art photography. He began to print his negatives much more harshly, sacrificing the mid-tones for more modish graphic blocks of black and white. The rich descriptive information in his negatives would be subsumed, even obliterated in his new aesthetic. It was a technique that looked backward through German expressionist cinema to art photography’s Pictorialist preference for deep shadows and chiaroscuro, but it also connected with the emerging Pop sensibility.

While his latest photography was pursued more openly as art, notably his nudes (published as a book in 1960), his expressionism was released anew upon his earlier work. His books from the 1960s are printed with graphic extremes of black and white. …

The reprinting of Parlourmaid and under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner was never too harsh. Brandt knew well that the force of this photograph resided in its details as much as its bold graphic organisation. Shadow of Light even improved on its past reproductions allowing new layers of meaning to emerge. …

While some meanings of Brandt’s photograph have been buried as the image has moved across time and from documentary to art, new meanings have come to the surface, meanings entirely dependent on art’s demand for superior qualities of reproduction.

As with many photographers who were discovered by a wider audience later in life, Brandt found himself regarded as a ‘figure from the past’ and as a contemporary artist at the same time. Layered on top of this was what looked like a shift from documentarist to artist. The reality, as always, was more complicated. At his best Brandt was a ‘documentary artist’ with all the paradoxes and interpretative difficulties that entails. There could never be any simple distinction between his artistry and his documentary description. The two are inextricable and give us no clear answers. And in the end these tensions are at the heart of his work and its success.”

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David Campany. Extract from “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue ‘Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now’, 2006

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Death and the industrialist, Barcelona' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Death and the industrialist, Barcelona
1932
25.40 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

An apprentice in the studio of Man Ray and influenced in his origins by artists such as Brassaï, André Kertész or Eugène Atget, Bill Brandt (Hamburg, 1904 – London, 1983), one of the founders of modern photography, conceives the photographic language as a powerful means of contemplation and understanding of reality, but always from a primacy of aesthetic considerations over documentaries. Published in the press or in books, some of his photographs quickly became iconic pieces, indispensable to understanding mid-century English society.

His work also expresses a permanent attraction for the strange , for that which causes as much attraction as it is strange and causes unease. His aesthetics are thus close to the concept of “the sinister”, understood as something opposite to the idea of ​​the familiar, of the usual. This element will act as a plot line for a professional and artistic production that, at first, seems erratic and dispersed.

His late work shows a more experimental facet, a search for innovation through cropping and framing, present above all in nude images.

The exhibition brings together 186 photographs made by Bill Brandt himself, who throughout the almost five decades of his career did not stop addressing any of the great genres of the photographic discipline: social reporting, portraiture, nude and landscape .

The tour, divided into six sections (“First photographs”, “Up and down”, “Portraits”, “Described landscapes”, “Nudes” and “In Praise of imperfection”), tries to show how all these aspects – in the that identity and the concept of “the sinister” become protagonists – they come together in the work of this eclectic artist who was considered, above all, a flâneur, a “stroller” in terms similar to those of his admired Eugene Atget, whom he always considered one of his teachers. One hundred and eighty-six photographs that are complemented by writings, some of his cameras and various documentation (among which the interview he gave to the BBC shortly before his death stands out), as well as illustrated publications of the time. All thanks to the courtesy of the Bill Brandt Archive in London and the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

 

Four keys

Surrealist beginnings

After starting his foray into photography in Vienna, where he made the famous portrait of the poet Ezra Pound in 1928, Bill Brandt went to Paris to enter as an assistant, for a short period of time, in the studio of Man Ray, which prompted him to blend in with the surrealist atmosphere of the French capital, which will permeate all of his work from then on. This influence, together with that of his admiration for Eugène Atget, the photographer who documented “old Paris” and for whom Fundación MAPFRE also organised an exhibition in 2011, led to images where the disturbing was already making an appearance: street scenes and Parisian nights are some of the most frequent motifs in the artist’s images during this period.

 

Concealment of German heritage

Together with his partner and future wife, Eva Boros, he also made numerous trips to the Hungarian steppe, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona, ​​before moving to London in 1934. It was in this city when Brandt got rid of his German roots, eliminating all reference to them, a concealment due to the growing animosity towards Germany that followed the rise of Nazism. Brandt invented a British birth, creating an artistic corpus in which the United Kingdom that is at the core of his identity.

 

The portrait

After having made several portraits in the early days of his career, starting in the 1940s – a period in which he worked for magazines such as Picture Post, Liliput and Harper’s Bazaar – Bill Brandt approached this genre in a professional way. Some of the portraits represented a break with tradition, such as those that appeared in the aforementioned Lilliput in 1941, illustrating the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most representative faces of the writers and poets of the Auden Generation.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In his introduction to Camera in London, the book on the British capital published in 1948, Bill Brandt noted: ‘I consider it essential that the photographer make his own copies and enlargements. The final effect of the image depends to a large extent on these operations, and only the photographer knows what he intends. For the artist, work in the laboratory was essential and, at the beginning of his career, he learned a whole range of artisan techniques: from magnification to enlargement, the use of brushes, scrapers or other tools.’ This manual retouching sometimes gave his photographs that somewhat crude aspect that can be associated with the aforementioned Freudian concept of the “unheimlich”: the sinister.

Text from the Fundación Mapfre website translated from the Spanish by Google Translate

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Bond Street hatter's show-case' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Bond Street hatter’s show-case
1934
30.48 x 23.50 cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris Brandt decided to settle in London in 1934. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that is directly reflected in his works.

This aspect combines with the photographer’s interest in psychoanalysis, which he underwent during his youth in Vienna. A few years earlier, in 1919, Sigmund Freud had published the essay Das Unheimliche in which he analysed this term, which is generally translated as “the uncanny” in the sense of something that produces unease. Almost all Brandt’s photographs, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always mixed.

The structure of the exhibition, which is divided into six sections, reveals how all these qualities – in which identity and the concept of “the uncanny” become the principal ones – blend together in the work of this eclectic artist. Above all Brandt was considered a flâneur or stroller in a way comparable to his admired Eugène Atget, whom he always considered one of his masters. The exhibition also reveals the relationship between Brandt’s images and Dada and Surrealism. This interest is reflected in clear references to psychoanalytical issues, expressed through increasingly sombre tones and an obsession with collecting found objects.

The exhibition is completed with a range of documentation, a number of Brandt’s cameras and examples of the illustrated press of the period that published some of his most iconic images. All this has been made possible courtesy of the Bill Brandt Archive in London and the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

Press release from the Fundación Mapfre website

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'East Durham coal-searchers' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
East Durham coal-searchers
1937
25.24 x 20.16cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

East Durham coal-searchers near Henworth, 1937. Coal searchers on slag heap searching for bits of coal 1940s.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Coal-Miner's Bath, Chester-le-Street, Durham' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Coal-Miner’s Bath, Chester-le-Street, Durham
1937
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt

Considered one of the most influential British photographers of the 20th century and one of the artists who, together with Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others, laid the foundations of modern photography, Bill Brandt’s oeuvre can be considered an eclectic one, reflecting a career of nearly five decades during which he encompassed almost all the photographic genres: social documentary, portraiture, the nude and landscape.

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris Brandt decided to settle in London in 1934. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that was directly reflected in his work. His images aim to construct a vision of the country that he embraced as his own, although not of the real country but rather of the idea that he had created of it during his childhood through reading and from stories told by relatives.

Brandt had tuberculosis as a child and it was seemingly in the Swiss sanatoriums at Agra and Davos where his family sent him to convalesce that he first became interested in photography. After some years in Switzerland he moved to Vienna to undergo an innovative treatment for tuberculosis based on psychoanalysis. Imbued with a post-Romantic air, Brandt’s photography always seems to be located on the edge, provoking simultaneous attraction and rejection. It can be related to the concept of unheimlich, a term first used by Sigmund Freud in 1919. The adjective unheimlich – generally translated as “the uncanny”, “the sinister” or “the disturbing”, and which according to Eugenio Trías “constitutes the condition and limit of the beautiful” – is one of the characteristic traits that remains present throughout Brandt’s career. Psychoanalytical theories were among the fundamental pillars of Surrealism and their influence extended to the entire Parisian cultural scene in the 1930s. Brandt and his first partner, Eva Boros, moved to the French capital in 1930 where he worked as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. It was at this point that he assimilated the ideas circulating in a city filled with young artists, many of them immigrants looking to make their way in the professional art world. His images of this initial period suggest a catalogue of psychoanalytical “themes”, clearly reflecting the influence of Surrealism on him even though he never actively participated in any of the historic avant-garde groups.

Almost all Brandt’s images, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always combined.

Bill Brandt died in London in 1983.

Ramón Esparza, curator

 

Early photographs

Following his apprenticeship as a photographer in Vienna, Brandt left for Paris in order to work for a brief period as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio, an activity that allowed him to move in the city’s Surrealist circles. Nonetheless, his photographs of this period are closer to those of his admired Eugène Atget. Brandt followed Atget, becoming a stroller or flâneur whose images of Parisian nightlife and street scenes anticipate his subsequent work and possess an already palpable sense of unease.

Brandt and his partner Eva Boros travelled on numerous occasions to the Hungarian steppes, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona among other cities and with the plan of spending their holidays in Majorca before moving to London in 1934. It was in London that Brandt shed his German origins and created a body of work in which the United Kingdom – a country marked by significant social inequality at that time – established itself as the core of his identity.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Dressmaker's dummy, Paris' 1929

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Dressmaker’s dummy, Paris
1929
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

During his years in Paris Brandt established connections with the Surrealist circle and with groups of photographers who aimed to make the camera both a means of expression and of earning a living. He never followed the principal trends and focused his attention on the daily life of the suburbs rather than on events of the day. Brandt’s photographs of this period reveal how he increasingly assimilated Surrealist concepts into his way of seeing. This dressmaker’s dummy found on the street is a metaphor for the idea of the double. Other images from these years, such as the hot air balloon flying over the skies of Paris, allow his early work to be seen as a type of catalogue of the principal themes of Surrealism.

 

Upstairs downstairs

The growing antipathy on the part of the British towards Nazi Germany meant that many immigrants who had arrived from the latter country changed their name. Brandt went even further than this as he completely concealed his origins and for more than twenty-five years passed himself off as a British citizen.

The 1930s was the decade of the great social protest movements and of strikes over working conditions following the 1929 financial crash. It was within this context that in 1936 Brandt published his first book, The English at Home, produced in a wide, album format. He employed a design particularly favoured by Central European graphic publications based on the combination of opposites in order to achieve a significant contrast between each pair of photographs. With these double-page spreads Brandt aimed to juxtapose two opposing social social classes, thus generating two parallel narrative discourses without mixing them together.

Following the outbreak of World War II Brandt started to work for the Ministry of Information. It was at this point that he produced two of his most famous series of images: his photographs of Londoners sleeping in Underground stations converted into improvised shelters; and his images of the city at ground level, showing a ghostly London lit only by the moon as protection against the air raids. Brandt abandoned the class differences that he had previously portrayed in favour of other types of scenes which denounced the effects of the war on the civilian population.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Couple in Peckham' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Couple in Peckham
1936
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Following in the wake of Brassaï and the success of his book Paris de nuit (1932), Brandt began to elaborate his own version of London at night. To do this he made regular use of friends and relatives who posed for him to create the scene he wished to photograph. In this case the “accosted” woman is his sister-in-law Ester Brandt and the man in the hat is his brother Rolf. The image allows for different interpretations but the reference to the genre of crime thrillers or simply to prostitution is clear.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow
1937
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The 1930s were economically harsh and politically turbulent years in Europe. The 1929 financial crash led the United Kingdom to close its mines and steelworks, resulting in unemployment rising to more than 2.5 million people. Activities such as collecting pieces of coal from mining waste on the beach became a way of life for many families. Brandt’s photograph shows one of these former miners, exhausted after an unproductive day’s labour and pushing his bicycle loaded with a sack of coal, the result of his efforts.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner
1933 printed later
23.81 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

This photograph was taken for a reportage published in Picture Post on 29 July 1939 with the title “The Perfect Parlourmaid” [but it never appeared in the Picture Post photo story of that name in July 1939]. Following his habitual practice, Brandt turned to his own family, in this case making use of his uncle Henry’s house. Pratt the parlourmaid waits in the dining room for the family members and their guests to be seated for dinner before starting to serve the food and attend the diners. This could be a classic image of social documentary photography except for the fact that Brandt very probably sat down at the table with the rest of the family after taking his shot. The image, however, reveals far more. The faces and poses of the two maids convey the difference between the gaze of the senior parlourmaid, which suggests both experience and assimilation of her social role, and that of her assistant, which seems to wander vaguely around the room.

 

“In his marvellous photograph the two house parlourmaids, prepared to wait at table, have eyes loaded like blunderbusses. Their starched caps and cuffs, their poker backs, mirror the terrible rectitude of learned attitudes. They have the same irritated loathing in defence of caste that shows in portraits of Evelyn Waugh.”

Mark Haworth-Booth cites Henderson in his introduction to the second edition of Brandt’s book Shadow of Light, Gordon Fraser, London 1977, p. 17.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner' 1933

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner
1933
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

“… Brandt’s parlourmaids image is unusual in that something of those social contrasts is at play within its frame and so the image doesn’t lend itself to juxtaposition in the same way.

We see a dressed dinner table of a well-to-do household and the attendant women. The head parlourmaid seems at first glance to express a stern resentment mixed with weariness and professional discipline, but there is a kind of blankness about her too. Her junior has the vacant expression of an adolescent, not yet able to grasp the social forces that will shape her, perhaps. A reading of the image made by the photographer Nigel Henderson is similar but more pointed:

“In his marvellous photograph the two house parlourmaids, prepared to wait at table, have eyes loaded like blunderbusses. Their starched caps and cuffs, their poker backs, mirror the terrible rectitude of learned attitudes. They have the same irritated loathing in defence of caste that shows in portraits of Evelyn Waugh.”

Rhetorically, this is an image of doubles and differences. Its economy of form and content forces us to see in opposites, tapping into and reinforcing a general understanding of the social structures of class and service. It is as barbed as The English at Home gets. There is nothing overtly angry or revolutionary in the generally restrained tone of Brandt’s book. However it was unusual in bringing different classes into one volume, leaving the viewer to reconcile the social contradictions and inequities.”

David Campany. Extract from “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now, 2006

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Sheltering in a Spitalfields crypt' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Sheltering in a Spitalfields crypt
1940
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Isidore Ducasse, who used the grandiloquent nom de plume of “the Comte de Lautréamont” for his poetic output, wrote one of the most frequently quoted definitions of Surrealist beauty: “As beautiful as the chance meeting, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” Locating incongruence and transforming it into a work of art was one of Surrealism’s key strategies. By adding a dash of well-developed humour to this formula Brandt brought off the recipe with aplomb. At the height of the war, with German bombing raids nightly assailing a London whose inhabitants took shelter in the Underground and in basements, Bill Brandt photographed this man. Poor and working-class, to judge from his appearance, he is seen peacefully asleep in an open tomb in a crypt in clear defiance of death itself and of the terror it supposedly arouses.

 

Portraits

As a portraitist, a genre to which he devoted himself professionally from 1943, Bill Brandt considered that the photographer’s aim should be that of capturing a “suspended” moment rather than just the appearance: “I think a good portrait ought to tell something about a subject’s past and suggest something about their future”; in other words, achieving an image that asks questions and raises issues about both the sitter and the viewer. Some of Brandt’s portraits mark a break from tradition, such as the ones published in the magazine Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which includes images of some of the leading names of the Auden generation.

Brandt subsequently began to distort the space in his portraits, for example Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963). He also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

 

“I always take portraits in my sitter’s own surroundings. I concentrate very much on the picture as a whole and leave the sitter rather to himself. I hardly talk and barely look at him.” ~ Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London' 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London
1963
25.40 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt’s portraits evolved over time. Some mark a break with tradition, such as the images published in Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most famous faces of the writers and poets of the Auden generation. He subsequently began to distort the space in his images, as evident in Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963), and also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

One of several portraits of Francis Bacon by Brandt, here the photographer used the camera he had bought for his nudes on the beach. The notably wide angle lens, which produces a sense of space distorted in depth, and the chosen moment, just after sunset with the last light of day blending with the artificial light, give the scene a strange “atmosphere” (a term Brandt considered fundamental in his images). The familiar setting of an English park becomes disturbing with the dark sky, the curiously small and bent street light and Bacon, either indifferent or engaged, who turns his back on it all.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Henry Moore in his studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire' 1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Henry Moore in his studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire
1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The friendship and professional relations between Bill Brandt and the sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth was a lifelong one and they frequently collaborated. Moore accompanied Brandt on his visits to the night shelters in the London Underground and drew while his friend took photographs. Their work is being exhibited at The Hepworth Wakefield in 2020. The mutual influence between the two artists is evident in this portrait of Moore alongside one of his sculptures. The biomorphic forms that Moore has created from the wood recall those of Brandt’s nudes.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Graham Greene in his flat, St James's Street, London' 1948

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Graham Greene in his flat, St James’s Street, London
1948
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The writer Graham Greene appears in this photograph next to a window which gives onto the interior courtyard of his London flat. Brandt, however, transformed a view of a simple courtyard into a type of labyrinth of lines in which it is difficult to discern what belongs to the window, what to the triangular shape located immediately next to Greene and what to the construction in the background. This confusion, the repetition of triangles and the mixture of lines can be seen as mimicking the author’s complex plots in his novels, while the harsh light that illuminates his face, falling from the upper right downwards, imbues his figure with a theatrical aura of mystery.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Georges Braque' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Georges Braque
1960
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The eye of…

In the early 1960s Brandt embarked on a photographic series in which he reduced the sitter’s face to a foreground shot of one of the eyes. The subjects photographed in this manner were some of the leading visual artists of the day: Ernst, Braque, Vasarely, Moore, Tàpies, Arp, Dubuffet and Giacometti. The series aims to make the viewer reflect on the role of the gaze in art. Once the imperative of resemblance is rejected, what makes a painting powerful and interesting is the artist’s gaze, the way he or she has to look at and represent reality, or simply to produce a visible reality that does not refer to any other, as in the case of Victor Vasarely and Jean Arp. The camera, that glass eye which reflected the world in the 20th century, is used here to depict the instrument through which artists have seen and interpreted that world. To be exact, however, it should be acknowledged that both the camera and the eye are mere tools and that the essence of the process takes place “further back”, in the mind.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Jean Dubuffet' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Jean Dubuffet
1960
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

This closely cropped eye belongs to the artist Jean Dubuffet. Brandt made ten photographs of notable visual artists; a few seem to have been taken at the same session as a published portrait, although none appear to be enlargements from other known works. They are striking departures from Brandt’s typical practice, mysterious despite their clarity of description, and they underscore the photographer’s experimental impulse, even late in his career. There is no record of their ever being published in a magazine.

MoMA gallery label from Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light, March 6 – August 12, 2013.

 

Landscapes described

Following his engagement with portraiture Brandt introduced landscape into his repertoire, thus encompassing all the categories traditionally considered to constitute the classic artistic genres. In his landscapes he aimed to introduce an atmosphere that connects with the viewer in order to provoke an emotional response from contemplation of the work. In this sense it would seem that Brandt did not merely aim to represent a place but to capture its very essence in a single image, as in Halifax; “Hail Hell & Halifax” (1937) and Cuckmere River (1963). When these landscapes started to include stone constructions such as tombs and crosses Brandt considered that he had achieved his aim: “Thus it was I found atmosphere to be the spell that charged the commonplace with beauty. … I only know it is a combination of elements … which reveals the subject as familiar and yet strange.”

It should be remembered that for Brandt the concept of landscape was deeply rooted in painting and the photographic tradition but also in literature. Literary Britain, which was published in 1951, makes this relationship clear. Brandt used images already published in other weekly magazines as well as photographs specially taken for this book, accompanying them with extracts from works by British authors.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) Halifax; 'Hail, Hell and Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Halifax; ‘Hail, Hell and Halifax’
1937
23.50 x 20.32cm
Bill Brandt Archive
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In the social portrait that Brandt created of England in the 1930s the northern industrial cities made an inevitable appearance. Coal mining and steel production, both affected by a major crisis during this period, gave cities like Halifax and Newcastle a dark, sombre appearance which Brandt masterfully conveyed in his images. The photograph’s title refers to a verse from a popular 17th century poem by John Taylor: “From Hell, Hull and Halifax, Good Lord, deliver us!”, referring to the harshness of justice in those two cities.

 

The reputation of the great British documentary photographer Bill Brandt rests in large part on his capacity to manage the tension between black and white in a photograph. For Brandt, strong tonal contrast came to represent the social and cultural experience of Britain between the wars – a place of vast contrasts between rich and poor, worker and elite, urban and rural. But strong tonal contrast, and blackness in particular, carried other, more metaphysical associations. For Brandt, blackness represented the forces and mysteries at work in the world, a place of power and tragedy. Blackness in a photograph also introduced ‘a new beauty’ to the subject, one that intensified the visual and emotional experience of it.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Gull's nest, midsummer evening, Skye' 1947

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Gull’s nest, midsummer evening, Skye
1947
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Brandt saw this gull’s nest on a sunny afternoon during his trip to photograph northern Scotland. The light was too flat so he decided to return later. This was close to the time of year of the midnight sun. As Brandt wrote: “When I approached the nest on an isolated outpost of rocks, an enormously large gull which had been sitting on the eggs flew off and circled low around my head, barking like a dog. It was windstill, the mountains of the Scottish mainland were reflected in the sea – the light was now just right for the picture.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, London' 1952

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1952
22.86 x 19.37cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Nudes

In 1944 Brandt returned to the theme of the nude. For the artist, documentary photography had become a widely extended fashion while the old Great Britain with its marked class divisions was now something of the past. It should also be remembered that the nude is one of the traditional themes of painting and as such signals Brandt’s evolution from documentary photography to the social status of “artist”.

In the 1950s he visited the French Channel Coast beaches in order to make a series of portraits of the painter Georges Braque. Seeing those pebble beaches led to a change of direction and he started to photograph stones and parts of the female body as if they were stones themselves. He combined flesh and rock, heat and cold, hardness and softness in a single formal discourse.

The distortions are often so pronounced that the parts of the body have lost any reference point but they nonetheless produce sensations that are more poetic or profound. It may be that for Brandt these “fragments” of the human body in comparison or communion with natural forms represented primordial forms of some type through which we can perceive “the totality of the world”, as with the Urformen of the Gestalt School and its theory of perception.

Brandt’s nudes of the late 1970s bear no relation to his earlier ones. They transmit a certain sense of violence which reveals the alienation of an artist who no longer felt himself part of the world in which he lived.

 

“Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.” ~ Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Campden Hill, London' 1947

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Campden Hill, London
1947
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The Kodak camera that Brandt found in a second-hand shop near Covent Garden was designed to produce a clear image of an interior space without any major technical complications. It offered an unusual vision of the motif, creating a space that evokes a dreamlike mood. Most of Brandt’s photographs of nudes in interiors were taken with this old wooden camera which imbues the scene with a sensation of both beauty and disquiet. The repetition of specific visual elements such as windows, which are always in the background of the scene, half-open doors and different pieces of furniture, including the two chairs in this image, suggests issues such as absence, the desire to escape or a complex representation of desire stripped of the object (equivalent to reducing it to its most primary sense).

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1959
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1977

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1977
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

While walking on the Channel Coast beaches, Brandt’s attention was caught by the rounded forms of the rocks on the beach and their resemblance to some forms of the human body. This idea gave rise to his series of nudes photographed outdoors. For this project he abandoned his old Kodak plate camera in favour of a Hasselblad with a wide angle lens and his much used Rolleiflex. The formal interplay that he began to develop in this photograph is closely related to the constructivist nature of what the theoreticians of the Gestalt school (the German psychology movement which began to analyse the bases of human perception in the early 20th century) called Urformen or primordial forms. The combination of both elements, rock and flesh, hard and soft, produces a series of relationships that can be associated with Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In the introduction to Camera in London, his book on that city published in 1948, Brandt wrote: “I consider it essential that the photographer should do his own printing and enlarging. The final effect of the finished print depends so much on these operations. And only the photographer himself knows the effect he wants.”

For the artist, hands-on work in the photographic lab was essential for ensuring control over the final image, which in most cases was the stage prior to the publishing process when the image appeared in a book or magazine. At the outset of his career Brandt had learned a wide range of traditional techniques, including blow-up, enlarging and the use of brushes, scrapers and other tools.

These manual retouchings sometimes gave his photographs that rather crude look which can be associated with the above-mentioned Freudian concept of unheimlich or “sinister”. Many of them clearly show brushstrokes of black wash on the surface, for example At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse (1946), displayed in this section of the exhibition.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'At Charlie Brown's, Limehouse' 1945/1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse
1945/1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'At Charlie Brown's, Limehouse' 1945/1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse
1945/1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

In the background of this image, taken in one of London’s East End pubs, is another one: a poster issued by the military Red Cross and referring to that organisation’s work on the battlefields during World War I. It is not known why, in the second version of the image, Brandt partly obscured the poster with black wash, the medium he most commonly used to retouch his photographs.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'A snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
A snicket in Halifax
1937
25.40 x 20.50cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'A snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
A snicket in Halifax
1937, printed later
25.40 x 20.50cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In 1951 Brandt started to develop his photographs using a high contrast paper in order to obtain very dark and light zones in the same image. This led him to develop some of his best known images again, including A snicket in Halifax. In contrast to the earlier prints of that photograph, in which the details of the façade of the building on the left are perfectly visible, he now reinterpreted the image with the façade totally blackened and thus strongly contrasting with the glint on the ramp’s cobblestones while adding a plume of black smoke in the sky.

As early as 1997 Nigel Warburton, an art historian who has undertaken some of the best work on Brandt, questioned the concept of authenticity in this photograph in one of his texts, reflecting on the changes that Brandt had introduced in the prints of his images. Warburton asked which is the most “authentic”, emphasising the fact that the way in which the artist interpreted a single negative had changed over time and rejecting the idea that the simple distinction between what are known as “vintage” prints and later reprints resolves this issue.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Vasterival, Normandy' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Vasterival, Normandy
1954
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Vasterival, Normandy' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Vasterival, Normandy
1954
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In contrast to photographic purists such as Edward Weston, Brandt had no objection to retouching his images, cropping them or reversing the negative in accordance with his preferences or to meet the requirements of its layout on the printed page. Here we see two versions of the same image with the negative flipped in the enlarger. This is not a unique case and there are other examples in the exhibition: Policeman in a dockland alley, Bermondsey was published in two versions, while Behind the restaurant is a photograph that was always printed in reverse, as evident from the lettering on the boxes.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey
1934
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire' 1944-1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire
1944-1945
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

This photograph was included in Brandt’s book Literary Britain (1951) and he recalled how he visited the place various times in order to take it, considering it one of the settings that best conveyed the world of Emily Brontë’s works. The farm, now a ruin, is supposedly the place that inspired her novel Wuthering Heights.

For the painter David Hockney, a great admirer of Brandt, this was one of his favourite photographs but he was extremely disappointed to discover that it is in fact a composite image and that the storm filled clouds, which descend almost to the ground, were taken from another negative and added in the photography lab. The other photograph, taken from higher up on the hill, provides the reverse shot on a foggy winter day.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire' 1944-1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire
1944-1945
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Barmaid at the Crooked Billet, Tower Hill' March 1939

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Barmaid at the Crooked Billet, Tower Hill
March 1939
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Bill Brandt employed a wide range of retouching techniques on his prints, which was common practice in analogue photography, in which tiny scratches on the negative or specks of dust that cannot be completely removed leave marks on the photographic paper. In addition, Brandt often attempted to conceal imperfections in the individuals or objects photographed. The most widely used materials for this were watercolour, Conté crayon and even lead pencil. Brandt, however, also frequently used a scraper and Indian ink.

In this photograph the outline of the barmaid’s face, her eye and eyebrows have been reinforced with a metal point to define the lines, while the use of watercolour and Conté crayon allows various imperfections in the area of the left arm to be concealed.

 

Bill Brandt

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris in 1934 Brandt decided to settle in London. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that was directly reflected in his work. His images aim to construct a vision of the country that he embraced as his own, although not of the real country but rather of the idea that he had created of it during his childhood through reading and from stories told by relatives.

Brandt had tuberculosis as a child and it was seemingly in the Swiss sanatoriums at Agra and Davos where his family sent him to convalesce that he first became interested in photography and where he made many of his literary discoveries: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Kafka, Guy de Maupassant, Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens. After some years in Switzerland he moved to Vienna to undergo an innovative treatment for tuberculosis based on psychoanalysis. Imbued with a post-Romantic air, Brandt’s photographs always seems to be located on the edge, provoking simultaneous attraction and rejection.

As the exhibition’s curator Ramón Esparza has noted, they can be related to the concept of unheimlich, a term first used by Sigmund Freud in 1919. The adjective unheimlich – generally translated as “the uncanny”, “the sinister” or “the disturbing”, and which according to Eugenio Trías “constitutes the condition and limit of the beautiful” – is one of the characteristic traits that remains present throughout Brandt’s career. Psychoanalytical theories were one of the fundamental pillars of Surrealism and their influence extended to the entire Parisian cultural scene in the 1930s. Brandt and his first partner, Eva Boros, moved to the French capital in 1930 where he worked as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. Without ever actively participating in any of the historic avant-garde movements, he undoubtedly assimilated the ideas that circulated in a city filled with young artists, many of them immigrants looking to make their way in the professional art world. Brandt’s images of this period suggest a catalogue of psychoanalytical “themes”, clearly reflecting the influence of Surrealism on him.

Almost all Brandt’s images, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always mixed.

 

The exhibition

Fundación MAPFRE is delighted to be presenting the first retrospective in Spain on Bill Brandt (Hamburg 1904 – London, 1983), considered one of the most influential British photographers of the 20th century. The exhibition, together with Paul Strand. Fundación MAPFRE Collections, inaugurates the KBr Fundación MAPFRE, our new Photography Centre in Barcelona.

The exhibition presents 186 photographs developed by Brandt himself who, over the course of nearly five decades of professional activity, encompassed almost all the principal photographic genres: reportage, portraiture, the nude and landscape, as noted by his biographer Paul Delany in Bill Brandt. A Life, 2004.

The structure of the exhibition, which is divided into six sections, reveals how all these qualities – in which identity and the concept of “the uncanny” become the principal ones – blend together in the work of this eclectic artist. Above all Brandt was considered a flâneur or stroller in a way comparable to his admired Eugène Atget, whom he always considered one of his masters.

 

The early photographs

After initiating his activities as a photographer in Vienna, where he produced the famous and widely praised portrait of the poet Ezra Pound in 1928, Bill Brandt left for Paris in order to work for a short period as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. In the French capital Brandt encountered Surrealism, which would influence his work from that point onwards. Some of his images, such as Balloon flying over the northern suburbs of Paris (1929), can be related to the psychoanalytical theories of Freud, who considered a hot air balloon in a dream to be a symbol of the masculine. Brandt’s photographs of this period are also closely related to the earlier work of his admired Eugène Atget; like him, Brandt photographed street scenes and Parisian nightlife (images that precede his subsequent, better known work) in which the above-mentioned notion of the disturbing makes its appearance.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Evening in Kew Gardens' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Evening in Kew Gardens
1932
25.24 x 20.48cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt and his partner Eva Boros (another of Man Ray’s students who had previously studied with André Kertész) travelled on numerous occasions to the Hungarian steppes, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona among other cities and with the plan of spending their holidays in Majorca before moving to London in 1934. It was at this point that Brandt shed his German origins, even to the point of inventing British nationality for himself and creating a body of work in which the United Kingdom – a country marked by significant social inequality at that time – established itself as the core of his identity.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

“Bill Brandt was a man who loved secrets, and needed them. The face he presented to the world was that of an English-born gentleman, someone who could easily blend in with the racegoers at Ascot whom he liked to photograph. [A] façade which he would defend with outright lies if he had to […]. Today, many people are eager to discover their roots and make an identity from them. Brandt did the exact opposite: he buried his true origins and presented himself as a completely different person from the one he had been, in reality, for the first twenty-five years of his life.”

Paul Delany starts his biography of Bill Brandt with these lines. According to that author, Brandt not only wanted to live in England but to become English, which was understandable in the context of the growing British antipathy to Nazi Germany and to the events that followed Hitler’s rise to power and the outbreak of World War II. In the London art world it was habitual practice for emigrants arriving from Germany to change their name. Among those who had done so were Stefan Lorant, a Hungarian who had been the editor-in-chief of the Münchner Illustrierte Presse, and two of his photographers, Hans Baumann and Kurt Hübschmann, who anglicised their names to Felix Man and Kurt Hutton, just as Brandt changed his first name to Bill.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'East End girl dancing the 'Lambeth Walk'' March 1939

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
East End girl dancing the ‘Lambeth Walk’
March 1939
22.86 x 19.68cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In February 1936, two years after his arrival in London, Brandt published his first book, The English at Home. Despite their natural, spontaneous appearance, the scenes reproduced in the book were carefully prepared in advance. For this first book Brandt opted for a wide, album format and made use of one of the design formats most commonly employed in Central European graphic publications: the combination of opposites in order to create a significant contrast between each pair of photographs. Brandt aimed to juxtapose and counterbalance two different social classes on each double-page spread, developing two parallel narrative discourses but without mixing them together. We thus see family scenes of the upper classes out strolling or dining, followed by the same activities undertaken by working-class and mining families. Two years after the publication of The English at Home Brandt published A Night in London, which represents a type of replica of a work by Brassaï, one of the photographers he most admired, whose book Paris de nuit had appeared in France six years earlier. A Night in London can be seen as Brandt’s contribution to the photographic and cinematographic genre that some art historians have termed “the symphony of the metropolis.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Elephant & Castle Underground' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Elephant & Castle Underground
1940
25.72 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Elephant and Castle underground station during WWII. 1942. Deep underground at Elephant and Castle Underground station, Bill Brandt photographed many hundreds sleeping as they sought shelter from the Blitz overhead.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Brandt started to work for the Ministry of Information, producing two of his most celebrated series. The first comprises photographs of hundreds of Londoners sleeping in Underground stations converted into improvised shelters, while the second portrays the city on the surface; a ghostly London lit only by moonlight as a safety precaution due to the air raids. The United Kingdom had become a single country united against the enemy. Brandt abandoned the class differences that he had previously portrayed in favour of other types of scenes which denounced the effects of the war on the civilian population.

 

Portraits

While Brandt produced photographs on an independent basis that he would subsequently group together for his different books, much of his output appeared in publications and magazines such as Picture Post, as well as in Lilliput and in the American edition of Harper’s Bazaar, for which he started to work in 1943. It was at this point that he turned to portraiture as a professional activity. His first reference to his portraits, of which more than 400 are known, was published in Lilliput in 1948. In Brandt’s words: “André Breton once said that a portrait should not only be an image but an oracle one questions, and that the photographer’s aim should be a profound likeness, which physically and morally predicts the subject’s entire future. […] The photographer has to wait until something between dreaming and action occurs in the expression of a face.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Francis Bacon' c. 1951

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Francis Bacon
c. 1951
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt’s portraits evolved over time. Some mark a break with tradition, such as the images published in Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most famous faces of the writers and poets of the Auden generation. He subsequently began to distort the space in his images, as evident in Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963), and also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

 

Landscape described

Following his focus on portraiture, Brandt introduced landscape into his repertoire, thus encompassing all the categories traditionally considered to constitute the classic artistic genres. In his landscapes he aimed to introduce an atmosphere – a term that for Brandt seems to involve an entire series of aesthetic references associated with both the pictorial and the literary traditions – which connects with the viewer in order to provoke an emotional response from contemplation of the image. In this sense it would seem that Brandt did not aim to merely represent a place but to capture its very essence in a single image, as in Halifax; “Hail Hell & Halifax” (1937) and Cuckmere River (1963). When these landscapes started to include stone constructions such as tombs and crosses Brandt considered that he had achieved his aim of capturing the atmosphere.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Cuckmere River' (Río Cuckmere) 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Cuckmere River (Río Cuckmere)
1963
20 x 24.13cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

It should be remembered that for Brandt the concept of landscape was deeply rooted in painting and the photographic tradition but also in literature. Literary Britain, which was published in 1951, makes this relationship clear. Using images already published in other weekly magazines as well as photographs specially taken for this book, Brandt accompanied his photographs with extracts from works by British authors. It is here that an explanation of his somewhat imprecise concept of “atmosphere” can be found: the moment when the different elements that make up the landscape (nature, light, viewpoint, weather conditions) converge in an aesthetic canon rooted in a cultural tradition.

 

Nudes

When Brandt focused again on the theme of the nude in 1944 he seemed to feel the need to return to a more poetic type of image. For the artist, documentary photography had become a widely extended fashion while the old Great Britain with its marked class divisions was now something of the past. It should also be remembered that the nude is one of the traditional themes of painting and as such signals Brandt’s evolution from documentary photography to the social status of “artist”. For this transition he made use of an old plate camera with a lens that produced an effect of broad spatiality and depth, transforming the everyday space of a room into a dreamlike setting.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Baie des Anges, France' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Baie des Anges, France (Desnudo, Baie de Anges, Francia)
1959
25.24 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In the 1950s Brandt visited the beaches of Normandy in order to make a series of portraits of the painter Georges Braque. Seeing those pebble beaches led to a change of direction and he started to photograph stones and parts of the female body as if they were stones themselves. He combined flesh and rock, heat and cold, hardness and softness in a single formal discourse. The distortions are often so pronounced that the parts of the body have lost any reference point but they nonetheless produce sensations that are more poetic or profound. It may be that for Brandt these “fragments” of the human body in comparison or communion with natural forms represented primordial forms of some type through which we can perceive “the totality of the world”, as with the Urformen of the Gestalt School and its theory of perception.

In the late 1970s Brandt again returned to the theme of the nude but these images bear no relation to his earlier ones. They transmit a certain sense of violence which reveals the alienation of an artist who no longer felt himself part of the world in which he lived.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In the introduction to Camera in London, his book on that city published in 1948, Brandt wrote: “I consider it essential that the photographer should do his own printing and enlarging. The final effect of the finished print depends so much on these operations. And only the photographer himself knows the effect he wants.” Brandt was far more concerned than many other photographs with the actual developing of his analogue photographs. He considered working in the photographic lab to be essential and he could spend hours there in order to ensure complete control over the final image, which in most cases was the stage prior to the publishing process when the image appeared in a book or magazine. At the outset of his career he had learned a wide range of traditional techniques, including blow-up, enlarging and the use of brushes, scrapers and other tools, as can be seen in the works displayed in the case in this room, which include various prints of the same image retouched in different ways. These manual retouchings sometimes gave his photographs that rather crude look which can be seen in the context of the above-mentioned Freudian concept of unheimlich or “the uncanny”. A large number of these images clearly show brushstrokes of black wash on the surface. Another example is Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire of 1945, an image taken for Brandt’s book Literary Britain. It includes clear signs that the stormy sky which gives the landscape a more threatening appearance was added later in the lab.

 

The catalogue

The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition includes reproductions of all the works on display, in addition to a principal essay by the project’s curator, Ramón Esparza, doctor of Communication Sciences and professor of Audiovisual Communication at the Universidad del País Vasco, and another by Maud de la Forterie, doctor in Art History at the Sorbonne, whose doctoral thesis was devoted to the work of Bill Brandt. The catalogue also features an essay by Nigel Warburton on the artist, originally published in 1993 and revised for the present edition, and Bill Brandt’s text “A Statement” which was published in the magazine Album in March 1970.

 

 

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28004 Madrid, Spain
Phone: +34 915 81 61 00

Opening hours:
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27
Jun
21

Exhibition: ‘Friedrich Seidenstücker – Life in the City: Photographs from the 1920s to 1940s’ at the Käthe Kollwitz Museum, Cologne

Exhibition dates: 21st May – 15th August 2021

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Family tandem' 1947

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Family tandem
1947
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

 

Recognising small diversions

A photographer I knew nothing about. Now I do.

The museum supplied me with 15 media images – hardly enough to give an overview of a life’s work – so I have supplemented them with more images, the best I could find, to give a broader idea of this artist’s work. Unfortunately, there are hardly any large photographs of his nudes or his important photographs of the destruction of Berlin directly after the war online.

An anonymous text on the The Wall Street Journal website (see below) observes that Seidenstücker’s pre- and post war photographs of Berlin “can seem a bit like moral disengagement when one recalls that the era saw the Nazis’ rise, World War II and the dismembering of Berlin itself… Even his shots of postwar rubble work hard to avoid the abyss. Kids and picnickers make the best of the ruins, napping amid the broken bricks or heaping them into playful piles.”

This is hardly true from the photographs I have seen. With a twinkle in his eye and a delicious sense of humour, Seidenstücker documents the mass and form of “the hardships and travail, but also of the longings, the small diversions, and the pleasures of life in the city.” Here is hard work and exhaustion, happiness and poverty, beauty and the ungainly. Impoverished Jewish women gather while coal porters trudge… and in the small photographs of his postwar ‘ruins’ work that I have viewed, hardly a picnicker can be observed.

Seidenstücker was a ‘Momentknipser’ (capturer of the moment) who “documents people in the social fabric of the modern metropolis with an attentive eye and keen intuition”. Which poses the question… does every photograph have to be political? Does every photograph have to be reinterpreted many years later for hidden ‘manifestations of will’ in which the artist knowingly or unknowingly made decisions about what, and who, to photograph?

Or can a photograph exist not only in the moment it was taken, but in the extension of that moment into present and future time just as it is? Can we simply accept that the artist captured what he was interested in through a process of Purpose – Aim – Goal – Valuation – Motivation – Intention, in “empathy, that is, the capacity to enter, so to speak, into the skin of others, and by means of intuitive imagination, become aware of the effects our words and acts may produce.”

Photographs are declarative, they make information known. To take a photograph of the world is not to image in reduction, in simplification – everything is political – for this act in itself is a form of interpretive fascism. Thus, we cannot prescribe a way for them to be interpreted much as we cannot prescribe a way for them to be taken.

As he strolls through the city Seidenstücker’s considered urges to action (the taking of photographs) arrive in the form of superconscious “illuminations” of everyday life. Through his intuitions and inspirations he records ostensibly incidental events and occurrences. These incidental events and occurrences, these puddle jumpers, can only be seen if the mind and will of the excursionist (those that run) are attuned and receptive, are empathetic to the wor(l)ds of others.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Käthe Kollwitz Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Stettiner Bahnhof railway station' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Stettiner Bahnhof railway station
1930
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

 

“Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) is the flaneur among Berlin photographers. As a 22 year-old trained mechanical engineer, he came to the German capital where he worked as an airplane constructor with Zeppelin AG in Potsdam during the First World War. He cultivated his eye for detail in another regard as well, as a precise chronicler with the camera. At 32, he began another course of studies in sculpture, but always kept turning back to his other passion, photography, which he finally made a profession in 1930 upon signing a contract with Ullstein publishing. From then on, he worked for magazines such as Der Querschnitt (The Profile), Illustrierte Zeitung (Illustrated Newspaper), UHU, Die Neue Linie (The New Line), Die Dame (The Lady) and Die Woche (The Weekly). Above all, Seidenstücker became famous for his awareness of every day life, pictures from the Berliner zoo and nude photographs. Similar to Herbert List in Munich, Richard Peter in Dresden or Hermann Claasen in Cologne, he strikingly documented the post-war ruins of Berlin. What interested him overridingly was the unspectacular, the charm of the second glance.”

Dr Boris von Brauchitsch. “Friedrich Seidenstücker,” on the Lumas website [Online] Cited 20/06/2021

 

“Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) didn’t sell his first photograph until he was 46. Trained as a sculptor, he never lost his eye for mass and form. His photographs of Berlin daily life during the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s freeze passersby in poses either accidentally graceful or, more frequently, droll and ungainly. In Shine (1925), four women clamber out of a swimming pool; the title refers to the wet gleam of the fabric on their behinds… Seidenstücker relished confounding man and beast, as in the image of a curious rhino peering at a seemingly captive zookeeper. On a trip to Copenhagen, he snapped a man whose splay-footed waddle evokes nothing so much as a penguin – indeed, he is dragging a box of fish down the sidewalk. But the irony on display … can seem a bit like moral disengagement when one recalls that the era saw the Nazis’ rise, World War II and the dismembering of Berlin itself. ‘This entire period did not agree with me’ was Seidenstücker’s understated explanation – though during the war he sustained a Jewish friend with gifts of food. Even his shots of postwar rubble work hard to avoid the abyss. Kids and picnickers make the best of the ruins, napping amid the broken bricks or heaping them into playful piles.”

Anonymous. “Photo-Op: Zoo View,” on The Wall Street Journal website [Online] Cited 20/06/2021

 

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) is one of the most important chroniclers of everyday life in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. His atmospheric photographs, mostly taken on his strolls through the city, tell of ostensibly incidental events and occurrences: of Sunday fun and everyday work, of children playing in the street and the goings-on at railway stations and in the zoo. Seidenstücker shows – often from a humorous perspective – the people and life in the metropolis. At the same time, his photographs make the hardships of big-city existence visible and, in the background, repeatedly allow the contrasts of social reality in the interwar years to shine through.

The exhibition featuring 100 works from the Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation, Bavarian State Painting Collections, Munich, invites you to follow Friedrich Seidenstücker on his walks through Berlin 100 years ago.

 

The art of the moment

With few exceptions, the ‘Momentknipser’ (capturer of the moment), as he called himself, found his motifs outside on the street. As visual metaphors, his famous photographs of ‘Pfützenspringerinnen’ (puddle-leapers) represent metropolitan modernity and urban life. With a portable camera and a light-sensitive lens, he instinctively documented many other scenes and figures – including small tradesmen such as porters, coachmen, and travelling salesmen, as well as nannies, rubbish collection workers, and newspaper vendors – in their daily activities, but also while waiting or resting.

 

“I am an excursionist / I’m a day tripper

Seidenstücker characterised himself thusly and set out to accompany his models to the Wannsee beach or to see the cherry blossoms in Werder. His favourite place, however, was the Berlin Zoological Garden. In his photographs taken here, it is not only the enthusiasm of the zoo visitors that becomes visible – occasionally, the observer and the observed seem to reverse their roles: Are the animals also interested in the people?

Seidenstücker’s photographs from the 1920s to the ’40s are images of everyday life, early street photography that documents people in the social fabric of the modern metropolis with an attentive eye and keen intuition. With a twinkle in his eye, he created images that give us today an idea of the hardships and travail, but also of the longings, the small diversions, and the pleasures of life in the city.

The exhibition was organised in special cooperation and with the scientific support of the Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation, Bavarian State Painting Collections, Munich.

Press release from Käthe Kollwitz Museum translated from the German

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Puddle jumpers' 1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Puddle jumpers
1925
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemälde, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Children in the city' 1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Children in the city
1928
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Dog painter' 1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Dog painter
1928
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Encounters in the zoo' 1926

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Encounters in the zoo
1926
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Lastenträger' (Load carrier) 1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Lastenträger (Load carrier)
1928
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Hotel servant' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Hotel servant
1930
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Potsdamer Platz' After 1931

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Potsdamer Platz
After 1931
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde,
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Celebrities snapped, Berlin Zoological Garden' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Celebrities snapped, Berlin Zoological Garden
1930
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Photo school' 1920-30s

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Photo school, amateur photographers, Berlin
1920-30s
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Berlin Nord im Wedding' 1923

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Berlin Nord im Wedding
1923
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Zebras' 1920-30s

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Zebras
1920-30s
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'In his father's trousers' c. 1950

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
In his father’s trousers
c. 1950
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Self-portrait with camera' c. 1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Self-portrait with camera
c. 1925
© Archiv Ann und

 

Seidenstücker poster for the special exhibition

 

Poster for the special exhibition
Design: Michael Krupp
Motif: Friedrich Seidenstücker, family tandem, 1947
© Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich

 

 

More photographs

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Untitled (Sch)' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Untitled (Sch)
1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker Untitled, c. 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966)
Untitled
c. 1930
Vintage print
6 15/16 x 5 1/16 in. (17.6 x 12.9cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) is noted for his atmospheric photographs of everyday life in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. Thanks to his compassionate studies of animals, he has an almost legendary reputation among animal and zoo lovers, and his haunting pictures of Berlin in ruins are a precious source of material for historians. His images seem to be spontaneous, sympathetic examples of the kind of photography that excels at capturing the moment. They are free of any exaggeration or extravagance, and display a sense of humour rarely found in photography. His work is buoyed by a fundamental optimism, yet it does not ignore the harshness, poverty, and suffering that prevailed at that time.

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Potsdamer Bahnhof, Berlin' 1932

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Potsdamer Bahnhof, Berlin
1932

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Alexanderplatz, Berlin' 1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Alexanderplatz, Berlin
1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Two walruses emerging from water' 1925-1935

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Two walruses emerging from water
1925-1935

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Polar bear, Berlin Zoo' 1929

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Polar bear, Berlin Zoo
1929

 

 

Polar bear perspective: who is actually behind bars here? Photographer Seidenstücker often seemed to have been closer to animals than to humans – this is the impression made by many of his photographs, such as those from 1929 at the Berlin Zoo.

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Pelican, Berlin Zoo' 1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Pelican, Berlin Zoo
1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Berlin Zoo' 1933

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Berlin Zoo
1933

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Berlin Zoo' 1936

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Berlin Zoo
1936

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Curious goat' 1920-30s

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Curious goat
1920-30s

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Monday morning, Oberbaumbrücke, Berlin' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Monday morning, Oberbaumbrücke, Berlin
1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Posing javelin thrower' 1932-1938

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Posing javelin thrower
1932-1938

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Berlin' 192

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Berlin
1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Kleines Mädchen malt mit Kreide auf den Straßenasphalt' (Little girl paints with chalk on the asphalt road) 1925-1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Kleines Mädchen malt mit Kreide auf den Straßenasphalt (Little girl paints with chalk on the asphalt road)
1925-1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Elderly couple in Berlin' 1929

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Elderly couple in Berlin
1929

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'At the Waterpump' 1927

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
At the Waterpump
1927

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Woman Jumping Puddle, Berlin' 1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Woman Jumping Puddle, Berlin
1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Puddle Jumper' 1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Puddle Jumper
1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Puddle Jumpers' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Puddle Jumpers
1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Faschingsfigur' (Carnival figure) 1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Faschingsfigur (Carnival figure)
1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'The front stairs are scrubbed' 1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
The front stairs are scrubbed
1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Vor dem Bäckerladen' 1929

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Vor dem Bäckerladen
1929

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Ice cream after school' 1931

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Ice cream after school
1931

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Verarmte Jüdinnnen in de Grenadierstraße' (Impoverished Jewish women in de Grenadierstrasse) c. 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Verarmte Jüdinnnen in de Grenadierstraße (Impoverished Jewish women in de Grenadierstrasse)
c. 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Konzentration vor dem Abschuß des Pfeils' (Concentration before the arrow is fired) 1932

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Konzentration vor dem Abschuß des Pfeils (Concentration before the arrow is fired)
1932

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Stove-fitter' 1930-35

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Stove-fitter
1930-35

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Coal porter' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Coal porter
1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Next to Wertheim' c. 1935

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Next to Wertheim
c. 1935

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Jungfernbrücke an der Friedrichsgracht' (Maiden Bridge on the Friedrichsgracht) 1946

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Jungfernbrücke an der Friedrichsgracht (Maiden Bridge on the Friedrichsgracht)
1946

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Ein rollstuhlfahrer passiert die ruine des stadtschlosses' (A wheelchair user passes the ruins of the city palace) 1947

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966)
Ein rollstuhlfahrer passiert die ruine des stadtschlosses (A wheelchair user passes the ruins of the city palace)
1947

The Hohenzollern residence, located in the eastern sector, bore the legend, “remove war criminals from all positions!!!”

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Untitled (Bismarck)' 1946

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Untitled (Bismark)
1946

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'The Twins, Hilde und Helga Fischer' 1948

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966)
The Twins, Hilde und Helga Fischer
1948

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Aufstieg der Begabten, Berlin' (Rise of the gifted, Berlin) 1950

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Aufstieg der Begabten, Berlin (Rise of the gifted, Berlin)
1950

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Pachyderms: Zoo visitors at the elephant enclosure in Berlin' 1950

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Pachyderms: Zoo visitors at the elephant enclosure in Berlin
1950

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Autumn in the Zoo, African Rhinoceros' c. 1955

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Autumn in the Zoo, African Rhinoceros
c. 1955

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Nude' Nd

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Nude
Nd

 

 Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Untitled (Self-portrait with dove)' 1952

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Untitled (Self-portrait with dove)
1952

 

 

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Neumarkt 18-24 / Neumarkt Passage
50667 Köln
Phone: +49 (0)221 227 2899
Phone: +49 (0)221 227 2602

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Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm

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31
Jul
20

European photographic research tour exhibition: ‘Brassaï’ at Foam, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 13th September – 4th December 2019
Visited September 2019 posted July 2020

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

These are my thoughts at the time of my seeing the exhibition.

.
I have been blessed this trip by seeing an amazing selection of master photographers… Brassaï being no exception.

Every print in this exhibition is a vintage print. They were made by Brassaï before 1968. If larger than 30 x 40cm they were made after 1945 when he started printing with an enlarger.

As usual, the iPhone camera makes all the images too light and adds too much contrast. Think darker, less contrast in these vintage prints.

Brassaï’s prints are – just like those of Josef Sudek and August Sander that I have seen on this trip – much softer and with a more limited tonal range than I imagined. They are all the more atmospheric and magical because of it.

To walk around the exhibition and then arrive at an alcove (see walk through below)… to stand in front of Le Môme Bijou, the old lady with the jewellery and Billiard Player, is such a privilege. I am surrounded by the presence of these famous images. I peer intently at each of them, observing the details, feeling their eyes stare back at me. No deflection of intent, just these human beings and their spirit presented in a photograph. Brassaï captured their essence before they drifted away, just in that moment.

In the latter print the dark billiard ball was almost indistinguishable from the baize; in the former, the circular light in the woman’s eyes means that Brassaï must have set up a light, or that there was a light source, above and behind the camera. Specular highlights twinkle off jewellery and pearls. Even as she is draped in her bourgeois, bohemian ornamentation this dame of the night possesses a resilient, composed, determined air.

Personally, I think Brassaï’s Graffiti series are far stronger than Lee Friedlander’s series of the same name.

The juxtaposition of the photographs in Paris at Night is something I will always remember.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All iPhone installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The more scrupulously [the photographer] has respected the independence and autonomy of his subject, and the closer he has gone toward it instead of bringing it nearer to himself, the more completely his own personality has become incorporated into his pictures.

.
Brassaï

 

 

Foam is proud to present the first retrospective of Brassaï in the Netherlands. The French photographer of Hungarian descent is considered a key figure of 20th-century photography.

Brassaï (1899-1984) created countless iconic images of 1930s Parisian life. He was famous for capturing the grittier aspects of the city, but also documented high society, including the ballet, opera, and intellectuals – among them his friends and contemporaries like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Henri Matisse. The exhibition at Foam traces his career with over 170 vintage prints, plus a selection of drawings, a sculpture and documentary material.

Brassaï gathers many of the artistic facets of the photographer, from photos to drawings of female nudes. It is organised in twelve thematic sections: Paris by Day, and by Night, Minotaure, Graffiti, Society, Places and Things, Personages, Sleep, Pleasures, Body of a Woman, Portraits – Artists, Writers, Friends and The Street. Each is very different from the next – reflecting the diversity of Brassaï’s photographic work.

 

 

 

Digital walk through of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam in September 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing at second right Brassaï’s Paris 1937, and at right Paris c. 1932
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris' c. 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris (installation view)
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris' 1937 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris (installation view)
1937
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris' 1937 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris (installation view)
1937
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Foam is proud to announce the first retrospective of Brassaï in the Netherlands. This French photographer of Hungarian descent is considered as one of the key figures of 20th-century photography. Brassaï (1899-1984) created countless iconic images of 1930s Parisian life. He was famous for capturing the grittier aspects of the city, but also documented high society, including the ballet, opera, and intellectuals – among them his friends and contemporaries like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Henri Matisse. The exhibition at Foam traces his career with over 170 vintage prints, plus a selection of drawings, a sculpture and documentary material.

Gyula Halász, Brassaï’s original name, was born in 1899 in Brassó, Transylvania (then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, nowadays Brasov, Romania). He studied at the University of Arts in Berlin before finally settling in Paris in 1924, a city that was to become the main subject of his work. He started as a painter but soon discovered that his strongest and most original talent lay in photography. To keep his real name for his paintings, he signed journalistic work, caricatures and photographs with ‘Brassaï’ (from Brassó). His photos would make this pseudonym more famous than his real name. Brassaï’s work of the 1930s would become a cornerstone of a new tradition as photography was discovered as a medium with aesthetic potential. A generation earlier photographers had merely emulated the established arts. Now photography became an art in itself and the perfect medium to capture modern life.

The nocturnal scenes collected in his book Paris by Night (1933) are complemented by his work that reveals the everyday life of the city by day. The monuments, picturesque spots, scenes from daily life and architectural details are present in his work as a reflection of the irresistible fascination the artist felt for the French capital. In his quest to cover all of the facets of Paris, he also immersed himself in the city’s darker side. For Brassaï the gang members, outcasts, prostitutes and drug addicts all represented the least cosmopolitan aspect of Paris, an aspect that was more alive and more authentic. He compiled a huge collection of images of entertainment venues, ranging from night clubs to popular festivals and featuring the people who frequented them. Brassaï was deeply immersed in a wide circle of friends among the writers and artists of Montparnasse, who also became the subjects for some of his portraits. Most of the portraits taken by Brassaï were of well-known people, putting him into a very comfortable position. He collaborated with the luxury art magazine Minotaure right from its very first issue and enjoyed a prominent role for the publication over the years. After the war, he also travelled regularly on commissioned shoots for the American magazine Harper’s Bazaar.

The exhibition at Foam gathers many of the artistic facets of the photographer, from photos to drawings of female nudes. It is organised in twelve thematic sections: Paris by Day, and by Night, Minotaure, Graffiti, Society, Places and Things, Personages, Sleep, Pleasures, Body of a Woman, Portraits – Artists, Writers, Friends and The Street. Each is very different from the next – reflecting the diversity of Brassaï’s photographic work.

Press release from the Foam gallery website

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Staircase, Montmartre' 1937 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Staircase, Montmartre (installation view)
1937
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Les Escaliers de Montmartre, Paris' 1936

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Les Escaliers de Montmartre, Paris
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'La rue Quincampoix' c. 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
La rue Quincampoix (installation view)
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'La rue Quincampoix' c. 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
La rue Quincampoix (installation view)
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Pillar of the Elevated, Metro Glacière' 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Pillar of the Elevated, Metro Glacière (installation view)
1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Near the rue Mouffetard' c. 1945 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Near the rue Mouffetard (installation view)
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdamz

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam with at bottom centre, Brassaï’s Concierge’s Lodge, Paris, 1933
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Concierge's Lodge, Paris' 1933 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Concierge’s Lodge, Paris (installation view)
1933
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Concierge's Lodge, Paris' 1933 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Concierge’s Lodge, Paris (installation view)
1933
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Concierge's Lodge, Paris' 1933

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Concierge’s Lodge, Paris
1933
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

99-1984) 'Lovers at the gare Saint Lazare' c. 1937 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Lovers at the gare Saint Lazare (installation view)
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Sunday Painter, avenue du Général Leclerc' 1946 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Sunday Painter, avenue du Général Leclerc (installation view)
1946
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Sunday Painter, avenue du Général Leclerc' 1946 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Sunday Painter, avenue du Général Leclerc (installation view)
1946
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Annecy' 1936 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Annecy (installation view)
1936
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Hôtel de la Belle Étoile' 1945 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Hôtel de la Belle Étoile (installation view)
1945
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) A Corpse on the Banks on the Seine 1931 (installation view

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
A Corpse on the Banks on the Seine (installation view)
1931
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Les Fétes de Paris: La Nuit Féerique de Longhamp' 1937

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Les Fétes de Paris: La Nuit Féerique de Longhamp
1937
In L’illustration, no. 4, 923 (July 10, 1937)
13. Rue Saint-Georges, Paris (9°)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Regards, no. 155 (December 31, 1936)

 

Regards, no. 155 (December 31, 1936)
Back cover
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing at at left, Brassaï’s Meat Porters, Les Halles c. 1935 and at second left, Au Cochon Limousin 1935
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Meat Porters, Les Halles' c. 1935 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Meat Porters, Les Halles (installation view)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Au Cochon Limousin' 1935 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Au Cochon Limousin (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Les Halles' 1930-32 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Les Halles (installation view)
1930-32
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Cesspool cleaners' c. 1931 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Cesspool cleaners (installation view)
c. 1931
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Paris de nuit / Paris at night

Brassaï had been making photographs for barely two years when luck and ambition brought him a contract for a book on nocturnal Paris. When Paris de nuit (Paris at Night) was published to acclaim in December 1932, “Brassaï” became a familiar name in the world of photography. The book’s rich photogravures, marginalises pages, and bold design made it an icon of modernity. Many of Brassaï’s best night picture were made after Paris de nuit appeared, however, and many of his greatest images of Parisian nightlife were not published until 1976.

In the self-portrait here we see Brassaï’s first camera, a Voigtländer Bergheil that used 6.5 x 9 cm glass plates one at a time. The long exposures of night photography – often five minutes or more – required a tripod, which Brassaï frequently used for other pictures as well. While much of the adventurous European photography of the 1920s and 1930s celebrated mobility and speed, spontaneity was alien to Brassaï’s sensibility. He favoured images that are sharp, deliberate, and stable.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) Morris Column, avenue de l'Observatoire 1934 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Morris Column, avenue de l’Observatoire (installation view)
1934
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Morris Column, avenue de l'Observatoire' 1934

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Morris Column, avenue de l’Observatoire
1934
Gelatin silver print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing at right, Brassaï’s Self portrait, On the boulevard Saint-Jacques 1930-32
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Self-portrait, Boulevard Saint-Jacques, Paris 14ème' c. 1931-1932

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Self portrait, On the boulevard Saint-Jacques
1930-32
Gelatin silver print

 

Voigtländer Bergheil Built in 1932

 

Voigtländer
Bergheil
Built in 1932
6.5 x 9cm negative
Green

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing at left, Brassaï’s The Tour Saint-Jacques 1932-33, and at third right View through the pont Royal toward the pont Solférino c. 1933
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'The Tour Saint-Jacques' 1932-33 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
The Tour Saint-Jacques (installation view)
1932-33
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'View through the pont Royal toward the pont Solférino' c. 1933

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
View through the pont Royal toward the pont Solférino
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing at right, Brassaï’s Avenue de l’Observatoire in the Fog c. 1937
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Avenue de l'Observatoire in the Fog' c. 1937 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Avenue de l’Observatoire in the Fog (installation view)
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Avenue de l'Observatoire in the Fog' c. 1937

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Avenue de l’Observatoire in the Fog
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris de Nuit' (Paris at Night) 1932

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris de Nuit (Paris at Night) pp. 9-10
1932
Book

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris de Nuit' (Paris at Night) 1932

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris de Nuit (Paris at Night) pp. 13-14
1932
Book

 

 

Digital flick through of Brassaï’s Paris de Nuit (Paris at Night) book 1932
Video: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris de Nuit' (Paris at Night) 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris de Nuit (Paris at Night) pp. 19-20 (installation view)
1932
Book
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Minotaure, no. 7 (June 1935)

 

Minotaure, no. 7 (June 1935)
Pages 24-25: Photographs by Brassaï, “Nuits parisiennes” (Parisian Nights)
Pages 26-29: Photographs by Brassaï
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Portraits – artists, writers and friends

In Brassaï’s era, portraits and nudes were bread-and-butter genres for any professional photographer. As a portraitist Brassaï made a speciality of artists and writers, who often were his friends, and in 1982 he collected many of the best pictures in Les artistes de ma vie (The Artists of My Life), for which he also wrote the lively text. He excelled at two distinct types of portraiture: In one, the artist is framed by his environment – the studio. In the other, the subjects confronts the photographer frankly, and the setting hardly matters. In an undated note, Brassaï summed up his approach to the second type: “To oblige the model to behave as if the photographer isn’t there really is to stage a comic performance. What’s natural is precisely not to dodge the photographer’s presence. The natural thing in that situation is for the model to pose honestly.”

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing in the top photograph at right, Oskar Kokoschka in his Studio, Paris 1931-32 and in the bottom photograph at third right, Brassaï’s Kiki de Montparnasse and her Friends, Thérèse Treize and Lily c. 1932
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Oskar Kokoschka in his Studio, Paris' 1931-32

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Oskar Kokoschka in his Studio, Paris (installation view)
1931-32
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Kiki de Montparnasse and her Friends, Thérèse Treize and Lily' c. 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Kiki de Montparnasse and her Friends, Thérèse Treize and Lily (installation view)
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing in the bottom photograph at left, Brassaï’s portrait of Jean Genet 1948
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassai. 'Jean Genet' 1948

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Jean Genet
1948
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Graffiti

The appreciation of graffiti as a powerful if anonymous art form began to blossom in the twentieth century. Like African tribal objects and the art of children, graffiti was admired as more expressive and vital than the refined forms of traditional Western art. Brassaï was among the first to embrace it. He was an inveterate magpie who collected all manner of neglected artefacts and natural specimens throughout his life. Virtually as soon as he began making photographs, he used the medium to collect the graffiti that appeared abundantly on the walls of Paris – predominantly images that had been scratched or gouged rather than drawn or painted and, as he pointed out, in which irregularities of the wall itself played a role. He compiled hundreds of these pictures, a small sample of which is presented here.

 

Minotaure

Between arriving in Paris in early 1924 and taking up photography six years later, Brassaï developed a wide circle of friends among the international community of artists and writers in Montparnasse. Among them were Les deux aveugles (The Two Blind Men), as the art critics Maurice Raynal and E. Tériade called themselves. In December 1932 – the same month Brassaï’s book Paris de unit (Paris at Night) appeared – Tériade invited Brassaï to photograph Pablo Picasso and his studios in and near Paris for the first issue of Minotaure, a lavish art magazine launched in June 1933 by the Swiss published Albert Skira. Thus began one of the key friendships of Brassaï’s life. Over the next few years he played prominent role in Minotaure, notable as a collaborator of Salvador Dalí, as an illustrator of texts by André Breton, and, on a few occasions, as an artist in his own right.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing to the right, photographs from Brassaï’s series Graffiti
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Minotaure, nos. 3-4 (December 1933)

Minotaure, nos. 3-4 (December 1933)

 

Minotaure, nos. 3-4 (December 1933)
Pages 6-7: Photographs and text by Brassaï, “Du mur des cavernes au mur d’usine” (From the Wall of the Caves to the Wall of the Factory).
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

This was the first appearance in print of Brassaï’s series Graffiti.

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'The Sun King' 1945-50 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
The Sun King (installation view)
1945-50
From the series Graffiti
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassai. 'Untitled' from the series 'Graffiti' 1950

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Untitled (installation view)
1950
From the series Graffiti
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassai. 'Untitled' from the series 'Graffiti' 1945-55

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Untitled (installation view)
1945-50
From the series Graffiti
Gelatin silver print

 

Brassai. 'Untitled' from the series 'Graffiti' 1945-55

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Untitled (installation view)
1945-50
From the series Graffiti
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from the section Personages including at left La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre 1932; and in the centre, Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart 1932-33 and Market Porter, Les Halles 1939
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Personages

In the introduction to a book of his photographs that was published in 1949, Brassaï linked the modern arts of photography and film to the work of artists of the past who had depicted everyday life, among them Rembrandt van Rijn, Honoré Daumier, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. He praised them for the “desire to get beyond the anecdotal and to promote [their] subjects to the dignity of types.” Brassaï himself had a talent for rendering at the same time a generic social role and a particular individual who inhabited it, as if his attentiveness to the person would elevate him or her into a distinctive personage.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from the section Personages including at left, Festival in Seville 1951; and at right, La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre 1932
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from the section Personages including at left, Festival in Seville 1951; at centre, La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre 1932; and at right, Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart 1932-33
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing a photograph from the section Personages, La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre 1932
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre' 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre (installation view)
1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre' 1932

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre
1932
Gelatin silver print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from the section Personages including at left La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre 1932; and at right, Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart 1932-33
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart' 1932-33 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart (installation view)
1932-33
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart' 1932-33

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart
1932-33
Gelatin silver print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from the section Personages including at left Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart 1932-33; and at right, Market Porter, Les Halles 1939
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Market Porter, Les Halles' 1939 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Market Porter, Les Halles (installation view)
1939
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Bal des Quatre Saisons, rue de Lappe' c. 1932

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Bal des Quatre Saisons, rue de Lappe
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Chez Suzy' 1931-32

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Chez Suzy
1931-32
Gelatin silver print

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'At the Hôtel des Terrasses' c. 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
At the Hôtel des Terrasses (installation view)
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from Brassaï’s series Sleep
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Sleep

In 1945 Brassaï wrote a brief essay to accompany some of his pictures of sleepers. It reads in part “All things that stand against their inclination – a tree, a column, a tower, a rock – are regarded with a malign eye by gravity … She especially has a grudge against man, that foolhardy being who, in open collusion with the sunlight, alone among his brothers under the spell of gravitation, dares to stand up. For sunlight and gravity fight over living beings, the one turning over what the other has put up. Alas! Sunlight lives a long way away and can never be found when she is needed the most. Thus gravity is suited to have the last word.”

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from Brassaï’s series Sleep with at left, Paris c. 1934; and at centre, Sleeping c. 1935
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris' c. 1934 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris (installation view)
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Sleeping' c. 1935 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Sleeping (installation view)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Montmartre' 1930-31

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Montmartre
1930-31
Gelatin silver print

 

 

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09
Feb
19

Exhibition: ‘Roman Vishniac Rediscovered’ at The Photographers’ Gallery and Jewish Museum London

Exhibition dates: 26th October 2018 – 24th February 2019

Curators: Maya Benton in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery curator, Anna Dannemann and Jewish Museum London curator, Morgan Wadsworth-Boyle.

Presented simultaneously at The Photographers’ Gallery and Jewish Museum London, Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is the first UK retrospective of Russian born American photographer, Roman Vishniac (1897-1990).

 

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin' 1929-early 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin
1929-early 1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Wondrous, glorious images

Apart from the title, Roman Vishniac “Rediscovered” – photographically, I never thought he went away? – this is a magnificent exhibition of Vishniac’s complete works.

Since the press release states, “Roman Vishniac Rediscovered offers a timely reappraisal of Vishniac’s vast photographic output and legacy and brings together – for the first time – his complete works including recently discovered vintage prints, rare and ‘lost’ film footage from his pre-war period, contact sheets, personal correspondence, original magazine publications, newly created exhibition prints as well as his acclaimed photomicroscopy…” perhaps the exhibition should have been titled: Roman Vishniac Reappraised or Roman Vishniac: Complete Works. Each makes more sense than the title the curators chose.

Vishniac’s work is powerful and eloquent, a formal, classical, and yet poetic representation of the time and space of the photographs taking. Modernist yet romantic, monumental, sociological yet playful, his work imbibes of the music of people and place, portraying the rituals of an old society about to be swept away by the maelstrom of war. They are a joy to behold.

Here is happiness and sadness, urban poverty, isolation (as in figures from each other, figures isolated within their world, and within the pictorial frame – see the people walking in every direction in Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow 1935-38, below), and nostalgia (for what has been lost). Here is life… and death.

Here is a handsome man, Ernst Kaufmann, born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. Arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Killed at barely 30 years old. As Vishniac recalls of his portrait of the seven year old David Eckstein, ‘I watched this little boy for almost an hour, and in this moment I saw the whole sadness of the world.’ Never forget what human beings are capable of, lest history repeat itself, and all our hard fought freedoms are destroyed.

Despite the hubbub and movement of the people, towns and marketplaces, for me it is the sensitivity of a quiet moment, beautifully observed, that gets me every time. That hand (Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw c. 1935-38, below), resting on the chest of an exhausted porter, seen in all its clarity and in humanity is transcendent. That intense feeling of an extended, (in)decisive moment, if ever there was one.

In my humble opinion, Vishniac is one of the greatest 20th century social documentary photographers to have ever lived.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to Photographers’ Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Interview with curator Maya Benton

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'German family walking between taxicabs in front of the Ufa-Palast movie theater, Berlin' late 1920s-early 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
German family walking between taxicabs in front of the Ufa-Palast movie theater, Berlin
late 1920s-early 1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Woman washing windows above Mandtler & Neumann Speditionen (Mandtler & Neumann Forwarding Agents), Ferdinandstrasse, Leopoldstadt, Vienna' 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Woman washing windows above Mandtler & Neumann Speditionen (Mandtler & Neumann Forwarding Agents), Ferdinandstrasse, Leopoldstadt, Vienna
1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Jewish school children, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Jewish school children, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

From 1935 to 1938, Vishniac made numerous trips to the city of Mukacevo, a major center of religious learning among Jews from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Carpathian region. Mukacevo was widely known for its famous rabbis and yeshivot (religious schools). This image of Jewish schoolchildren appears in cropped form on the cover of Vishniac’s first posthumous publication, To Give Them Light; the recently digitised negative reveals that it represents only one-fifth of the full frame. Vishniac often directed printers or publishers to crop his images to focus on religiously observant Jewish men or boys, identifiable by their dress, an editorial decision that sometimes detracted from the composition by subverting aesthetic considerations to emphasise religious and observant life. The negative reveals Vishniac’s instinctive compositional acumen: a bustling and vibrant street scene, with a boy’s beaming, slightly out-of-focus face in the foreground and numerous hands pushing into and out of the frame, communicating the vitality and liveliness of the students.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Man purchasing herring, wrapped in newspaper, for a Sabbath meal, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Man purchasing herring, wrapped in newspaper, for a Sabbath meal, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Fish is the Favored Food for the Kosher Table' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Fish is the Favored Food for the Kosher Table
c. 1935-38
Gelatin silver print
Image (paper): 11 1/2 x 9 3/16 in. (29.2 x 23.3 cm)
Collection Philip Allen
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“This image of a boy bending over a vat of herring communicates the excitement of the marketplace and the sheer abundance of herring. The unparalleled quality of the print transmits every detail, from the wet cobblestones and circular motion of the swimming fish to the rapid, eager movement of hands reaching in to grab the herring. Rather than focusing on religious life, these early prints demonstrate the vitality and frantic charm of a town rushing to prepare for the Sabbath.”

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Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

These rare vintage prints are part of a collection of sixteen recently discovered prints that comprised Vishniac’s first exhibition abroad, and were displayed in the New York office of the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in 1938. Vishniac developed these early prints in his apartment in Berlin, and they are rare early examples of his virtuosic skill as a master printmaker. He gifted all sixteen prints to an employee of the New York office of the JDC who had helped him to organise his first exhibit; these prints are on loan from his son.

The image of a boy bending over a vat of herring communicates the excitement of the marketplace and the sheer abundance of herring. The unparalleled quality of the print transmits every detail, from the wet cobblestones and circular motion of the swimming fish to the rapid, eager movement of hands reaching in to grab the herring. Rather than focusing on religious life, these early prints demonstrate the vitality and frantic charm of a town rushing to prepare for the Sabbath.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Young Jewish boys suspicious of strangers, Mukachevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Young Jewish boys suspicious of strangers, Mukachevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Three women, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Three women, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) The notice on the wall reads "Come Celebrate Chanukah." c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
The notice on the wall reads “Come Celebrate Chanukah”
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Jewish street vendors, Warsaw, Poland' 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Jewish street vendors, Warsaw, Poland
1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Children playing outdoors and watching a game' c. 1935-37

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children playing outdoors and watching a game
c. 1935-37
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Children playing on a street lined with swastika flags' mid-1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children playing on a street lined with swastika flags
mid-1930s
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Nat Gutman's Wife, Warsaw' 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Nat Gutman’s Wife, Warsaw
1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Nat Gutman, the porter, Warsaw 1935-1938 from A Vanished World, 1983 is the photograph of her husband. After working as a bank cashier for six years, Nat Gutman was dismissed because he was a Jew. He became a porter. The loads usually weighed forty-five to ninety pounds. This was the kind of work that bank cashier Gutman, a man with a bad hernia, was reduced to in order to support his wife and son. The family were exterminated.

 

Roman Vishniac. 'A street of Kazimierz, Cracow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
A street of Kazimierz, Cracow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Krakow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Krakow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Window washer balancing on a ladder, Berlin' mid-1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Window washer balancing on a ladder, Berlin
mid-1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw
c. 1935-38
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 10 in. (19.1 x 25.4 cm)
International Center of Photography
Gift of Mara Vishniac Kohn, 2013
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“This unpublished image of a porter at rest in his wagon demonstrates Vishniac’s modern aesthetic and the influence of the avant-garde on his work. The diagonal slope of the central figure, stretched out along a sloping plane, fills the entire frame. The intuitive amalgamation of patterns and textures, one of Vishniac’s greatest talents, is evident throughout the image: the light reflected on the ornamented belt buckle; the double-patterned cable knit of his shrunken wool vest, which barely conceals a plaid shirt; and the round shapes of a wheel and bucket that divide the angular line formed by the central figure. It is a triumph of textures, angles, and lines, yet the worn sign with the name Nuta Hersz and his porter license number reminds us that the subject of the photograph is the victim of anti-Semitic boycotts and the limited job opportunities (only vendors and porters) permitted to Jews in Poland at that time.”

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Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains' c. 1935–38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“Vishniac traveled to remote Jewish villages in rural Carpathian Ruthenia throughout the late 1930s, and in many cases was the only photographer to ever document these communities, which had been isolated for hundreds of years, yet maintained an enduring connection to Jewish observance, customs, and traditions.

Every detail of this image makes it a nearly perfect photograph: the sense of movement and the figures’ varied gestures and vibrant expressions; the carefully balanced horizontal bands of shadow and striped fabric; the detail of a woman peering out of a window while a glass pane on the facing structure points in the direction of an impossibly angled triangular building that vertically divides the frame in half; and the collective sense of surprise at encountering the photographer. Like much of Vishniac’s unpublished work, this composition recalls Henri Cartier-Bresson’s description of the decisive moment (a precise organisation of forms that give a time and place its ideal expression) and places Vishniac on par with the great photographers of the 20th century.”

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Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) '[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]' c. 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]
c. 1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“The boy in this photograph has been identified as David Eckstein, a Holocaust survivor currently living in a commune in the American Southwest. Born in 1930 in the small town of Brod, Eckstein was seven years old when Vishniac took several photographs of him, his classmates, and his teacher just before the onslaught of World War II. Vishniac later recalled, ‘I watched this little boy for almost an hour, and in this moment I saw the whole sadness of the world.’ This portrait was later selected as the cover of Vishniac’s first publication, Polish Jews: A Pictorial Record (1947), and reprinted on the cover of I. B. Singer’s National Book Award-winning collection of stories, A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw (1969).”

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Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) '[Grandmother and grandchildren in basement dwelling, Krochmaina Street, Warsaw]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
[Grandmother and grandchildren in basement dwelling, Krochmaina Street, Warsaw]
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“Vishniac documented urban poverty in Warsaw, often focusing on the dark, cold basement dwellings of families where hungry Jewish children lived in crowded conditions. Vishniac photographed this woman taking care of her grandchildren while their parents searched for work in one of 26 basement compartments, each inhabited by a large family. In June 1941, the National Jewish Monthly published this image with the caption ‘Polish Jewry, once the bulwark of world Jewry, is done for as a community. Even if Hitler were to lose power tomorrow, their institutions and organizations are hopelessly smashed, could not be rebuilt in generations. But individuals remain, starved and persecuted. This picture shows an old grandmother and her grandchildren. What is going to become of them, and of the millions of other innocent victims of Fascist violence and terror?'”

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Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stencilled flowers above her head, Warsaw' c. 1935-37

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stencilled flowers above her head, Warsaw
c. 1935-37
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Vishniac documented the basement dwellings of Warsaw using the scant natural light that trickled through a few narrow, high windows, necessitating that he shoot during the day, when adults were often out looking for work or peddling their wares and children were sometimes the only inhabitants indoors. This photograph of Sara, one of Vishniac’s most iconic images, was reproduced on charity tins, or tzedakah boxes, and circulated throughout France by Jewish social service organisations, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) in the late 1930s.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

 

An extraordinarily versatile and innovative photographer, Vishniac is best known for having created one of the most widely recognised and reproduced photographic records of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. Featuring many of his most iconic works, this comprehensive exhibition further introduces recently discovered and lesser-known chapters of his photographic career from the early 1920s to the late 1970s. The cross-venue exhibition presents radically diverse bodies of work and positions Vishniac as one of the most important social documentary photographers of the 20th century whose work also sits within a broader tradition of 1930s modernist photography.

Born in Pavlovsk, Russia in 1897 to a Jewish family Roman Vishniac was raised in Moscow. On his seventh birthday, he was given a camera and a microscope which began a lifelong fascination with photography and science. He began to conduct early scientific experiments attaching the camera to the microscope and as a teenager became an avid amateur photographer and student of biology, chemistry and zoology. In 1920, following the Bolshevik Revolution, he immigrated to Berlin where he joined some of the city’s many flourishing camera clubs. Inspired by the cosmopolitanism and rich cultural experimentation in Berlin at this time, Vishniac used his camera to document his surroundings. This early body of work reflects the influence of European modernism with his framing and compositions favouring sharp angles and dramatic use of light and shade to inform his subject matter.

Vishniac’s development as a photographer coincided with the enormous political changes occurring in Germany, which he steadfastly captured in his images. They represent an unsettling visual foreboding of the growing signs of oppression, the loss of rights for Jews, the rise of Nazism in Germany, the insidious propaganda – swastika flags and military parades, which were taking over both the streets and daily life. German Jews routinely had their businesses boycotted, were banned from many public places and expelled from Aryanised schools. They were also prevented from pursuing professions in law, medicine, teaching, and photography, among many other indignities and curtailments of civil liberties. Vishniac recorded this painful new reality through uncompromising images showing Jewish soup kitchens, schools and hospitals, immigration offices and Zionist agrarian training camps, his photos tracking the speed with which the city changed from an open, intellectual society to one where militarism and fascism were closing in.

Social and political documentation quickly became a focal point of his work and drew the attention of organisations wanting to raise awareness and gain support for the Jewish population. In 1935, Vishniac was commissioned by the world’s largest Jewish relief organisation, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to photograph impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. These images were intended to support relief efforts and were used in fundraising campaigns for an American donor audience. When the war broke out only a few years later, his photos served increasingly urgent refugee efforts, before finally, at the end of the war and the genocide enacted by Nazi Germany, Vishniac’s images became the most comprehensive photographic record by a single photographer of a vanished world.

Vishniac left Europe in 1940 and arrived in New York with his family on New Year’s Day, 1941. He continued to record the impact of World War II throughout the 1940s and 50s in particular focusing on the arrival of Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors in the US, but also looking at other immigrant communities including Chinese Americans. In 1947, he returned to Europe to document refugees and relief efforts in Jewish Displaced Persons camps and also to witness the ruins of his former hometown, Berlin. He also continued his biological studies and supplemented his income by teaching and writing.

In New York, Vishniac established himself as a freelance photographer and built a successful portrait studio on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. At the same time he dedicated himself to scientific research, resuming his interest in Photomicroscopy. This particular application of photography became the primary focus of his work during the last 45 years of his life. By the mid-1950s, he was regarded as a pioneer in the field, developing increasingly sophisticated techniques for photographing and filming microscopic life forms. Vishniac was appointed Professor of Biology and Art at several universities and his groundbreaking images and scientific research were published in hundreds of magazines and books.

Although he was mainly embedded in the scientific community, Vishniac was a keen observer and scholar of art, culture, and history and would have been aware of developments in photography going on around him and the work of his contemporaries. In 1955, famed photographer and museum curator Edward Steichen featured several of Vishniac’s photographs in the influential book and travelling exhibition The Family of Man shown at the Museum of Modern Art. Steichen later describes the importance of Vishniac’s work. “[He]… gives a last minute look at the human beings he photographed just before the fury of Nazi brutality exterminated them. The resulting photographs are among photography’s finest documents of a time and place.”

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered offers a timely reappraisal of Vishniac’s vast photographic output and legacy and brings together – for the first time – his complete works including recently discovered vintage prints, rare and ‘lost’ film footage from his pre-war period, contact sheets, personal correspondence, original magazine publications, newly created exhibition prints as well as his acclaimed photomicroscopy.

Drawn from the Roman Vishniac Archive at the International Center of Photography, New York and curated by Maya Benton in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery curator, Anna Dannemann and Jewish Museum London curator, Morgan Wadsworth-Boyle, each venue will provide additional contextual material to illuminate the works on display and bring the artist, his works and significance to the attention of UK audiences. Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is organised by the International Center of Photography.

Press release from The Photographers’ Gallery

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Children at Play, Bratislava' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children at Play, Bratislava
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Vishniac's daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler' 1933

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Vishniac’s daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler that reads “The Marshal and the Corporal: Fight with Us for Peace and Equal Rights,” Wilmersdorf, Berlin
1933
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Vishniac’s daughter Mara, age seven, was photographed standing in front of this 1933 poster celebrating Hitler’s recent appointment as German chancellor. The poster advertises a plebiscite to permit withdrawal from the League of Nations and Geneva Disarmament Conference, which restricted Germany’s ability to develop a military. Other posters include the slogans “Mothers, fight for your children!,” “The coming generation accuses you!,” and “In 8 months… 2,250,000 countrymen able to put food on the table. Bolshevism destroyed. Sectionalism overcome. A kingdom and order of cleanliness built… Those are the achievements of Hitler’s rule…”

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Benedictine nun reading, probably France' 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Benedictine nun reading, probably France
1930s, printed 2012
Photo digital inkjet print
12 x 11 3/8 in. (30.5 x 29 cm)
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth' 1938-39

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth, wearing clogs while learning construction techniques in a quarry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands
1938-39
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Ernst Kaufmann was born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. He was arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

This photograph is strikingly similar in subject and composition to a bronze relief plaque made in 1935 by Dutch artist Hildo Krop (1884-1970) for the monument on the Afsluitdijk, a dam that was completed in 1933 in the north of the Netherlands. The relief depicts three stoneworkers below the text “A nation that lives builds for the future.” Dutch modernist architect Willem Dudok (1884-1974) designed the Afsluitdijk and in 1935 Krop’s plaque was added. The dam was a triumph of Dutch engineering and a source of national pride. Residents of the Werkdorp probably took Vishniac to the Afsluitdijk; the well-known relief undoubtedly inspired him to stage this shot, an ideal composition for his heroic image of Jewish pioneers in the Werkdorp, and an unusual conflation of Dutch nationalist and Zionist visual sensibilities.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Beach dwellers in the afternoon, Nice, France' c. 1939

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Beach dwellers in the afternoon, Nice, France
c. 1939
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn' 1949

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
1949
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

The Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, known as the “J,” was established in 1927 to serve the growing population of first-generation American Jews migrating to South Brooklyn. The J’s mission, to “ennoble Jewish youth” by building and fostering a sense of Jewish community, was accomplished through the promotion of arts and recreation for all ages. American Jewish major league baseball legend Sandy Koufax, a regular at the J, had started his sports career there as a basketball player.

In a dramatic departure from his iconic photographs of impoverished children in prewar eastern Europe, here Vishniac focused on the strong, healthy young American children. The children’s vitality is reinforced by the diagonal lines and geometric angles of the ropes, contributing to a forceful and innovative composition reflective of Vishniac’s previously unknown American work from the 1940s.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Customers waiting in line at a butcher's counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York' 1941-44

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Customers waiting in line at a butcher’s counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York
1941-44
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

New York’s Washington Market, famed for its exceptional variety and quantity of food, was established in the eighteenth century. Vishniac documented the mostly female customers waiting for service during a period of wartime restrictions and food rationing. Through careful framing – customers stand against bare counters and voided display cases – he captured disenchanted expressions that can be read as a projection of Vishniac’s own experience as a new immigrant in America, as well as a record of comparative privation in the former plenty of Washington Market. As such, they anticipate the isolation and indifference shown in The Americans by Robert Frank, another Jewish immigrant from war-torn Europe.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

 

The Photographers’ Gallery
16-18 Ramillies Street
London
W1F 7LW

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday: 10.00 – 18.00
Thursday: 10.00 – 20.00 during exhibitions
Sunday: 11.00 – 18.00

 

The Jewish Museum
Raymond Burton House, 129-131 Albert Street,
London NW1 7NB
Phone: +44 (0)20 7284 7384

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm (Friday 10am – 2pm)

 

The Photographers’ Gallery website

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15
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘Kati Horna’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 3rd June – 21st September 2014

 

Kati Horna. 'Untitled' Paris, 1939

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Untitled
Paris, 1939
From the Muñecas del miedo series [Dolls of Fear],
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.8cm
Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

 

I really love the work of artists such as Kati Horna and Florence Henri “with the production of collages and photomontages inspired by the avant-garde movements of the 1930s (the Bauhaus, Surrealism, German Neue Sachlichkeit, Russian Constructivism).”

Horna’s photographs have more of a political edge than that of Florence Henri, with her unique photographic reportage of the Spanish Civil War between 1937-39 and her Hitler series both having a strong social critique. Here is another politically aware artist who stood up for the cause, who recorded the “everyday life for the civilian population through a vision that was in empathy with the environment and the people.” Again, here is another who was lucky to survive the maelstrom of the Second World War, who would have certainly ended up dead if she and her Andalusian artist husband José Horna had not fled Paris in 1939 for their adopted country Mexico.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS I spent hours cleaning up the press images, there were in a really poor state, but the work was so worthwhile… they really sing now!

.
Many thankx to the 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.

 

This summer, the Jeu de Paume, which is celebrating 10 years devoted to the image, will be inviting the public to discover Kati Horna (1912-2000), an avant-garde, humanist photographer, who was born in Hungary and exiled in Mexico, where she documented the local art scene.

 

 

Robert Capa (attributed to) 'Kati Horna in the Studio of József Pécsi' Budapest, 1933

 

Robert Capa (Hungarian-American, 1913-1954) (attributed to)
Kati Horna in the Studio of József Pécsi
Budapest, 1933
Gelatin silver print
10.5 x 7.5cm
Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

 

In collaboration with the Museo Amparo in Puebla (Mexico), the Jeu de Paume is presenting the first retrospective of the work of photographer Kati Horna (Szilasbalhási, Hungary, 1912-Mexico, 2000), showing more than six decades of work in Hungary, France, Spain and Mexico. Kati Horna, a photographer whose adopted homeland was Mexico, was one of a generation of Hungarian photographers (including André Kertész, Robert Capa, Eva Besnyö, László Moholy-Nagy, Nicolás Muller, Brassaï, Rogi André, Ergy Landau and Martin Munkácsi) forced to flee their country due to the conflicts and social upheaval of the 1930s.

Cosmopolitan and avant-garde, Kati Horna was known above all for her images of the Spanish Civil War, produced at the request of the Spanish Republican government between 1937 and 1939. Her work is characterised by both its adherence to the principles of Surrealist photography and her very personal approach to photographic reportage.

This major retrospective helps to bring international recognition to this versatile, socially committed, humanist photographer, highlighting her unusual artistic creativity and her contribution to photojournalism. It offers a comprehensive overview of the work of this artist, who started out as a photographer in Hungary at the age of 21, in the context of the European avant-garde movements of the 1930s: Russian Constructivism, the Bauhaus school, Surrealism and German Neue Sachlichkeit. Her vast output, produced both in Europe and Mexico, her adopted country, is reflected in a selection of over 150 works – most of them vintage prints, the vast majority of them unpublished or little known.

In Mexico, Kati Horna formed a new family with the émigré artists Remedios Varo, Benjamin Péret, Emerico ‘Chiki’ Weisz, Edward James and, later on, Leonora Carrington. In parallel with her reportages, she took different series of photographs of visual stories, extraordinary creations featuring masks and dolls, motifs that began to appear in her work in the 1930s.

Kati Horna also became the great portraitist of the Mexican literary and artistic avant-garde; her visionary photographs captured the leading artists in Mexico during the 1960s, such as Alfonso Reyes, Germán Cueto, Remedios Varo, Pedro Friedeberg, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Mathias Goeritz and Leonora Carrington.

The exhibition is divided into five periods: her beginnings in Budapest, Berlin and Paris between 1933 and 1937; Spain and the Civil War from 1937 to 1939; Paris again in 1939; then Mexico. The exhibition also presents a number of documents, in particular the periodicals that she contributed to during her travels between Hungary, France, Spain and Mexico. The works come from the Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna, the Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica de España, Salamanca, the Museo Amparo, Puebla, as well as private collections.

Press release from the Jeu de Paume website

 

Kati Horna. 'Invierno en el patio' [Winter in the Courtyard] Paris, 1939

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Invierno en el patio [Winter in the Courtyard]
Paris, 1939
Gelatin silver print
18.8 x 18.3cm
Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

 

Beginnings: Budapest, Berlin And Paris

.
Afterwards I returned to Paris, and do you know why I didn’t die of hunger in Paris? Before I left, everyone mocked me, “there’s the photographer”, I was the photographer of eggs. I had this idea of being the first one to do things, not with figurines, but little stories with eggs, and it was that wonderful draughtsman who subsequently committed suicide who did the faces for me… The first was the romantic story of a carrot and a potato. The carrot declared its love to the potato. He always did the faces and I staged the scenes. I took the photos with my big camera with 4 x 5 negatives.

.
Kati Horna

 

Born in Hungary to a family of bankers of Jewish origin during a period of political and social instability, Kati Horna would always be deeply marked by the violence, injustice and danger around her. This situation helped to forge her ideological commitment, her perpetual search for freedom, her particular way of denouncing injustice, as well as her compassionate and human vision, like that of Lee Miller and her pictures of the Second World War. As was the case for her great childhood friend Robert Capa, to whom she would remain close throughout her life, photography became a fundamental means of expression.

At the age of 19 she left Budapest to live in Germany for a year, where she joined the Bertolt Brecht collective. She frequented photographer friends and compatriots Robert Capa and ‘Chiki’ Weisz, as well as other major figures in Hungarian photography, such as László Moholy-Nagy – who at the time was a teacher at the Bauhaus school – and Simon Guttman, founder of the Dephot agency (Deutscher Photodienst). On her return from Budapest, she enrolled in the studio of József Pécsi – the famous Hungarian photographer (1889-1956) – before leaving her birth country again, in 1933, to settle in Paris.

It was during this period of apprenticeship that her own aesthetic took shape, which marked her entire career, with the production of collages and photomontages inspired by the avant-garde movements of the 1930s (the Bauhaus, Surrealism, German Neue Sachlichkeit, Russian Constructivism). Paris was a cosmopolitan capital and Surrealism was at its height at the time. This movement heavily influenced Kati Horna’s style, both through its themes and its techniques, be it the narrative collage, superimposition or photomontage. Her photography was closely linked to the arts of the image, used as an illustrative technique and as a support for a poetics of the object. Her taste for stories and staged images are clearly evident. From 1933 she worked for the Lutetia-Press agency, for whom she did her first photo stories: Mercado de pulgas [Flea Market] (1933), which would not be published until 1986 in the Mexican periodical Foto Zoom, and Cafés de París (1934).

 

Kati Horna. 'Robert Capa in the Studio of József Pécsi' Budapest, 1933

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Robert Capa in the Studio of József Pécsi
Budapest, 1933
Gelatin silver print
25.3 x 20.1cm
Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

Kati Horna. 'Untitled' Paris, 1937

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Untitled
Paris, 1937
From the Hitlerei series [Hitler series]
in collaboration with Wolfgang Burger
Gelatin silver print
16.8 x 12cm
Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

 

Spain And The Civil War

.
Photography, with its various possibilities, enables one to show, liberate and develop one’s own sensibility which can be expressed in graphic images.

And at the moment of pressing the shutter you had to keep the image, let your emotion, discovery and visual surprise flow, the moment had to be kept in your head. That’s what I call developing one’s visual memory.

.
Kati Horna

 

Between 1937 and 1939, Kati Horna covered the Spanish Civil War with great sensitivity. The Spanish Republican government asked her to produce images on the Civil War. Thus, between 1937 and 1939 she photographed the places where the major events of the war took place, in the Aragon province, in the country’s cities (Valencia, Madrid, Barcelona and Lerida), as well as a number of strategic villages in Republican Spain.

A collection of more than 270 negatives has survived from this period, today conserved in the Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica de España, Salamanca. They bear witness to the reality of the conflict at the front as well as, and above all, everyday life for the civilian population through a vision that was in empathy with the environment and the people. Committed to the anarchist cause, she became the editor of the periodical Umbral, where she would meet her future husband, the Andalusian anarchist José Horna – and worked on the cultural periodical of the National Confederation of Labour, Libre-Studio. She also collaborated on the periodicals Tierra y Libertad, Tiempos Nuevos and Mujeres Libres, publications that are being exhibited for the first time. At the time, her work was distinguished by its photomontages, which have both a symbolic and metaphorical character.

 

Kati Horna. 'Untitled, Vélez Rubio, Almeria province, Andalusia, Spanish Civil War' 1937

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Untitled, Vélez Rubio, Almeria province, Andalusia, Spanish Civil War
1937
Gelatin silver print
25.5 x 20.5cm
Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

Kati Horna. 'Subida a la catedral [Ascending to the Cathedral], Spanish Civil War' Barcelona 1938

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Subida a la catedral [Ascending to the Cathedral], Spanish Civil War
Barcelona, 1938
Gelatin silver print (photomontage)
22.2 x 16.6cm
Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

Kati Horna. 'Los Paraguas, mitin de la CNT' [Umbrellas, Meeting of the CNT], Spanish Civil War Barcelona, 1937

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Los Paraguas, mitin de la CNT [Umbrellas, Meeting of the CNT], Spanish Civil War
Barcelona, 1937
Gelatin silver print
24.2 x 19.2cm
Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

 

Mexico

.
I am in an existential crisis. Today everyone is running, today everyone is driving. My pictures? They were the product of a creative love, linked to my experiences and the way they were taken. I was never in a hurry.

S.nob was a joy… I don’t know why I enjoyed myself so much, but the facility that Salvador [Elizondo] and the team, and Juan [García Ponce] gave me, a great creativity came out of me.

.
Kati Horna

 

Kati Horna returned to Paris in 1939. Her husband, the Andalusian artist José Horna, enlisted in the Ebra division that covered the retreat of the Spanish civilians to France. In October, as soon as he reached Prats-de-Mollo, in the French Pyrenees, he was incarcerated in a camp for Spanish refugees. Kati Horna succeeded in getting him freed. They left for Paris where they were again harassed, obliging them to flee France for Mexico. Mexico would become her final homeland.

During her everyday life she came into contact with some of the extraordinary figures of Surrealism (Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Benjamin Péret and Edward James) and the Panic movement (Alejandro Jodorowsky), as well as avant-garde Mexican artists, writers and architects (Mathias Goeritz, Germán Cueto, Pedro Friedeberg, Salvador Elizondo, Alfonso Reyes and Ricardo Legorreta).

Kati Horna established herself as a chronicler of the period, leaving for posterity a unique corpus. In Mexico, she worked as a reporter for periodicals such as Todo (1939), Nosotros (1944-1946), Mujeres (1958-1968), Mexico this Month (1958-1965), S.nob (1962) and Diseño (1968-1970). During the last 20 years of her life, she also taught photography at the Universidad Iberoamericana and the San Carlos Academy (Univesidad Nacional Autónoma de México), where she trained an entire generation of contemporary photographers.

Horna’s quotes come from the catalogue, co-published by the Jeu de Paume and the Museo Amparo

 

Cover of the magazine S.nob No. 2 (27 June 1962)

 

Cover of the magazine S.nob No. 2 (27 June 1962)
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

Kati Horna. 'Untitled, La Castañeda psychiatric hospital, Mixcoac' Mexico, 1944

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Untitled, La Castañeda psychiatric hospital, Mixcoac
Mexico, 1944
Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

Kati Horna. 'Untitled, Carnaval de Huejotzingo, Puebla' 1941

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Untitled, Carnaval de Huejotzingo, Puebla
1941
Gelatin silver print
19.5 x 21.5cm
Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

Kati Horna. 'Untitled, Oda a la necrofília series [Ode to Necrophilia]' Mexico 1962

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Untitled
Mexico, 1962
From the Oda a la necrofília series [Ode to Necrophilia]
Gelatin silver print
25.4 x 20.8cm
Museo Amparo Collection
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

Kati Horna. 'El botellón' [The Bottle] Mexico, 1962

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
El botellón [The Bottle]
Mexico, 1962
From the Paraísos artificiales series [Artificial Paradises]
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 18.9cm
Collection Museo Amparo
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

Kati Horna. 'Remedios Varo' Mexico, 1957

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Remedios Varo
Mexico, 1957
Gelatin silver print
25.3 x 20.3cm
Private collection
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

Kati Horna. 'Antonio Souza y su esposa Piti Saldivar' [Antonio Souza and his Wife Piti Saldivar] Mexico, 1959

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Antonio Souza y su esposa Piti Saldivar [Antonio Souza and his Wife Piti Saldivar]
Mexico, 1959
Gelatin silver print
25 x 20.3cm
Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

Kati Horna. 'José Horna elaborando la maqueta de la casa de Edward James' [José Horna Working on the Maquette for Edward James's House] Mexico, 1960

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
José Horna elaborando la maqueta de la casa de Edward James [José Horna Working on the Maquette for Edward James’s House]
Mexico, 1960
Gelatin silver print
25.3 x 20.3cm
Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

Kati Horna. 'Mujer y máscara' [Woman with Mask] Mexico, 1963

 

Kati Horna
Mujer y máscara [Woman with Mask]
Mexico, 1963
Gelatin silver print
25 x 19.7 cm
Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna
© 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández

 

 

Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
Phone: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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