Posts Tagged ‘Berlin

01
Mar
19

Exhibition: ‘Berlin in the revolution 1918/19’ at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 9th November 2018 – 3rd March 2019

 

Otto Haeckel (1872-1945) and Georg Haeckel (1873-1942) 'Soldiers with weapons Unter den Linden, corner Charlottenstraße' November 1918

 

Otto Haeckel (1872-1945) and Georg Haeckel (1873-1942)
Soldiers with weapons Unter den Linden, corner Charlottenstraße
November 1918
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Gebrüder Haeckel

 

 

Today, revolution is in the air around the world, just like it was in 1968 (a posting on this year to follow soon) and in 1918. I hope this wonderful posting of photographs, posters, films, murders, bombings, funerals, detailed close ups of the barricades and the people manning them gives you some of the flavour of the times. This was the order of the day in Berlin in 1918/19. Revolution.

What we must not forget is out of this revolution, out of this ferment of creativity, uncertainty, “liberal” democracy and militaristic society emerged the seeds of its downfall: the beginnings of the National Socialist Party (the Nazis).

“In July 1919 Hitler was appointed Verbindungsmann (intelligence agent) of an Aufklärungskommando (reconnaissance unit) of the Reichswehr, assigned to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate the German Workers’ Party (DAP). At a DAP meeting on 12 September 1919, Party Chairman Anton Drexler was impressed with Hitler’s oratorical skills. He gave him a copy of his pamphlet My Political Awakening, which contained anti-Semitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist, and anti-Marxist ideas. On the orders of his army superiors, Hitler applied to join the party, and within a week was accepted as party member 555 (the party began counting membership at 500 to give the impression they were a much larger party). …

At the DAP, Hitler met Dietrich Eckart, one of the party’s founders and a member of the occult Thule Society. Eckart became Hitler’s mentor, exchanging ideas with him and introducing him to a wide range of Munich society. To increase its appeal, the DAP changed its name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party; NSDAP). Hitler designed the party’s banner of a swastika in a white circle on a red background.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

Rising to prominence through his demagogic beer hall speeches on populist themes, Hitler would attempt a coup known as the “Beer Hall Putsch” in 1923, a stepping stone on his rise to becoming the dictator of Nazi Germany.

The flowering of German Expressionism (modern art labelled by Hitler Entartete Kunst or “Degenerate Art” in the 1920s) and a society which proposed the first advocacy for homosexual and transgender rights, were both positives of the interwar period. A prominent advocate for sexual minorities was the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld.

“In 1920, Hirschfeld was very badly beaten up by a group of völkisch activists who attacked him on the street; he was initially declared dead when the police arrived. In 1921, Hirschfeld organised the First Congress for Sexual Reform, which led to the formation of the World League for Sexual Reform. Congresses were held in Copenhagen (1928), London (1929), Vienna (1930), and Brno (1932)… Hirschfeld co-wrote and acted in the 1919 film Anders als die Andern (“Different From the Others”) [see below], in which Conrad Veidt played one of the first homosexual characters ever written for cinema. The film had a specific gay rights law reform agenda; after Veidt’s character is blackmailed by a male prostitute, he eventually comes out rather than continuing to make the blackmail payments. His career is destroyed and he is driven to suicide.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

Of course these small, hard won freedoms, this cabaret of life, and the more liberal atmosphere of the newly founded Weimar Republic were all swept away by the Nazis in the 1930s.

How quickly it can turn. Today, as then, we must be ever vigilant to guard our freedom against the power of conservative forces that seek to do us harm. Brothers, never again!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Museum of Photography, Berlin for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. All the photographs have been digitally cleaned. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

In November 1918, exactly 100 years ago, the old regime of Kaiser Wilhelm II was swept away by a revolution. It ended the First World War and led to the establishment of democracy in Germany. The Weimar Republic was born out of the struggle for a new social order and political system. The upheavals that occurred in 1918/19 were captured on camera, sometimes by renowned press photographers such as Willy Römer; their works are crucial for historians today. For the first time ever, this book investigates the role of film and entertainment in the Weimar Republic and includes it in the historical analysis. What do the street fights in the first months following the First World War have in common with the people’s recreational pleasures? How did photographers record the political turmoil, the demonstrations, strikes, shootings, and fights for control of the palace and the newspaper district? And, at the same time, what distractions were offered in Berlin’s cinemas and revue shows? How did the entertainment industry react to the revolution? Examining photos, films, and poster art, this book presents a dense and previously unseen portrait of German history.

Text from the catalogue

 

 

“So ends this first day of the revolution, which in just a few hours has witnessed the downfall of the House of Hohenzollern, the dissolution of the German army, and the demise of the old German social order. One of the most memorable and dreadful days in German history.”

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Harry Graf Kessler, diary entry from November 9, 1918

 

“The Christmas fair carries on blithely throughout all of these bloody events. Hurdy-gurdies play on Friedrichstraße, street vendors peddle in-door fireworks, gingerbread, and silver tinsel, the jewellery shops on Unter den Linden remain unheedingly open, their brightly-lit display windows glittering. On Leipziger Strasse, the usual Christmas crowds throng to-ward Wertheim, Kayser, and the other big stores. It is safe to say that in thousands of homes, Christmas trees are lit and children are playing around them with presents from Daddy, Mummy and dear Aunty. The dead lie in the royal stables, and on Holy Night, the wounds freshly inflict-ed on the palace and on Germany gape wide.”

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Harry Graf Kessler, diary entry, December 24, 1918

 

“I cannot get out of head the execution of 24 sailors on Französische Strasse, where during all of these days, there has been no trouble. It is one of the most abominable civil war crimes I know of in history. This evening I tried to watch Reinhardt’s production of ‘As You Like It’, but was not in the mood. I cannot stop thinking about these murders and shootings, which are the order of the day in Berlin.”

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Harry Graf Kessler: diary entry, March 14, 1919

 

Otto Haeckel (1872-1945) and Georg Haeckel (1873-1942) 'Soldiers with weapons Unter den Linden, corner Charlottenstraße' November 1918 (detail)

 

Otto Haeckel (1872-1945) and Georg Haeckel (1873-1942)
Soldiers with weapons, Unter den Linden, corner Charlottenstraße (detail)
November 1918
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Gebrüder Haeckel

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) '"The Guards Ranger Battalion marching past General Lequis"; on the left, next to the Brandenburg Gate, the photographer Walter Gircke with camera' 10/11 December 1918

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
“The Guards Ranger Battalion marching past General Lequis”; on the left, next to the Brandenburg Gate, the photographer Walter Gircke with camera
10/11 December 1918, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Street battles on Christmas Eve in Berlin. Naval ratings in front of the ruined Palace entrance after bombardment by artillery' 24.12.1918

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Street battles on Christmas Eve in Berlin. Naval ratings in front of the ruined Palace entrance after bombardment by artillery
24.12.1918, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Street battles on Christmas Eve in Berlin. Naval ratings in front of the ruined Palace entrance after bombardment by artillery' 24.12.1918 (detail)

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Street battles on Christmas Eve in Berlin. Naval ratings in front of the ruined Palace entrance after bombardment by artillery (detail)
24.12.1918, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Street battles on Christmas Eve in Berlin. Naval ratings in front of the ruined Palace entrance after bombardment by artillery' 24.12.1918 (detail)

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Street battles on Christmas Eve in Berlin. Naval ratings in front of the ruined Palace entrance after bombardment by artillery (detail)
24.12.1918, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

 

The revolution in winter and spring 1918/19 was decided in the streets of the imperial capital, Berlin. Berliners celebrated the abdication of the German Emperor with demonstrations in front of the Reichstag and the palace on November 9th, 1918, in the newspaper quarter in January 1919 rolls of printing paper were used by the Spartacists to erect barricades against approaching government troops, after fighting had ceased, a large funeral procession crossed Frankfurter Allee to the cemetery in Friedrichsfelde. Press photographers were omnipresent with their big plate cameras, taking shots of orators in the crowd, soldiers behind machine-guns, vehicles carrying party posters in the National Assembly election campaign, and destroyed buildings and ravaged squares. At the same time, everyday life in the city went on. People went to the numerous cinemas with their expanding repertoire of films, enjoyed themselves at revues and cabarets, and danced the two-step and the foxtrot. The exhibition in the Museum für Fotografie shows both a photographic visual history of the revolution in Berlin and a panorama of the entertainment culture of those months.

The brothers Otto and Georg Haeckel were the most important press photographers during the first days of the revolution. As experienced war reporters, they reacted quickly to cover the spontaneous rallies on Unter den Linden and in front of the palace. The photographers worked without assignment and offered their images to publishers like Mosse or Ullstein. There are few visual records of the fighting itself. Rather, photographers took advantage of breaks in the fighting to recreate scenes on the barricades or with soldiers with readied weapons. The largest group of photos of the revolution of which the original contact prints survive is by Willy Römer. One of his photographs was even taken immediately before his own arrest by a troop of Spartacists.

Weekly newsreels in cinemas across Germany reported on the rallies and demonstrations in Berlin, showed film portraits of the ministers of the new imperial government, and confirmed the restoration of order by showing scenes from everyday life in the streets of the capital. At the same time, they solicited votes for the National Assembly. Given lengthy production times, the feature films of winter 1918/19 do not yet reflect the revolution in any way. But the suspension of censorship enabled the production of new, more daring films, which, for example, opposed the criminal persecution of homosexuals.

As a reaction to the end of the war and without as yet reckoning with the dangers of the revolution and its fighting, an unprecedented desire for pleasure-seeking reigned in Berlin during the winter and spring of 1918/19. Besides opera houses and straight theatres, Berliners frequented the popular operetta and revue theatres, as well as cinemas; they also went to ballrooms and drinking holes to dance. Some revues reacted to current issues like the housing shortage and the strikes. The poverty of war invalids was also a subject of popular music. The song ‘Bein ist Trumpf’ from 1919 alludes to the fate of four men maimed in the war: the dance with a wooden leg or prosthesis amid the workings of a world-apparatus that turns and turns without end.

Text from the Museum of Photography, Berlin website [Online] Cited 08/02/2019

 

Josef Steiner. 'Senta Söneland in her sketch "Pst! Pst!"'

 

Josef Steiner
Senta Söneland in her sketch “Pst! Pst!”
Poster for the performance in the Metropolitan Cabaret
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Demonstration of the soldiers for immediate demobilisation: Karl Liebknecht speaks in front of the Ministry of the Interior on Unter den Linden' 4.1.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Demonstration of the soldiers for immediate demobilisation: Karl Liebknecht speaks in front of the Ministry of the Interior on Unter den Linden
4.1.1919
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

 

Karl Liebknecht

Karl Paul August Friedrich Liebknecht (German 13 August 1871 – 15 January 1919) was a German socialist, originally in the Social Democrat (SPD) and later a co-founder with Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany which split way from the SPD. He is best known for his opposition to World War I in the Reichstag and his role in the Spartacist uprising of 1919. The uprising was crushed by the Social Democrat government and the Freikorps (paramilitary units formed of World War I veterans). Liebknecht and Luxemburg were executed.

After their deaths, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg became martyrs for Socialists. According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, commemoration of Liebknecht and Luxemburg continues to play an important role among the German left, including Die Linke (The Left). …

 

Revolution and death

Liebknecht was released again in October 1918, when Prince Maximilian of Baden granted an amnesty to all political prisoners. Upon his return to Berlin on 23 October he was escorted to the Soviet embassy by a crowd of workers. Following the outbreak of the German Revolution, Liebknecht carried on his activities in the Spartacist League. He resumed leadership of the group together with Luxemburg and published its party organ, Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag).

On 9 November, Liebknecht declared the formation of a Freie Sozialistische Republik (Free Socialist Republic) from a balcony of the Berliner Stadtschloss, two hours after Philipp Scheidemann’s declaration of a German Republic from a balcony of the Reichstag. On 31 December 1918/1 January 1919, Liebknecht was involved in the founding of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Together with Luxemburg, Jogiches and Zetkin, Liebknecht was also instrumental in the January 1919 Spartacist uprising in Berlin. Initially he and Luxemburg opposed the revolt, but they joined it after it had begun. The uprising was brutally opposed by the new German government under Friedrich Ebert with the help of the remnants of the Imperial German Army and militias called the Freikorps. By 13 January, the uprising had been extinguished. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were captured by Freikorps troops on 15 January 1919 and brought to the Eden Hotel in Berlin, where they were tortured and interrogated for several hours. Following this, Luxemburg was beaten with rifle butts and afterwards shot, and her corpse thrown into the Landwehr Canal, while Liebknecht was forced to step out of the car in which he was being transported, and he was then shot in the back. Official declarations said he had been shot in an attempt to escape. Although the circumstances were disputed by the perpetrators at the time, the Freikorps commander, Captain Waldemar Pabst, later claimed, “I had them executed”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Election propaganda with car, flags and posters "Vote List 4"' [Election propaganda automobile of the German National Party on the streets of Berlin] January 1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Election propaganda with car, flags [red] and posters “Vote List 4” [Election propaganda automobile of the German National Party on the streets of Berlin]
January 1919, later contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Paul Telemann. 'Mariposa. Fox-trot (Fuchs Dance)' 1919

 

Paul Telemann
Mariposa. Fox-trot (Fuchs Dance)
Music by Ernest Tompa
Berlin 1919
Sheet music, private collection
© Drei Masken-Verlag, Berlin-Munich

 

 

Fox Trot

“The new flu is here – and it is not Spanish, but English in origin, and it is known as “the new popular dance” […]. In Berlin, “Fox Trot steps” are applied to any old melody […]. Outside, they are banging away at the Palace […]. Machine-gun fire rattles around the advertising pillars, whose colourful posters bear invitations to Fox Trot teas.”

F.W. Koebner, in: Der Roland von Berlin, 1919

 

Film

In the years 1918 and 1919, the German film industry experienced pronounced growth tendencies. Among the most successful production firms of the era alongside Universum Film AG (Ufa), established in 1917 as a propaganda establishment by the Supreme Army Command, were the Projektions-AG Union (PAGU), the Decla-Film-Gesellschaft-Holz & Co. (later Decla-Bioskop), and the Deutsche Lichtspiel-Gesellschaft (Deulig, DLG). Alongside new, advantageous financing possibilities, it was the announcement of the abolition of film censorship in November of 1918 that inaugurated rising production figures. At the same time, lowered admission prices allowed cinema to become a leisure activity for broad social strata.

More than in any other German city, these developments were observable in Berlin: the greater part of the film industry was headquartered here, and accordingly, this continuously growing metropolis, with approximately 200 cinemas, became a centre of attraction for representatives of all cinematic branches.

Immediately after November 9, 1918, the revolution played virtually no role in the city’s multifarious cinematic program – primarily responsible for this was production scheduling for most films, which usually entailed intervals of many months. In the course of 1919, the film industry responded emphatically to current political events, releasing a series of feature films that either thematised the revolutionary goings-on explicitly or at least alluded to them.

 

Newsreel 1918/19

With their compilations of up-to-date documentary film footage, the Wochenschauen (weekly newsreels) were able to convey impressions of revolutionary events in Berlin to a contemporary public more quickly than other film genres. Launched during World War I, this format – which was screened in cinemas before main features – soon became the most important medium of information for large segments of the population.

Only a portion of the newsreel editions produced by German firms and pertaining to the revolutionary events of 1918-19 in Berlin have survived, and in many instances only as fragments. Among them are numbered editions of the Messter-Woche, named for their initiator, the film pioneer Oskar Messter. With the aid of these 5-15-minute short films, produced under time pressure and with minimal technical expenditures or design features, it becomes possible to reconstruct central stages of the revolution – and the perspectives of contemporary film journalists of these events.

 

Joe May

Among the most productive directors in Berlin at the time was the Austrian Joe May, who – like the majority of participants in Berlin’s film world – observed the revolutionary events in the city only from a distance. In his monumental films, his wife Mia May played the main role. Veritas vincit, premiered in April of 1919, is an elaborately outfitted historical film whose episodic plot revolves around the transmigration of souls. During 1919, Joe May intensified his cinematic approach, oriented toward spectacular entertainments, with the production of an eight-part adventure film entitled The Mistress of the World, outfitted with an exotic flair.

Wall texts

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Spartacists behind barricades made from rolled newspaper in front of the Mosse building (Berliner Tageblatt) on Schützenstraße at the corner of Jerusalemerstraße' 11.1.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Spartacists behind barricades made from rolled newspaper in front of the Mosse building (Berliner Tageblatt) on Schützenstraße at the corner of Jerusalemerstraße
11.1.1919, later contact print
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

 

The Spartacists

A member of a group of German radical socialists formed in 1916 and in 1919 becoming the German Communist Party, led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. In December 1918, some of the Spartacists – including Luxemburg and Liebknecht – founded the German Communist Party. Luxemburg had written numerous pamphlets about Lenin and how his leadership of theRussian Revolution would be of such great value to Russia.

While her political philosophy may well have merited such pamphlets, many Germans (and Europeans in general) were terrified of the ‘Red Plague’ in Russia and the adoption of the name ‘communist’ was fraught with danger. Many soldiers had returned from the war fronts massively disillusioned with the German government and hugely suspicious of anything that smacked of left-wing political beliefs. Many who had quit the German Army joined the right wing Free Corps (Freikorps). These would have been battle-hardened men who had been subjected to military discipline.

In January 1919, the Communists rose up in revolt in Berlin. In every sense it was a futile gesture against the government. Ebert withdrew his government to the safety of Weimar and allowed the Freikorps and what remained of the regular army to bring peace and stability back to Berlin once again. No mercy was shown to the Spartacists / Communists whose leaders were murdered after being arrested. The Freikorps was better organised and armed – they also had a military background. The majority of the Spartacists were civilians. No-one doubted who would win.

C. N. Trueman. “The Spartacists,” on The History Learning Site, 22 May 2015 [Online] Cited 09/02/2019

 

Spartacist uprising

The Spartacist uprising (German: Spartakusaufstand), also known as the January uprising (Januaraufstand), was a general strike (and the armed battles accompanying it) in Germany from 5 to 12 January 1919. Germany was in the middle of a post-war revolution, and two of the perceived paths forward were either social democracy or a council republic similar to the one which had been established by the Bolsheviks in Russia. The uprising was primarily a power struggle between the moderate Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) led by Friedrich Ebert, and the radical communists of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who had previously founded and led the Spartacist League (Spartakusbund). This power struggle was the result of the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the resignation of Chancellor Max von Baden, who had passed power to Ebert, as the leader of the largest party in the German parliament. Similar uprisings occurred and were suppressed in Bremen, the Ruhr, Rhineland, Saxony, Hamburg, Thuringia and Bavaria, and another round of even bloodier street battles occurred in Berlin in March, which led to popular disillusionment with the Weimar Government.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Machine-gun post behind barricades consisting of rolled newspaper in front of the Mosse building on Schützenstraße' 11.1.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Machine-gun post behind barricades consisting of rolled newspaper in front of the Mosse building on Schützenstraße
11.1.1919, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
13 x 18 cm
Ullstein picture
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Machine-gun post behind barricades consisting of rolled newspaper in front of the Mosse building on Schützenstraße' 11.1.1919 (detail)

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Machine-gun post behind barricades consisting of rolled newspaper in front of the Mosse building on Schützenstraße (detail)
11.1.1919, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
13 x 18 cm
Ullstein picture
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Wolfgang Ortmann (1885-1967) 'Song from the Strike from Halloh! Halloh!' Berlin 1919

 

Wolfgang Ortmann (1885-1967)
Song from the Strike from Halloh! Halloh!
Berlin 1919
Cabaret pieces by Fritz Grünbaum. Music by Rudolf Nelson
Sheet Music with Portrait of Käthe
Erlholz, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Music Department
© Wolfgang Ortmann / Kollo-Verlag GmbH, Berlin

 

 

With more than 300 photographs, postcards, posters, sheet music, newspapers and magazines, film clips, newsreels and audio stations, the exhibition at the Museum of Photography shows a photographic picture of the 1918-19 revolution in Berlin as a panorama of the entertainment culture of these troubled months.

The revolution in the winter and spring of 1918-19 and thus the struggle for the construction of the first German republic decided in the streets of the capital Berlin. Berliners celebrated the abdication of the Emperor on November 9, 2018 with demonstrations in front of the Reichstag and the castle. In January 1919, in the newspaper district, barricades of the Spartacists were erected from printing paper rolls against the advancing government troops. After the end of the fighting, the great funeral procession moved to the cemetery in Friedrichsfelde via Frankfurter Allee.

There were always press photographers recording the speakers in the crowd, the soldiers behind the machine guns, the parties’ party wagons for the National Assembly elections and the ruined houses and devastated squares. But at the same time, everyday life in the city continued, people visited the many cinemas with their expanding film offering, amused themselves in revues and cabarets, danced One-Step, Two-Step and Foxtrot.

The photographers did not provide an objective picture of the story. They could not work all focal points, so their cameras judged the events according to subjective criteria and they determined with the image what should be handed down. And yet their recordings bring the events back to life. For example, the photographs help with the reconstruction of dramatic episodes such as the Christmas battles for the castle and the stables between the Volksmarine Division and government troops.

They show the huge number of mourners around Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg and exemplify the involvement of actress Senta Söneland as election campaign speaker for the National Assembly. The press photos also allow critical inquiries into the history of the revolution: the clothes of the demonstrators and the fighters suggest that by no means only workers and soldiers, but also employees and commoners engaged politically.

In the first days of the revolution, the brothers Otto and Georg Haeckel were the most important press photographers. As experienced war reporters, they were quick to accompany the spontaneous rallies at Unter den Linden and in front of the castle. They worked without a commission and offered publishers such as Mosse or Ullstein their photographs as contact prints in the format 13 x 18 cm for the weekly picture supplements of the daily newspapers (eg for the “Zeitbilder” of the “Vossische Zeitung”) or magazines (eg the “Berliner Illustrirte Newspaper”).

There are few photographs as evidence of the fighting itself. Rather, the photographers used the breaks in fighting to recreate scenes of soldiers with shot-guns or at the barricades. From Willy Römer most of the images of the revolution in original contact prints are handed down. One of his photographs was even made immediately before his own arrest by a squad of Spartacists. Romans had a keen eye for the special situations of everyday life, when he photographed the unusual means of transportation of the Berliners during the general strike in January.

In the cinemas, the newsreels throughout Germany reported on the rallies and demonstrations in Berlin, produced film portraits of the ministers of the new Reich government and, as proof of the restored order, showed everyday scenes from the streets of the capital. At the same time, they campaigned for the National Assembly. The humorous short film “Anna Müller-Lincke kandidiert” (“Anna Müller-Lincke is a candidate”) presented the colourful range of candidates and challenged the population to make their own electoral decision. Due to the longer production processes, the feature films offered no reflection on the revolution in the winter of 1918-19. However, the lifting of censorship enabled the production of new, daring films that were directed against the criminal prosecution of homosexuals. Immediately after the revolutionary event in Berlin, Richard Oswald‘s work “Anders als die Andern” (“Different from the Others”) began, the first film explicitly referring to Paragraph 175.

One of the most significant feature films on the revolution and at the same time a representative example of the socio-democratic values supported by the film industry is “Die entfesselte Menschheit” (“Unleashed humanity”) by Joseph Delmont, which was released in cinemas in 1920. Willy Römer was a press photographer during filming of barricades in Kreuzberg in autumn. His photographs are more dramatic than many photographs of the revolution the year before.

In response to the end of the war and without first taking into account the dangers of the revolutionary struggles, an unprecedented desire for pleasure prevailed in Berlin during the winter and spring of 1918-19. In addition to opera houses and straight theatres, the Berliners frequented the more popular operetta and revue theatres, the cinemas, as well as ballrooms and Kaschemmen (bars) to dance there. Operettas like “Schwarzwaldmädel” (“Black forest girl”) in the Komische Oper (Comic Opera) were supposed to transport the audience into an ideal world and distract them from the everyday life of war and revolution.

But there were also revues that responded daily to topics such as the housing problem and the strikes like “Halloh! Halloh!” by Rudolf Nelson (music) and Fritz Grünbaum (text). The misery of war invalids was also a subject of popular music. In the song “Bein ist Trumpf” from the year 1919, the fate of many war-injured men is addressed: the dance with the wooden leg or the prosthesis in the transmission of an ever-rotating world structure. At the same time, the footage of the press photographers showed them with crutches and tied to wheelchairs and their protests against the insufficient supply.

The exhibition in the Museum of Photography is essentially based on the archive of Willy Römers, which is preserved in the Photography Collection of the Art Library – National Museums in Berlin. The comprehensive holdings of the bpk-Bildagentur and ullstein bild offer valuable additions. For the field of film and entertainment culture, exhibits from the graphic design collection of the Art Library have be used. Important loans come from the Music Department of the National Museums in Berlin, from the Deutsche Kinemathek Foundation, the Falkensee Museum and Gallery, and from private collections.

Press release from the Museum of Photography, Berlin translated from the German by Google Translate Cited 08/02/2019

 

With more than 300 photographs, postcards, posters, sheet music, newspapers and magazines, film clips, newsreels and audio stations, the exhibition at Museum für Fotografie shows both a photographic history of the 1918-19 revolution in Berlin as a panorama of the entertainment culture of these troubled months.

The revolution in winter and spring 1918/19 was decided in the streets of the imperial capital, Berlin. Berliners celebrated the abdication of the German Emperor with demonstrations in front of the Reichstag and the palace on November 9th, 1918, in the newspaper quarter in January 1919 rolls of printing paper were used by the Spartacists to erect barricades against approaching government troops, after fighting had ceased, a large funeral procession crossed Frankfurter Allee to the cemetery in Friedrichsfelde. Press photographers were omnipresent with their big plate cameras, taking shots of orators in the crowd, soldiers behind machine-guns, vehicles carrying party posters in the National Assembly election campaign, and destroyed buildings and ravaged squares. At the same time, everyday life in the city went on. People went to the numerous cinemas with their expanding repertoire of films, enjoyed themselves at revues and cabarets, and danced the two-step and the foxtrot. The exhibition in the Museum für Fotografie shows both a photographic visual history of the revolution in Berlin and a panorama of the entertainment culture of those months.

The brothers Otto and Georg Haeckel were the most important press photographers during the first days of the revolution. As experienced war reporters, they reacted quickly to cover the spontaneous rallies on Unter den Linden and in front of the palace. The photographers worked without assignment and offered their images to publishers like Mosse or Ullstein. There are few visual records of the fighting itself. Rather, photographers took advantage of breaks in the fighting to recreate scenes on the barricades or with soldiers with readied weapons. The largest group of photos of the revolution of which the original contact prints survive is by Willy Römer. One of his photographs was even taken immediately before his own arrest by a troop of Spartacists.

Weekly newsreels in cinemas across Germany reported on the rallies and demonstrations in Berlin, showed film portraits of the ministers of the new imperial government, and confirmed the restoration of order by showing scenes from everyday life in the streets of the capital. At the same time, they solicited votes for the National Assembly. Given lengthy production times, the feature films of winter 1918/19 do not yet reflect the revolution in any way. But the suspension of censorship enabled the production of new, more daring films, which, for example, opposed the criminal persecution of homosexuals.

As a reaction to the end of the war and without as yet reckoning with the dangers of the revolution and its fighting, an unprecedented desire for pleasure-seeking reigned in Berlin during the winter and spring of 1918/19. Besides opera houses and straight theatres, Berliners frequent-ed the popular operetta and revue theatres, as well as cinemas; they also went to ballrooms and drinking holes to dance. Some revues reacted to current issues like the housing shortage and the strikes. The poverty of war invalids was also a subject of popular music. The song ‘Bein ist Trumpf’ from 1919 alludes to the fate of four men maimed in the war: the dance with a wooden leg or prosthesis amid the workings of a world-apparatus that turns and turns without end.

Press release from the Museum of Photography, Berlin in English [Online] Cited 08/02/2019

 

Walter Gircke. 'Elections to the National Assembly in Berlin. Agitation by the actress Senta Söneland in front of the Zoologischer Garten station' [National Assembly in Berlin: agitation by the actress Senta Söneland] January 1919

 

Walter Gircke
Elections to the National Assembly in Berlin. Agitation by the actress Senta Söneland in front of the Zoologischer Garten station [National Assembly in Berlin: agitation by the actress Senta Söneland]
January 1919
Postcard
© bpk / Walter Gircke

 

 

Senta Söneland

Senta Söneland (née Werder) was born in 1882 the daughter of a Prussian officer. She attended a higher girls’ school and then a teacher seminar, but also took additional training courses at the Berlin Schiller Theater.

In 1910 she received her first engagement at the Hoftheater Meiningen. In 1912 she returned to Berlin and in the following years appeared on various stages such as the Komödienhaus, the Theater am Kurfürstendamm and the Metropol-Theater. As at the beginning of the war in 1914, when theatre life was severely impaired, she sought like many other actors of the time their chance in film.

Söneland was known primarily as a comedian in film comedies. After a long absence from the screen in the 1920s, she had many performances as a supporting actress at the beginning of the sound film era after 1930. She also participated in entertainment evenings on the radio. So she was heard in the program Kunterbunt with the Berlin Radio Chapel.

The artist was politically involved in women’s suffrage, and her fiery speech on 19 January 1919 at the Berlin Zoo Station on the occasion of the election to the National Assembly (see photograph above) is remembered above all.

After the sudden death of her husband, Söneland said goodbye in 1934 and took her own life a little later. She was buried in the cemetery Wilmersdorf in Berlin.

Text from the Wikipedia website translated from the German

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hoardings with SPD election posters' before 19.1.1919

 

Unknown photographer
Hoardings with SPD election posters
before 19.1.1919
Old contact print
Gelatin silver print
bpk

 

 

 

 

Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others) 1919 Homosexuality Advocacy Film

Different from the Others (German: Anders als die Andern, literally ‘Other than the Others’) is a German film produced during the Weimar Republic. It was first released in 1919 and stars Conrad Veidt and Reinhold Schünzel. The story was co-written by Richard Oswald and Magnus Hirschfeld, who also had a small part in the film and partially funded the production through his Institute for Sexual Science. The film was intended as a polemic against the then-current laws under Germany’s Paragraph 175, which made homosexuality a criminal offense. It is believed to be the first pro-gay film in the world.

The cinematography was by Max Fassbender, who two years previously had worked on Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray, one of the earliest cinematic treatments of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Director Richard Oswald later became a director of more mainstream films, as did his son Gerd. Veidt became a major film star the year after Anders was released, in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Anders als die Andern is one of the first sympathetic portrayals of homosexuals in the cinema. The film’s basic plot was used again in the 1961 UK film, Victim, starring Dirk Bogarde. Censorship laws enacted in reaction to films like Anders als die Andern eventually restricted viewing of this movie to doctors and medical researchers, and prints of the film were among the many “decadent” works burned by the Nazis after they came to power in 1933.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Paragraph 175

Paragraph 175 (known formally as §175 StGB; also known as Section 175 in English) was a provision of the German Criminal Code from 15 May 1871 to 10 March 1994. It made homosexual acts between males a crime, and in early revisions the provision also criminalised bestiality as well as forms of prostitution and underage sexual abuse. All in all, around 140,000 men were convicted under the law.

The statute drew legal influence from previous measures, including those undertaken by the Holy Roman Empire and Prussian states. It was amended several times. The Nazis broadened the law in 1935; in the prosecutions that followed, thousands died in concentration camps as a widespread social persecution of homosexuals took place.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Different from the Others

The director and producer Richard Oswald (1880-1863) is regarded as the founder of the so-called Sitten- or Aufklärungsfilm (i.e. a film concerned with public morals or sex education) – a genre that took up socially taboo themes such as the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, drug consumption, or topics such as abortion and homosexuality, activities still subject to criminal prosecution at that time. The production of such films, propelled by an educational impetus, was intimately bound up with the abolition of censor-ship in Germany, announced in November of 1918. For Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others), the first film to take an explicit stand against Paragraph 175, which made homosexual acts between males a crime, Oswald called upon the expertise of the sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld as his advisor.

The film narrates the story of the violinist Paul Körner, who is blackmailed by a male prostitute who threatens to reveal his homosexuality, and is finally charged with violating Paragraph 175. In a central scene of the film, Magnus Hirschfeld – who plays himself – delivers a plea for tolerance of homosexuals. To be sure, the blackmailer is condemned, but so too is Körner, found guilty of infringing Paragraph 175. In despair over the social ruin brought about by the verdict, he commits suicide.

 

Folkets Ven, Die entfesselte Menschheit, and Irrwahn (Mania)

The Danish film Folkets Ven arrived in German cinemas in December of 1918 under the distribution title Söhne des Volkes (Sons of the People). In Berlin, the production of films about the political upheavals had just be-gun, necessitating a recourse to import films in order to entertain – and to influence – Berlin cinema-goers. In the magazine Der Kinematograph, the film was promoted as “a new film for a new time” with the message: “For the unification of the socialist groups, against Bolshevism.”

One of the most important feature films dating from around the time of the revolution, and at the same time a typical document of the (social) democratic values reinforced by the film industry, is Die entfesselte Menschheit (Humanity Unchained). Narrated in this “key work of anti-Bolshevist film” is the story of a group of German prisoners of war who return to a Berlin that has been convulsed by Spartacist battles, and are steered toward participation in a bloody civil war by the Bolshevist fanatic Karenow. Approximately 17,000 extras took part in this ambitious undertaking, part of it filmed on Am Tempelhofer Berg, a street in Kreuzberg.

Along with their anti-Bolshevist tendencies, the principal characteristic of the “political problem films” produced around 1919 and 1922, with their references to the revolution, was a deliberate renunciation of any explicit identification of the location of the events. In Irrwahn (Mania), filmed in Berlin in 1919 and heralded in the press as a “socialist-revolutionary drama,” the director Hans Werckmeister maintains a certain ambiguity about whether the events are taking place in Germany, Russia, or in some imaginary fantasy land.

 

Nerven (Nerves)

Robert Reinert’s influential silent film drama Nerven (Nerves) had only a brief reception among the contemporary cinema public: after its premiere in December of 1919, a number of spectators are said to have developed symptoms of madness. As a consequence, the censors resolved upon radical interventions which left the film in an utterly mutilated state. The story of Roloff, a wealthy factory owner who loses his faith in technological progress during the revolutionary turmoil occurring at the end of World War I, his sister Marja, who is committed to armed struggle against the ruling powers, and the teacher Johannes, who calls for social reforms at the people’s assembly, offers a multifaceted description of the traumatic impact of war and revolution on the psychological states of human individuals. Observable in Nerven are design elements that are immediately reminiscent of Expressionism: close-up shots of faces registering intense emotion, gloomy, oversized buildings, dissolves suggestive of menace, as well as striking effects of light and shadow. This fateful historic document has now been successfully reconstructed from fragments.

Wall texts

 

 

 

Nerves (Germany, 1919)

The films tells the political disputes of an ultraconservative factory owner Herr Roloff and Teacher John, who feels a compulsive but secret love for Roloff’s sister, a left-wing radical. They are all driven psychologically and morally to the borderline, tormented souls living their lives in a tormented country.

Duration: 110 Minutes
Director, Producer, Screenplay: Robert Reinert
Starring: Eduard von Winterstein, Lia Borré, Erna Morena, Paul Bender, Lili Dominici, Rio Ellbon, Margarete Tondeur, Paul Burgen Reconstruction
Producer: Stefan Drössler
Cinematography: Helmar Lerski

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Fighting in the Berlin newspaper district. The Vorwärts building after being bombarded by government troops' [The Spartacist had barricaded themselves inside the Vorwärts building. The photo shows the Vorwärts building after an artillery assault by government troops] 11.1.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Fighting in the Berlin newspaper district. The Vorwärts building after being bombarded by government troops [The Spartacist had barricaded themselves inside the Vorwärts building. The photo shows the Vorwärts building after an artillery assault by government troops]
11.1.1919, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'General strike in Berlin. Moving van as barricade on Prenzlauer Straße' 7.3.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
General strike in Berlin. Moving van as barricade on Prenzlauer Straße
7.3.1919, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Street battles in Berlin. Battleplace Alexanderplatz with the downed lines of the tram' 8.3.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Street battles in Berlin. Battleplace Alexanderplatz with the downed lines of the tram
8.3.1919, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'View of the funeral procession in the Frankfurter Allee on the occasion of the funeral of Rosa Luxemburg' [Funeral of Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Funeral procession on Große Frankfurter Strasse] 13.6.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
View of the funeral procession in the Frankfurter Allee on the occasion of the funeral of Rosa Luxemburg [Funeral of Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Funeral procession on Große Frankfurter Strasse]
13.6.1919
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

 

Artistic Dance

During the revolutionary period of 1918-19, artistic or expressive dance – whose best-known exponent, Mary Wigman, was accorded considerable acclaim even before World War I – was characterised by heightened variety and intensity. The aim of the tendency was to generate a new conception of humanity through the unity of music, movement, costume, and stage design. Expressive rhythm and a natural approach to bodily experience harmonised well with the expressive forms of the artistic avant-gardes, in particular Expressionist painting. The search for modern expressive resources that were remote from classical balletic conventions was spearheaded by renowned dance reformers. Among them were Valeska Gert, with her grotesque caricature dances, Anita Berber, with her eccentric and erotic performances, and Gret Palucca, with her powerful leaps. But Hannelore Ziegler – no longer a familiar figure today – too numbered among the representatives of these new, contemporary dance forms.

 

Erna Offeney

Erna Offeney (1888-1977), one of the less-known erotic dancers and ballet mistresses, who is presented here in a larger context for the first time, headed her own touring ballet company, with up to 150 ensemble members, which made acclaimed guest performances throughout Germany and Switzerland, as well as Vienna. In a way that is characteristic of the pre-revolutionary era, she wrote in her diary: “It was 1918, the final year of the war, the theatre was full of soldiers on leave who wanted to forget the miseries of war during this brief intermezzo, and were delighted with every diversion and pleasure. Most were invalids, cripples who had been obliged to sacrifice arms or legs for the Fatherland. They were scattered throughout every town, and nearly every family lamented the presence of a member in such a state, and depending upon temperament, those affected – or those who were more foreseeing – were suffused with hate or gloomy resignation […] And then came the applause, which never seemed to end. In the orchestra area, I saw two soldiers, each one-armed, slapping their single hands together in order to applaud. Seeing this, I nearly wept.”

 

‘Nude’ and Erotic Dance

During the revolutionary period of 1918/1919, ‘nude’ dance, erotic ballet, and erotic dance enjoyed a decided popularity. At the same time, the war wounded and war cripples filled the streets of Berlin. “The sheer profusion of erotic dance performances – appearing in every cabaret, in every better dance club, in every bar that offered the public music and entertainment, were nude dancers or groups of dancers – this mass phenomenon only became possible after the war,” wrote Hans Ostwald in 1931. “Favouring the movement was a lust for life that sprang from sheer misery, and the greater general freedom.” But the abolition of censorship also promoted the proliferation of such offerings. Although the dancers were for the most part clad in gossamer fabrics, with breasts and privates veiled, they appeared to be naked. Performances by dancers such as Olga Desmond and Celly de Rheydt belonged in the context of the movement toward naturism and nudism.

 

Ballroom Dancing

The great dance wave, the dance frenzy, the dance craze – all referred to the mass phenomenon of dance as a form of participatory entertainment among the populace of Berlin after World War I. This form of enjoyment was ubiquitous, with each dancer dancing for a different reason: for one, dancing compensated for the general misery. Another enjoyed the license to dance when and where it pleased – a freedom that accompanied the demise of the Wilhelminian moral codex. Depending upon the financial resources available, people met in the elegant dance clubs in the city centre, or instead shook a leg in dives found in the northern and eastern districts of Berlin. The new popular dances – ragtime, jazz, the Boston waltz, the shimmy, but first and foremost the foxtrot – found their ways into dance clubs, dance halls and ballrooms, dance floors, and hotel lobbies, and were an essential component of the amusement and entertainment industry that expanded explosively after the war. The rapidly growing number of performances of operettas and revues meant that a public hungry for diversion was continuously exposed to new hit tunes. Thus primed, they spread out onto the dance floor, with dance bands providing the requisite atmosphere of exuberance.

 

Sheet Music Cover Pages

Originally, sheet music cover pages were little more than decorative ‘accessories’ accompanying printed music. At the same time, they mirror contemporary social and political life. Observable around 1918/19 are topical foci such as emancipation and the pleasures of dance, eroticism, fashion, beauty, and film. In some instances, sheet music cover pages were furnished with portraits of interpreters whose names were familiar through the advertisements that appeared in the daily press. Like the artist’s postcards so widely disseminated at the time, these images allowed the public to see the stars at least in picture form – not everyone could afford tickets to live operetta or revue appearances.

Domestic music-making, including light music, was widespread. Inseparable from such activities were the countless popular dance forms. And all of this required accessible sheet music. With the growing vogue for revues, operettas, film operettas, and burlesques after the end of World War I, the circulation figures of printed music rose quickly. After the recent horrors, there title motifs satisfied a yearning for togetherness, harmony, happiness, and a peaceful life.

 

Places of Entertainment and Amusement

In 1918/19, entertainment was of paramount importance. As much can be gathered from numerous travel guides intended for visitors to Berlin, such as those by Grieben. These supplied tips for performances of operettas, burlesques, revues, promoted information on which cabarets and coffee-houses provide live music, recommended dance halls, and offered general information on other entertainment options. Providing guidance is well were the advertising pages of daily newspapers such as the Vossische Zeitung, the Berliner Tageblatt, and the Berliner Volkszeitung. Found in particular on Friedrichstraße, Behrensstraße, and Jägerstraße alongside theatres and operetta stages were ballrooms, dance clubs, dance cafés, concert houses, cabarets, and coffeehouses. Advertised as well were summer theatre performances and garden concerts where military bands supplied the music. With seating for up to 3000 people, they were frequented by numerous visitors. In the working class district of Prenzlauer Berg, there was the Prater Summer Garden; in Treptow, the Zenner Beer Garden – every urban district had its entertainment establishments featuring concert and dance. And all promoted themselves through specially printed postcards, so that today, we have a detailed picture of the sheer variety that prevailed at the time.

Wall texts

 

Robert L. Leonard. '"Strindberg's intoxication" with Asta Nielsen' 1.8.1919

 

Robert L. Leonard
“Strindberg’s intoxication” with Asta Nielsen
1.8.1919
Alfred Abel, Carl Meinhard
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Poster for the premiere of the film in UT Kurfürstendamm
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Dismissed soldiers and unemployed. The gaming tables in front of the employment office in Gormannstraße' [Gambling den in front of the employment agency on Gormannstraße. For strengthening during the game, there is coffee and cake at the next table] 24.11.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Dismissed soldiers and unemployed. The gaming tables in front of the employment office in Gormannstraße [Gambling den in front of the employment agency on Gormannstraße. For strengthening during the game, there is coffee and cake at the next table]
24.11.1919, later contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

'Berlin in the revolution 1918/19' catalogue cover

 

Berlin in the revolution 1918/19 catalogue cover

 

 

Museum für Fotografie
Jebensstraße 2, 10623 Berlin, Germany
T: +49 30 266424242

Opening hours:
Tues – Sunday 11am – 7pm

Museum für Fotografie website

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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

.
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.”

.
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)

 

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02
May
18

Exhibition: ‘Raoul Hausmann. Vision in Action’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 6th February – 20th May 2018

Curator: Cécile Bargues

 

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Untitled (Vera Broïdo)' c. 1931

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Untitled (Vera Broïdo)
c. 1931
© ADAGP, Paris, 2018
© Berlinische Galerie – Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

Spirit of his time?

Surrealism, solarisation, mobiles, photomontage, geometric repetition and simplification of form, directional lighting, distortion, female allusions, strong use of diagonals, romanticism, poetics. All the usual tropes of the photographic art of the day are present, but somehow the images never move me, or impinge lastingly on my consciousness.

Hausmann’s work sits at the intersection of New Vision (the development of photography as a medium of untold expressive power and as a primary vehicle of modern consciousness) and New Objectivity (a sharply focused, objective documentary quality; a movement in German art that arose during the 1920s as a reaction against expressionism) photographic movements. The interstices of freedom and wonder, which he referred to as ‘beauty without beauty’, both experimental and ‘classical’ at the same time.

I’m not convinced. “His images of plants, sea spray, changing light and materials, are images of disorder, stripped of all authoritarian vision.” Really? To me his work seems very authoritarian… very male, very objective but subjected to the photographers’ will. Triumph of the Will.

I’d rather look at the infinitely more interesting female artists of the era, for example Eva BesnyöClaude CahunGermaine Krull or Florence Henri to name but a few. Now they were cooking with gas!

Marcus

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

 

To this day, Raoul Hausmann’s photography has not had a dedicated museum exhibition in France. As a photographer, Hausmann has long remained underrated and unheralded. However his key position in 20th century avant-garde photography has continually been re-evaluated and his importance is widely acknowledged these days.

We know Hausmann as the prominent artist of Dada Berlin, as the author of assemblages, collages, lautgedichte, etc, yet the vicissitudes of history caused the obliteration of his photography, an essential facet of his œuvre. From 1927 onwards Hausmann became an avid and restless photographer. His photographic practice quickly became a cornerstone of his multi-faceted reflections and activities, pushing him in a new direction which culminated in his forced departure from Ibiza in 1936.

Considering Hausmann’s clandestine crossing of the century, it is no surprise that his photographic œuvre was forgotten. Labelled a ‘degenerate’ artist by the Nazis, he hastily left Germany in 1933. As an exile, Hausmann suffered the dispersion, and sometimes the destruction, of his work. His photography was seldom displayed and survived unnoticed until the late seventies. It was long supposed to be lost, until an archive (now at the Berlinische Galerie) was almost miraculously discovered at his daughter’s home after her death.

 

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Untitled (Dune Landscape)' Between 1927 and 1933

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Untitled (Dune Landscape)
Between 1927 and 1933
© ADAGP, Paris, 2018
© Berlinische Galerie – Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Enfants de la Frise [Children of Friesland]' Between 1927 and 1933

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Enfants de la Frise [Children of Friesland]
Between 1927 and 1933
© ADAGP, Paris, 2018
© Berlinische Galerie – Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Nu sur la plage [Nude on the beach]' Between 1927 and 1933

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Nu sur la plage [Nude on the beach]
Between 1927 and 1933
© Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de Saint-Étienne Métropole
© ADAGP, Paris, 2017

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Untitled (Chrysanthemum flower)' Between 1927 and 1933

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Untitled (Chrysanthemum flower)
Between 1927 and 1933
© ADAGP, Paris, 2018
© Berlinische Galerie – Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

Highlights of the exhibition

  • Raoul Hausmann was a central figure of the Berlin Dada movement, a pioneer of sound poetry, who spearheaded collage and photomontage. He was also a writer, editor, and experimenter across all genres. Franz Jung referred to him as a ‘cultural agitator of 1920s’ Berlin’. In the late 1930s, Hausmann was also a passionate, prolific, sensitive and lyrical photographer. Bringing together over 130 vintage prints, all produced by Hausmann himself, this exhibition presents a photographic oeuvre that has remained unrecognised and unheralded for too long.
    .
  • This is the first time that Hausmann’s photographic work has been the subject of such an extensive retrospective in France. The exhibition opens at the Point du Jour in Cherbourg, before coming to the Jeu de Paume. ‘Raoul Hausmann. Vision in Action’ benefits from a number of exceptional loans, from institutions boasting collections of work by the artist, primarily the Musée départemental d’art contemporain de Rochechouart and the Berlinische Galerie; collections that continued to grow until relatively recently. Other first-rate public and private collections, both in France and Germany, have contributed to the exhibition, with some work being displayed for the first time.
    .
  • In 1931, Hausmann considered himself a photographer. His practice was honed far from Berlin, in the dunes of the Baltic and the North Sea. An emotive photographer, capturing remarkable moments or sights on his numerous walks, he never sought the perfection of an overly immaculate image, seamlessly constructed and arranged, but rather the interstices of freedom and wonder, which he referred to as ‘beauty without beauty’. This sense of calm or tranquillity can be seen in the way his work has resisted and maintained its dignity, against the ravages of time.
    .
  • Within the space of an intense decade – from 1927 until his forced departure in 1936, from the island of Ibiza, where he had sought refuge in 1933, shortly after the Nazis’ rise to power – Raoul Hausmann produced over a thousand prints, many of which were published or exhibited in their day, before taking up residence in the archives of memory. These images and their diffusion situated him in a specific milieu – Germany, Paris (where he spent time in 1935), and later in Czechoslovakia (the only retrospective devoted to the artist’s work during his lifetime was held in Prague, in 1937). Hausmann’s work incites the public to reflect upon a network and history of photography, inhabited by figures such as August Sander, Raoul Ubac, László Moholy-Nagy, etc.
    .
  • At the crossroads of the New Vision and New Objectivity photographic movements, Raoul Hausmann’s work is constructed within a poetics of distance or difference with regard to normality. Both experimental and ‘classical’ at the same time, he liked nothing better than resolving and surpassing oppositions. His sublime sculptural and mineral nudes contrast with the monstrosity of the Nazi body. His images of plants, sea spray, changing light and materials, are images of disorder, stripped of all authoritarian vision. In all respects, this photography, produced using a bare minimum of equipment, serves a project of a heightened existence.
    .
  • Hausmann reflected about the social and political uses of images, particularly in Ibiza, in his work on vernacular architecture, an inventory of buildings that aimed to invalidate the idea of ‘origin’ and ‘race’. This project around the notion of habitat, in the philosophical sense of the term, responds ultimately, like the ensemble of his work, to the maxim that underlines his oeuvre: ‘you alone should construct the limits of your universe’.

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Untitled (Foot in the sand)' c. 1931

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Untitled (Foot in the sand)
c. 1931
© ADAGP, Paris, 2018
© Berlinische Galerie – Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Untitled (Dune grass)' c. 1931

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Untitled (Dune grass)
c. 1931
© ADAGP, Paris, 2018
© Berlinische Galerie – Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Petite Fleur en Herbe [Small flower in grass]' 1932

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Petite Fleur en Herbe [Small flower in grass]
1932
Photomontage
© ADAGP, Paris, 2018
© Berlinische Galerie – Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Untitled (Thistle)' 1932

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Untitled (Thistle)
1932
© ADAGP, Paris, 2018
© Berlinische Galerie – Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Dune mobile' September 1931

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Dune mobile
September 1931
© ADAGP, Paris, 2018
© Berlinische Galerie – Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Deux nus féminins allongés sur une plage [Two naked women lying on a beach]' c. 1931-1934

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Deux nus féminins allongés sur une plage [Two naked women lying on a beach]
c. 1931-1934
© ADAGP, Paris, 2017
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI. Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Guy Carrard

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Untitled' 1931

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Untitled
1931
© Musée départemental d’art contemporain de Rochechouart

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Regard dans le miroir' 1930

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Regard dans le miroir
1930
© Musée départemental d’art contemporain de Rochechouart

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Untitled' 1931

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Untitled
1931
© Musée départemental d’art contemporain de Rochechouart

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'The Triangle (Vera Broïdo)' c. 1931

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
The Triangle (Vera Broïdo)
c. 1931
Coll. Marc Smirnow
© ADAGP, Paris, 2017

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'The Triangle (Vera Broïdo)' c. 1931

 

Alternate version

 

 

To this day, Raoul Hausmann’s photography has not had a dedicated museum exhibition in France. As a photographer, Hausmann has long remained underrated and unheralded. However his key position in 20th century avant-garde photography has continually been re-evaluated and his importance is widely acknowledged these days.

We know Hausmann as the prominent artist of Dada Berlin, as the author of assemblages, collages, lautgedichte, etc, yet the vicissitudes of history caused the obliteration of his photography, an essential facet of his oeuvre. From 1927 onwards Hausmann became an avid and restless photographer. His photographic practice quickly became a cornerstone of his multi-faceted reflections and activities, pushing him in a new direction which culminated in his forced departure from Ibiza in 1936.

Between 1927 and 1936, Hausmann engaged in a discussion about the nature and the role of photography with August Sander. He published a body of theoretical texts and was part of a group that included such notorious figures as Raoul Ubac, Man Ray, Elfriede Stegemeyer, and Lázló Moholy-Nagy. The latter once stated: ‘All that I know, I’ve learnt it from Raoul’.

Considering Hausmann’s clandestine crossing of the century, it is no surprise that his photographic oeuvre was forgotten. Labelled a ‘degenerate‘ artist by the Nazis, he hastily left Germany in 1933. As an exile, Hausmann suffered the dispersion, and sometimes the destruction, of his work. His photography was seldom displayed and survived unnoticed until the late seventies. It was long supposed to be lost, until an archive (now at the Berlinische Galerie) was almost miraculously discovered at his daughter’s home after her death.

The French photographic archive of Hausmann’s work, kept mainly at the Musée de Rochechouart and opened in 1985, continued to grow up until 2010. This institutionalisation of his work has generated an on-going re-appraisal. Hausmann the photographer is astonishing. In contrast to the sarcastic and biting tone generally associated with his Dada period, his photographs are a means to pacification. They convey a sense of reconciliation, a serenity that did not prevail before. In the late twenties Hausmann felt more and more oppressed in Berlin. He took long vacations in small villages by the North Sea and the Baltic, villages described by his partner Vera Broïdo as ‘shelters’ and ‘hide-outs for artists’. There, he took photographs of the sand, the foam, the bogs, trees, naked bodies, curvy dunes, wheat, weeds, insignificant things that dazzled him. His attention also focused on humble objects, cheese graters, cane woven chairs, wicker baskets, which he transformed through the use of light and shadow. Hausmann calls these experimentations ‘melanography’. They strikingly exemplify his definition of what an image is: ‘the dynamics of a living process’.

Hausmann’s arrival in Ibiza in 1933, shortly after the Reichstag fire, opened a new perspective. Fascinated by the peasant houses built in the shape of white cubes, he began a photographic inventory of this ‘architecture without architects’. Photography became partly a study dedicated to vernacular architecture from an anthropological point of view. Hausmann also discussed notions such as ‘origin’ or ‘race’ that emerged in contemporary architectural circles. Fully integrated in the island’s life, he lived in a ‘state of dream’, as if outside time. Hausmann also pursued a project begun in Germany that revolved around two broad categories, portraits and the vegetational or organic forms. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, in which he briefly took part as a Republican (Ibiza being the first territory abandoned to the Francoists as early as 1936), marks the beginning of his wandering across Europe. During his exile, Hausmann no longer had the possibility of dedicating himself so passionately to photography.

Text from Jeu de Paume press kit

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Monsieur Mariano Ribas' 1933

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Monsieur Mariano Ribas
1933
@ Musée départemental d’art contemporain de Rochechouart

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Peasant house (Can Rafal)' 1934

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Peasant house (Can Rafal)
1934
© Musée départemental d’art contemporain de Rochechouart

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) 'Three chairs' 1934

 

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)
Three chairs
1934
© Musée départemental d’art contemporain de Rochechouart

 

 

Marthe Prévôt
Raoul Hausmann tenant sa sculpture-assemblage L’Esprit de notre temps
Raoul Hausmann holding his sculpture-assembly The Spirit of our time

1967
© Documentation du Musée départemental d’art contemporain de Rochechouart

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Raoul Hausmann en danseur' 1929

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Raoul Hausmann en danseur
1929
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Inventor and Dadaist [Raoul Hausmann]' 1929, printed 1990

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Inventor and Dadaist [Raoul Hausmann]
1929, printed 1990
Silver gelatin print
258 x 193 mm
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay

 

 

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09
Jun
17

Exhibition: ‘Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 15th February – 11th June 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The State We're In, A' 2015

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The State We’re In, A (Room 14)
2015
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Cock (Kiss)' 2002

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Cock (Kiss)
2002
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

If one thing matters, everything matters
(A love letter to Wolfgang Tillmans)

I believe that Wolfgang Tillmans is the number one photo-media artist working today. I know it’s a big call, but that’s how I see it.

His whole body of work is akin to a working archive – of memories, places, contexts, identities, landscapes (both physical and imagined) and people. He experiments, engages, and imagines all different possibilities in and through art. As Adrian Searle observes, “Tillmans’ work is all a kind of evidence – a sifting through material to find meaning.” And that meaning varies depending on the point of view one comes from, or adopts, in relation to the art. The viewer is allowed to make their own mind up, to dis/assemble or deepen relationships between things as they would like, or require, or not as the case may be. Tillmans is not didactic, but guides the viewer on that journey through intersections and nodal points of existence. The nexus of life.

Much as I admire the writing of art critic John McDonald, I disagree with his assessment of the work of Wolfgang Tillmans at Tate Modern (see quotation below). Personally, I find that there are many memorable photographs in this exhibition … as valuable and as valid a way of seeing the world in a contemporary sense, as Eggleston’s photographs are in a historic visualisation. I can recall Tillmans’ images just an intimately as I can Eggleston’s. But they are of a different nature, and this is where McDonald’s analysis is like comparing apples and pears. Eggleston’s classical modernist photographs depend on the centrality of composition where his images are perfectly self-contained, whether he is photographing a woman in a blue dress sitting on a kerb or an all green bathroom. They are of their time. Times have changed, and how we view the world has changed.

For Tillmans no subject matter is trivial (If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters – the title of a 2003 exhibition at Tate Britain), and how he approaches the subject is totally different from Eggleston. As he says of his work, his images are “calls to attentiveness.” What does he mean by this? Influenced by the work of the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti whom I have also studied, a call to attentiveness is a way of being open and responsive to the world around you, to its infinite inflections, and to not walk around as if in a dream, letting the world pass you by. To be open and receptive to the energies and connections of the world spirit by seeing clearly.

Krishnamurti insightfully observed that we do not need to make images out of every word, out of every vision and desire. We must be attentive to the clarity of not making images – of desire, of prejudice, of flattery – and then we might become aware of the world that surrounds us, just for what it is and nothing more.1 Then there would be less need for the absenting of self into the technological ether or the day dreams of foreign lands or the desire for a better life. But being aware is not enough, we must be attentive of that awareness and not make images just because we can or must. This is a very contemporary way of looking at the world. As Krishnamurti says,

“Now with that same attention I’m going to see that when you flatter me, or insult me, there is no image, because I’m tremendously attentive … I listen because the mind wants to find out if it is creating an image out of every word, out of every contact. I’m tremendously awake, therefore I find in myself a person who is inattentive, asleep, dull, who makes images and gets hurt – not an intelligent man. Have you understood it at least verbally? Now apply it. Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. And if anybody says something to you, you are tremendously attentive, not to any prejudices, but you are attentive to your conditioning. Therefore you have established a relationship with him, which is entirely different from his relationship with you. Because if he is prejudiced, you are not; if he is unaware, you are aware. Therefore you will never create an image about him. You see the difference?”2

.
Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. You are attentive and tremendously awake.

This is the essence of Tillmans work. He is tremendously attentive to the images he is making (“a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view” as he puts it) and to the associations that are possible between images, that we make as human beings. He is open and receptive to his conditioning and offers that gift to us through his art, if we recognise it and accept it for what it is. If you really look and understand what the artist is doing, these images are music, poetry and beauty – are time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. They are archaic and shapeless and fluid and joy and magic and love…

They are the air between everything.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Krishnamurti. Beginnings of Learning. London: Penguin, 1975, p. 131
  2. Ibid., pp. 130-131

.
Many thankx to the Tate Modern for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“To look at Eggleston alongside those he has inspire [Wolfgang Tillmans and Juergen Teller for example] is to see a surprisingly old-fashioned artist. No matter how instinctive his approach or how trivial his subjects, Eggleston believes in the centrality of composition. His images are perfectly self-contained. They don’t depend on a splashy, messy installation or a political stance. …

In the current survey of Tillmans’s work at Tate Modern photos of every description are plastered across the walls in the most anarchic manner, with hardly a memorable composition. Yet this shapeless stuff is no longer reviled by the critics – it’s the height of fashion.”

.
John McDonald “William Eggleston: Portraits”

 

“For a long time in Britain, there was a deep suspicion of my work. People saw me as a commercial artist trying to get into the art world, and the work was dismissed as shallow or somehow lightweight. There are still many misconceptions about what I do – that my images are random and everyday, when they are actually neither. They are, in fact, the opposite. They are calls to attentiveness.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017', which includes the latest iteration of the 'truth study centre' project

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail), which includes the latest iteration of the truth study centre project, with
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

 

The Tate show includes a room full of his “truth study centres”, which comprise often contradictory newspaper cuttings as well as photographs and pamphlets that aim to show how news is manipulated according to the political loyalties of those who produce it. As activists go, though, Tillmans is defiantly centre ground. “This is about strengthening the centre. I can understand left-wing politics from a passionate, idealistic point of view, but I do not think it is the solution to where we are now. The solution is good governance, moderation, agreement. Post-Brexit, post-Trump, the voices of reason need to be heard more than ever.”

Wolfgang Tillmans quoted on The Guardian website

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail), which focuses in on Tillmans’ portraiture with Eleanor / Lutz, a (2016) at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Eleanor / Lutz, a' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Eleanor / Lutz, a
2016
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Portrait of Wolfgang Tillmans, Tate Modern Boiler House, Level 3, 14/02/2017 in front of his works, Transient 2, 2015 and Tag/Nacht II, 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tag/Nacht II' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tag/Nacht II
2010
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

The State We’re In, A, is part of Neue Welt [New World], the loose family of pictures I began at the end of the last decade. These had two points of departure: “What does the outside world look like to me 20 years after I began photographing?” and “What does it look like in particular with a new photographic medium?”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans

 

“This exhibition is not about politics, it’s about poetry, it’s about installation art. It’s about thinking about the world. I’ve never felt that l can be separated, because the political is only the accumulation of many people’s private lives, which constitute the body politics…”

“My work has always been motivated by talking about society, by talking about how we live together, by how we feel in our bodies. Sexuality, like beauty, is never un-political, because they relate to what’s accepted in society. Two men kissing, is that acceptable? These are all questions to do with beauty.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans quoted on the Art News website

 

“There is music. There is dancing. Bewilderment is part of the pleasure, as we move between images and photographic abstractions. Tillmans’ asks us to make connections of all kinds – formal, thematic, spatial, political. He asks what the limits of photography are. There are questions here about time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. After a while it all starts to tumble through me.”

.
Adrian Searle review on the Guardian website

 

 

What are we to make of the world in which we find ourselves today? Contemporary artist Wolfgang Tillmans offers plenty of food for thought.

This is Wolfgang Tillmans’s first ever exhibition at Tate Modern and brings together works in an exciting variety of media – photographs, of course, but also video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music – all staged by the artist in characteristically innovative style. Alongside portraiture, landscape and intimate still lifes, Tillmans pushes the boundaries of the photographic form in abstract artworks that range from the sculptural to the immersive.

The year 2003 is the exhibition’s point of departure, representing for Tillmans the moment the world changed, with the invasion of Iraq and anti-war demonstrations. The social and political form a rich vein throughout the artist’s work. German-born, international in outlook and exhibited around the world, Tillmans spent many years in the UK and is currently based in Berlin. In 2000, he was the first photographer and first non-British artist to receive the Turner Prize.

 

Room one

Static interference typically appears on a television screen when an analogue signal is switched off. This can occur when a station’s official programme finishes for the night or if a broadcast is censored. In Tillmans’s Sendeschluss/End of Broadcast 2014 it represents the coexistence of two different generations of technology. The chaotic analogue static was displayed on a digital television, which allowed Tillmans’s high-resolution digital camera to record the pattern as it really appeared, something that would not have been possible with a traditional cathode ray tube television. This work shows Tillmans’s interest in questioning what we believe to be true: the seemingly black-and-white image turns out to be extremely colourful when viewed very close up.

Other works in this room reflect on digital printmaking and photography today. For example, the technical ability to photograph a nightscape from a moving vehicle without blurring, as in these images of Sunset Boulevard, is unprecedented. Itself the subject of many famous art photographs, this iconic roadway appears here littered with large format inkjet prints in the form of advertising billboards. In Double Exposure 2012-13 Tillmans juxtaposes images of two trade fairs – one for digital printers, the other for fruit and vegetables. Encounter 2014 shows a different photo-sensitive process. A pot had been left on top of a planter preventing light from reaching the sprouts underneath and leaving them white, while the surrounding growths that caught the daylight turned green.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
107 1/2 × 161 1/2″ (273.1 × 410.2 cm)
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Television white noise that the artist photographed while in Russia. For Tillmans, the image signifies resistance on his part to making clear images, but without the text its ostensibly radical nature would not be known.

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014, at left

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I, 2014, at left

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Double Exposure' 2012-13

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Double Exposure
2012-13
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room two

Tillmans spends much of his time in the studio, yet he only occasionally uses it as a set for taking portraits. Instead, it is where prints are made and exhibitions are planned in architectural models, and where he collects materials and generates ideas. Over the years this environment has become a subject for his photographs, presenting a radically different view of the artist’s studio to the more traditional depictions seen in paintings over the centuries.

These works made around the studio demonstrate Tillmans’s concern with the physical process of making photographs, from chemical darkroom processes and their potential to create abstract pictures without the camera, to digital technology that is vital to the production of contemporary images, and the paper onto which they are printed. Tillmans’s understanding of the material qualities of paper is fundamental to his work, and photographs can take on a sculptural quality in series such as Lighter, 2005-ongoing and paper drop, 2001-ongoing, seen later in the exhibition.

In CLC 800, dismantled 2011 Tillmans uses photography to record a temporary installation, the result of unfastening every single screw in his defunct colour photocopier. He prefers to photograph his three-dimensional staged scenarios rather than actually displaying them as sculptures. He has often described the core of his work as ‘translating the three dimensional world into two dimensional pictures’.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'paper drop' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
paper drop Prinzessinnenstrasse
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Perhaps as a continuation of his more textural photographs – depicting fabrics and still lifes so close up they become difficult to read – experiments in abstraction followed suit, many of them featuring what is perhaps his favourite motif: the fold, which, as the exhibition’s curator Chris Dercon kindly reminded us, was considered by the philosopher Leibniz as one of the most accurate ways to depict the complexities of the human soul.

Text from the Art News website

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'CLC 800, dismantled' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
CLC 800, dismantled
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room three

Having spent the preceding decade working largely on conceptual and abstract photographs, in 2009 Tillmans embarked on the four-year project Neue Welt. Looking at the world with fresh eyes, he aimed to depict how it has changed since he first took up the camera in 1988. He travelled to five continents to find places unknown to him and visited familiar places as if experiencing them for the first time. Interested in the surface of things as they appeared in those lucid first days of being in a new environment, he immersed himself in each location for just a brief period. Now using a high resolution digital camera, Tillmans captured images in a depth of detail that is immediately compelling, but also suggests the excess of information that is often described as a condition of contemporary life.

Communal spaces, people, animals, and still-life studies of nature or food are just some of the subjects that feature in Neue Welt. Seen together, these images offer a deliberately fragmented view. Rather than making an overarching statement about the changing character of modern life, Tillmans sought only to record, and to create a more empathetic understanding of the world. Over the course of the project, however, some shrewd observations about contemporary worldviews did emerge. One related to the changing shape of car headlights, which he noted are now very angular in shape, giving them a predatory appearance that might reflect a more competitive climate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'astro crusto, a' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
astro crusto, a
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Installation shot of room 3 from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 3 (detail), with Headlight (f) 2012, at left; and Munuwata sky, 2011 at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Headlight (f)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Headlight (f)
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Munuwata sky' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Munuwata sky
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room four

In the mid-2000s, prompted by global events, such as the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Tillmans became interested in the assertions made by individuals, groups or organisations around the world that their viewpoint represented the absolute truth about a number of political and ethical questions.

He began his wryly-named truth study center project in 2005. Photographs, clippings from newspapers and magazines, objects, drawings, and copies of his own images are laid out in deliberate – and often provocative – juxtapositions. These arrangements reflect the presentation of information by news outlets in print and online. They also draw attention to gaps in knowledge, or areas where there is room for doubt. For each installation, the material presented in the truth study centers is selected according to its topical and geographic context. In 2017, the subject of truth and fake news is at the heart of political discourse across the world. This iteration of the project focuses in particular on how constructions of truth work on a psychological and physiological level.

The Silver 1998-ongoing prints connect to reality in a different way. Made by passing monochromatically exposed photographic paper through a dirty photo-developing machine, they collect particles and residue from the rollers and liquids. This makes them, in effect, a record of the chemical and mechanical process from which they originate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'truth study center' 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
truth study center
2017
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room five

Tillmans has described how, as a photographer, he feels increasingly less obligated to reflect solely on the outside world through documentary images. In his abstract works, he looks inwards: exploring the rudiments of photographic processes and their potential to be used as a form of self-expression.

Like the Silver works in the previous room, the abstract Greifbar 2014-15 images are made without a camera. Working in the darkroom, Tillmans traces light directly onto photographic paper. The vast swathes of colour are a record of the physical gestures involved in their construction, but also suggest aspects of the body such as hair, or pigmentation of the skin. This reference to the figurative is reflected in the title, which translates as ‘tangible’.

Tillmans has observed that even though these works are made by the artist’s hand, they look as though they could be ‘scientific’ evidence of natural processes. For him, this interpretation is important, because it disassociates the works from the traditional gestural technique of painting. That the image is read as a photographic record, and not the result of the artist’s brushstroke, is essential to its conceptual meaning.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Greifbar 29' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Greifbar 29
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room six

Tillmans is interested in social life in its broadest sense, encompassing our participation in society. His photographs of individuals and groups are underpinned by his conviction that we are all vulnerable, and that our well-being depends upon knowing that we are not alone in the world.

Tillmans has observed that although cultural attitudes towards race, gender and sexuality have become more open over the three decades since he began his artistic practice, there is also greater policing of nightlife, and urban social spaces are closing down. His photographs taken in clubs, for example, testify to the importance of places where people can go today to feel safe, included, and free.

This concern with freedom also extends to the ways in which people organise themselves to make their voices heard. Images of political marches and protests draw attention to the cause for which they are fighting. They also form part of a wider study of what Tillmans describes as the recent ‘re-emergence’ of activism.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE' 2006

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE
2006
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room seven

Playback Room is a space designed for listening to recorded music. The project first ran at Between Bridges, the non-profit exhibition space Tillmans opened in London in 2006 and has since transferred to Berlin. In three exhibition (‘Colourbox’, ‘American Producers’ ‘Bring Your Own’) that took place between September 2014 and February 2015, he invited visitors to come and listen to music at almost the same quality at which it was originally mastered.

Whereas live music can be enjoyed in concert halls and stadiums, and visual art can be enjoyed in museums, no comparable space exists for appreciating studio music. Musicians and producers spend months recording tracks at optimal quality, yet we often listen to the results through audio equipment and personal devices that are not fit for perfect sound reproduction. Playback Room is a response to this. An example of Tillmans’s curatorial practice, he has chosen to include it here to encourage others to think about how recorded music can be given prominence within the museum setting.

The three tracks you hear in this room are by Colourbox, an English band who were active between 1982 and 1987. Tillmans, a long-term fan of the band, chose their music for Playback Room because they never performed live, thus emphasising the importance of the studio recordings.

 

Room eight

Tillmans began experimenting with abstraction while in high school, using the powerful enlargement function of an early digital photocopier to copy and degrade his own photographs as well as those cut from newspapers. He describes the coexistence of chance and control involved in this process as an essential ingredient in most of his work.

Ever since then, he has found ways to resist the idea that the photograph is solely a direct record of reality. In 2011, this area of his practice was compiled for the first time in his book Abstract Pictures. For a special edition of 176 copies Tillmans manipulated the printing press, for example by running it without plates or pouring ink into the wrong compartments, to create random effects and overprinted pages.

Some of his abstract photographs are made with a camera and others without, through the manipulation of chemicals, light, or the paper itself. Importantly, however, Tillmans does not distinguish between the abstract and the representational. He is more interested in what they have in common. The relationship between photography, sculpture and the body, for example, is expressed in abstract photographs made by crumpling a sheet of photographic paper, but also in close-ups of draped and wrinkled clothing such as Faltenwurf (Pines) a, 2016 in Room 9.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Concorde L433-11' 1997

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Concorde L433-11
1997
Ink-jet print
Tate
© Wolfgang Tillmans, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

 

 

Room nine

Artist books, exhibition catalogues, newspaper supplements and magazine spreads, posters and leaflets are an integral part of Tillmans’s output. These various formats and the ways in which they are distributed or made visible in the public space allow him to present work and engage audiences in a completely different manner to exhibitions. For him the printed page is as valid a venue for artistic creation as the walls of a museum. Many such projects are vital platforms on which he can speak out about a political topic, or express his continued interest in subjects such as musicians, or portraiture in general.

Recently, the print layout has enabled Tillmans to share a more personal aspect of his visual archive. Originally designed as a sixty-six page spread for the Winter 2015/Spring 2016 edition of Arena Homme +, this grid of images looks back at Fragile, the name he gave as a teenager to his creative alter-ego. Spanning 1983 to 1989 – the year before he moved to England to study – the photographs and illustrations provide a sensitive insight into a formative period in Tillmans’s life, predating the time when he chose photography as his main medium of expression.

The layout is also an example of the intricate collaging technique that he has employed in printed matter since 2011, deliberately obscuring some images by overlapping others on top of them

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Faltenwurf (Pines), a' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Faltenwurf (Pines), a
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tukan' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tukan
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room ten

An acute awareness of fragility endures across Tillmans’s practice in all of its different forms. Often this is expressed in his attentiveness to textures and surfaces. Collum 2011 is taken from Central Nervous System 2008-13, a group of portraits featuring only one subject, where the focus on intimate details, such as the nape of the neck or the soft skin of the outer ear, both emphasises and celebrates the frailty of the human body.

Weed 2014, a four-metre tall photograph taken in the garden of the artist’s London home, invites us to consider the beauty and complexity of a plant usually seen as a nuisance. The dead leaf of a nearby fig tree appears as both a sculptural form and a memento mori. Dusty Vehicle 2012, photographed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is highly specific in its depiction of texture, yet the reasons leading to this roadside arrangement remain a mystery.

The focus on a very few works in this room serves as an example of Tillmans’s varied approaches to exhibiting his prints. Though best known for installations comprising many pictures, he always places emphasis on the strength of the individual image. By pinning and taping work to the wall, as well as using frames, Tillmans draws attention to the edges of the print, encouraging the viewer to interact with the photograph as an object, rather than a conduit for an image.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Dusty Vehicle' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Dusty Vehicle
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Collum' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Collum
2011
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Weed' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Weed
2014
Photograph, inkjet print on paper
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room eleven

In this room Tillmans highlights the coexistence of the personal, private, public, and political spheres in our lives. The simultaneity of a life lived as a sexual being as well as a political being, or in Tillmans’s case as a conceptual artist as well as a visually curious individual, plays out through the installation.

The entirely white view taken from the inside of a cloud, a word charged with multiple meanings, is presented alongside the close-up and matter-of-fact view of male buttocks and testicles. Like nackt, 2 2014, the small photograph The Air Between 2016 is the result of a lifelong interest in visually describing what it feels like to live in our bodies. Here the attention lies in photographing the air, the empty space between our skin and our clothes.

In still life, Calle Real II 2013, a severed agave chunk is placed on a German newspaper article describing the online depiction of atrocities by Islamic State. The image is as startling in its depiction of the finest green hues as it is in capturing how, simultaneously, we take in world events alongside details of our personal environment.

This room, which Tillmans considers as one work or installation in its entirety, is an example of his innovative use of different photographic prints and formats to reflect upon how we experience vastly different aspects of the world at the same time.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Air Between' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Air Between
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Still life, Calle Real II' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Still life, Calle Real II
2013
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Nackt, 2 (nude, 2)' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Nackt, 2 (nude, 2)
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room twelve

Tillmans has always been sensitive to the public side of his role as an artist, acknowledging that putting images out in the public world unavoidably places himself in the picture as well. His participation in activities such as lectures and interviews has been a platform for his voice from the beginning of his career.

Since 2014 he has also allowed performance to become a more prominent strand of his practice. Filmed in a hotel room in Los Angeles and an apartment in Tehran, Instrument 2015 is the first time that Tillmans has put himself in front of the camera for a video piece. Across a split screen, we see two separate occasions on which he has filmed himself dancing. The accompanying soundtrack was created by distorting the sound of his feet hitting the floor. In the absence of any other music, his body becomes an instrument.

On one side of the screen we see his body, on the other only his shadow. Referring to the shadow, New York Times critic Roberta Smith commented that:

“Disconcertingly, this insubstantial body is slightly out of sync with the fleshly one. It is a ghost, a shade, the specter that drives us all. The ease with which we want to believe that the two images are connected, even though they were filmed separately, might also act as a reminder to question what we assume to be true.”

 

Room thirteen

Portraiture has been central to Tillmans’s practice for three decades. For him, it is a collaborative act that he has described as ‘a good levelling instrument’. No matter who the sitter – a stranger or someone close to him, a public figure, an unknown individual, or even the artist himself – the process is characterised by the same dynamics: of vulnerability, exposure, honesty and always, to some extent, self-consciousness. Tillmans sees every portrait as resulting from the expectations and hopes of both sitter and photographer.

The portrait’s ability to highlight the relationship between appearance and identity is a recurring point of interest. In 2016, at HM Prison Reading, Tillmans took a distorted self-portrait in a damaged mirror once used by inmates. The disfigured result is the artist’s expression of the effects on the soul wrought by physical and psychological confinement and also censorship. Whoever looked into the reflective surface would gain a completely inaccurate impression of what they looked like, and how they are perceived by others.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Separate System, Reading Prison' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Separate System, Reading Prison
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Anders pulling splinter from his foot' 2004

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Anders pulling splinter from his foot
2004
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“The image’s reference to both Dorian Gray and Francis Bacon is evident. This catapults a new association: perhaps Bacon was painting Gray all along. Insistently, fearlessly, longingly.

As with much of Bacon’s oeuvre, and the very particular picture of Dorian Gray, a distorted, forward-facing male figure intimidates the viewer with his unmade face. However, Tillsman’s piece is not a picture, it is a photograph. Here, the artist (as was the case with Bacon/Wilde) is not the one dissembling what’s inside the frame, subjecting it with his brush. No. In Tillsman’s image, a piece of thick glass distorts the artist. Here, the artist is no longer the lens that is able to affect his surroundings. Here, the surroundings distort the artist.

The message Tillsman delivers is clear: things have changed. The world disfigures the subject while the artist is trapped, forced to stand there and watch.”

Text by Ana Maria Caballero on The Drugstore Notebook website

 

Room fourteen

Symbol and allegory are artistic strategies Tillmans is usually keen to avoid. The State We’re In, A 2015 is a departure from this stance: the work’s title is a direct reference to current global political tensions. Depicting the Atlantic Ocean, a vast area that crosses time zones and national frontiers, it records the sea energised by opposing forces, but not yet breaking into waves. Differing energies collide, about to erupt into conflict.

The photographs in this room deal with borders and how they seem clear-cut but are actually fluid. In these images, borders are made tangible in the vapour between clouds, the horizon itself or the folds in the two Lighter photo-objects. The shipwreck left behind by refugees on the Italian island of Lampedusa, depicted in this photograph from 2008, is a reminder that borders, represented elsewhere in more poetic delineations, can mean a question of life and death.

The text and tables sculpture Time Mirrored 3 2017 represents Tillmans’s interest in connecting the time in which we live to a broader historical context. He always understands the ‘Now’ as the history of the future. Events perceived as having happened over a vast gulf of time between us and the past, become tangible when ‘mathematically mirrored’ and connected to more recent periods of time in our living memory.

In contrast to the epic themes of sea and time, the pictures of an apple tree outside the artist’s London front door, a subject he has photographed since 2002, suggest a day-to-day positive outlook.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Italian Coastal Guard Flying Rescue Mission off Lampedusa' 2008

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Italian Coastal Guard Flying Rescue Mission off Lampedusa
2008
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Lampedusa' 2008

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Lampedusa
2008
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Installation view of room 14 (detail)

 

Installation view of room 14 (detail), featuring at left, pictures of an apple tree outside the artist’s London front door and at right, La Palma 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'La Palma' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
La Palma
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Apple tree' 2007

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Apple tree
2007
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Apple tree' Various dates

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Apple tree
Various dates
Ink-jet prints
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Book for Architects

Book for Architects 2014 is the culmination of Tillmans’s longstanding fascination with architecture. First presented at Rem Koolhaas’s 14th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice, 2013, it explores the contrast between the rationality and utopianism that inform design and the reality of how buildings and streets come to be constructed and inhabited.

In 450 images taken in 37 countries, across 5 continents, Tillmans hones in on the resourceful and ingenious ways in which people adapt their surroundings to fit their needs. These are individual and uncoordinated decisions that were not anticipated in architects’ plans, but still impact the contemporary built environment.

Across the double projection, we see examples of how buildings come to sit within a city plan, the ad-hoc ways in which they are modified, and the supposed ‘weaknesses’ of a space such as the corners where there are service doors, fire escapes, or alarm systems.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Shit buildings going up left, right and centre' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Shit buildings going up left, right and centre
2014
Book for Architects Plate 083 2014
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Untitled' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Untitled
2012
Book for Architects 2014
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“He has said of his photographs that “they are a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view … In photography I like to assume exactly the unprivileged position, the position that everybody can take, that chooses to sit at an airplane window or chooses to climb a tower.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans quoted in Peter Halley, Midori Matsui, Jan Verwoert, Wolfgang Tillmans, London 2002, p. 136

 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans has earned recognition as one of the most exciting and innovative artists working today. Tate Modern presents an exhibition concentrating on his production across different media since 2003. First rising to prominence in the 1990s for his photographs of everyday life and contemporary culture, Tillmans has gone on to work in an ever greater variety of media and has taken an increasingly innovative approach to staging exhibitions. Tate Modern brings this variety to the fore, offering a new focus on his photographs, video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music.

Social and political themes form a rich vein throughout Tillmans’s work. The destabilisation of the world has arisen as a recurring concern for the artist since 2003, an important year when he felt the world changed with the invasion of Iraq and anti-war demonstrations. In 2017, at a moment when the subject of truth and fake news is at the heart of political discourse, Tillmans presents a new configuration of his tabletop installation truth study center 2005-ongoing. This ongoing project uses an assembly of printed matter from pamphlets to newspaper cuttings to his own works on paper to highlight Tillmans’s continued interest in word events and how they are communicated in the media.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 will particularly highlight the artist’s deeper engagement with abstraction, beginning with the important work Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I 2014. Based on images the artist took of an analogue TV losing signal, this work combines two opposing technologies – the digital and the analogue. Other works such as the series Blushes 2000-ongoing, made without a camera by manipulating the effects of light directly on photographic paper, show how the artist’s work with abstraction continues to push the boundaries and definitions of the photographic form.

The exhibition includes portraiture, landscape and still lives. A nightclub scene might record the joy of a safe social space for people to be themselves, while large-scale images of the sea such as La Palma 2014 or The State We’re In, A 2015 document places where borders intersect and margins are ever shifting. At the same time, intimate portraits like Collum 2011 focus on the delicacy, fragility and beauty of the human body. In 2009, Tillmans began using digital photography and was struck by the expanded opportunities the technology offered him. He began to travel more extensively to capture images of the commonplace and the extraordinary, photographing people and places across the world for the series Neue Welt 2009 – 2012.

The importance of Tillmans’s interdisciplinary practice is showcased throughout the exhibition. His Playback Room project, first shown at his Berlin exhibition space Between Bridges, provides a space within the museum for visitors to experience popular music by Colourbox at the best possible quality. The video installation Instrument 2015 shows Tillmans dancing to a soundtrack made by manipulating the sound of his own footsteps, while in the Tanks Studio his slide projection Book for Architects 2014 is being shown for the first time in the UK. Featuring thirty-seven countries and five continents, it reveals the tension between architectural form and function. In March, Tillmans will also take over Tate Modern’s south Tank for ten days with a specially-commissioned installation featuring live music events.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 is co-curated by Chris Dercon and Helen Sainsbury, Head of Programme Realisation, Tate Modern with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue from Tate Publishing designed by Wolfgang Tillmans and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Images from the exhibition

Installation view of the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern 15 February - 11 June

 

Installation view of the exhibition Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 with at left, Sunset night drive (2014) and at centre right, Young Man, Jeddah (2012)

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sunset night drive' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Sunset night drive
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Young Man, Jeddah' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Young Man, Jeddah
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Young Man, Jeddah (B)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Young Man, Jeddah (B)
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) '17 Years Supply' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
17 Years Supply
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“Now the camera is staring into a big cardboard box, half-filled with pharmacist’s tubs and packages, 17 years’ supply of antiretroviral and other medications to treat HIV/Aids. I imagine the sound that box would make if you shook it, what that sound might say about a human life, its vulnerability and value.” ~ Adrian Searle

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Market I' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Market I
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Studio still life, c' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Studio still life, c
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Juan Pablo & Karl Chingaza' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Juan Pablo & Karl Chingaza
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Iguazu' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Iguazu
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Oscar Niemeyer' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Oscar Niemeyer
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tube escalator joint' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tube escalator joint
2009
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'JAL' 1997

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
JAL
1997
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Port-au-Prince' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Port-au-Prince
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'London Olympics' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
London Olympics
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Fespa Car' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Fespa Car
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Spectrum Dagger' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Spectrum Dagger
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Gaza Wall' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Gaza Wall
2009
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Simon, Sebastian Street' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Simon, Sebastian Street
2013
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Arms and Legs' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Arms and Legs
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday – Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

Tate Modern website

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01
Mar
17

Exhibition: ‘Robert Doisneau – Photographs. From Craft to Art’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 9th December 2016 – 5th March 2017

 

I have waited nearly ten years to do a posting on this artist and his “humanist photography” (he was part of Steichen’s Family of Man exhibition). Of itself, that says enough, that there are so few exhibitions of his work.

I admit that he is not one of my favourites. His photographs, while containing a good dose of humour and occasional irony, seem to lack panache; his simply crafted ‘imperfect of the objective’ never really cuts it against Cartier-Bresson’s ‘imagination, from life’, or the wonder of artists like Walker Evans (from an earlier era) and the incomparable Helen Levitt.

His juggling act – “juggler, tightrope walker, illusionist to achieve even more realism” – leaves most of the work feeling brittle, over controlled with a salutory sense of stage fright.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Martin-Gropius-Bau for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photograph for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Le Baiser de l'Hôtel de Ville' (The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville) Paris, 1950

 

Robert Doisneau
Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville (The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville)
Paris, 1950
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

 

“People like my photos because they see in them what they would see if they stopped rushing about and took the time to enjoy the city…”

.
Robert Doisneau

 

“Doisneau always approached his work with a little self mockery, perhaps it was his antidote to the anguish of not being a jester, a tight-rope walker, a magician as he was too much of a realist: and here lies the paradox of one who wished to carry out his work like a street artist, with the chaste joy and fun of an artist malgré lui [in spite of himself] ….

There was a real bond between him and Henri Cartier-Bresson; if they were equally childlike in their joking, they were just as ready to consult each other on professional questions. ‘Our friendship is lost in the darkness of time’, wrote Cartier-Bresson in 1995. ‘We will no longer have his laugh, full of compassion, nor his hard-hitting retorts, so funny and profound. Never told twice: each time a surprise. But his deep kindness, his love for all beings and for a simple life will always exist in his work’. They did not have the same conception of photography, given the difficulty of ‘conjugating’ Doisneau’s ‘imperfect of the objective’ (imparfait de l’objectif) with the ‘imagination, from life’ (imaginaire d’après nature) of Cartier-Bresson, who was more inclined to rigour, influenced by painting and drawing and averse to reframing…

Doisneau always took an ironic approach to his work, which for him was only an antidote to the anxiety of not being. Juggler, tightrope walker, illusionist to achieve even more realism: such is the deceptive paradox of someone who wanted to ‘carry off his tricks like the sidewalk artists’, with the modest lucidity of an artist in spite of himself.”

.
Text from the BINT PHOTOBOOKS ON INTERNET website

 

 

Robert Doisneau. 'The Melted Car' 1944

 

Robert Doisneau
The Melted Car
1944
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Les 20 ans de Josette' 1947

 

Robert Doisneau
Les 20 ans de Josette (20 years of Josette)
1947
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Les tabliers de la Rue de Rivoli' 1978

 

Robert Doisneau
Les tabliers de la Rue de Rivoli
1978
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Dustjacket of Robert Doisneau's 'La Banlieue de Paris' (The Suburbs of Paris) 1949

 

Dustjacket of Robert Doisneau’s La Banlieue de Paris (The Suburbs of Paris)
1949

 

Robert Doisneau. 'African Games' 1945

 

Robert Doisneau
African Games
1945
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Mademoiselle Anita' 1951

 

Robert Doisneau
Mademoiselle Anita
1951
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Les frères, rue du Docteur Lecène, Paris' (The brothers, street of Doctor Lecène, Paris) 1934

 

Robert Doisneau
Les frères, rue du Docteur Lecène, Paris (The brothers, street of Doctor Lecène, Paris)
1934
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Le nez au carreau' 1953

 

Robert Doisneau
Le nez au carreau (The nose against the pane)
1953
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Le cadran scolaire, Paris' 1956

 

Robert Doisneau
Le cadran scolaire, Paris (The school clock, Paris)
1956
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'La concierge aux lunettes, Rue Jacob' (The concierge with the glasses, Rue Jacob) 1945

 

Robert Doisneau
La concierge aux lunettes, Rue Jacob (The concierge with the glasses, Rue Jacob)
1945
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'La mariée chez Gégène' (The bride at Gégène) 1946

 

Robert Doisneau
La mariée chez Gégène (The bride at Gégène)
1946
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Hommages respectueux' (Respectful tribute) 1952

 

Robert Doisneau
Hommages respectueux (Respectful tribute)
1952
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Jacques Prevert au guéridon' (Jacques Prevert and table) 1955

 

Robert Doisneau
Jacques Prevert au guéridon (Jacques Prevert and table)
1955
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'La dernière valse du 14 juillet' (The last waltz of 14 July) 1949

 

Robert Doisneau
La dernière valse du 14 juillet (The last waltz of 14 July)
1949
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

 

Very few photographers have become famous through a single picture. “Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville” (The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville) is such a picture, which Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) took in March 1950 in front of a Parisian street café in the Rue de Rivoli. The image of the couple kissing was a work commissioned by LIFE magazine. Although it was staged, it contains an entire story: It became the symbol of Paris as the “city of love”. It is one of the iconic photographs of the 20th century.

However, Doisneau’s oeuvre is much deeper and more complex. It is comprised of approximately 350,000 photographs, including professionally crafted shots and others which have the force and charisma of an artistic solitaire. He worked as a photojournalist for the major magazines such as Vogue, Paris Match, Le Point and LIFE. His most famous photographs were shot while wandering through the French metropolis. The exhibition provides an inside view of Doisneau’s work with around 100 selected photographs most of them taken during the 1940s and 50s. It shows his fascination for the normal, for the petit bourgeois and for the melancholic and fragile.

During the first half of the 20th century, Paris was one of the leading art metropolises of the world. The French capital attracts artists from all nations as it is multi-faceted and an ideal environment to capture in snapshots. Artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, André Kertész, Martin Munkácsi, Germaine Krull, Robert Doisneau, use the new technical features of a camera with short exposure time and cultivate a photography of the moment. They focus on people and on a parallel trend, illustrating the increasing invasion of public life into the private sphere and making the private, intimate and personal visually public. Achieving this moment requires new aesthetic value measures. The relegation of the remaining is no longer the focal point of attention but rather the beauty of spontaneity becomes more and more noticeable.

Doisneau’s clients were photo agencies, fashion magazines and revues. They looked for photojournalists whose photographs can convey a momentary event comprehensively and with their own impressions. Doisneau delivered.

He prowled around the centre and outskirts of Paris with his Rolleiflex in his spare time. He was concerned with securing evidence. He did this less systematically than his great role model Eugène Atget (1857-1927), who catalogued street by street with his unwieldy large-format camera. Doisneau, however, was concerned with the atmosphere itself. He photographed building facades, interior rooms, quays, children playing, passers-by, wedding couples and moments that are often condensed into a sentimental story. He befriended intellectuals, journalists and poets like Robert Giraud (1921-1997), Jacques Prévert (1900-1977) and Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961). They took him with them to bars and music halls. In 1949, he published the book “La Banlieue de Paris” (The Suburbs of Paris) with Blaise Cendrars.

Doisneau was born in the suburb in the small village of Gentilly southwest of Paris in 1912. He finished his studies at the École Estienne in Paris in 1928 with a diploma in lithography and engraving. He first worked as an assistant to the “Encyclopédie photographique de l’art” photographer and publisher André Vigneau (1892-1968) in 1931 and then as a factory photographer for the car manufacturer Renault between 1934 and 1939. He stopped working for Renault to become a freelance photojournalist at the renowned Rapho Agency. During the Second World War, he documented daily life in occupied and later liberated Paris. He wanted his work to be understood as an encouragement to life.

To this day, Robert Doisneau stands for what is called “humanist photography”: a photography, which turns to people in their everyday life. The surprising moments of everyday life in the big city of Paris made him one of the most important chroniclers of the 20th century.

Text from the Martin-Gropius-Bau

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Palm Springs' 1960

 

Robert Doisneau
Palm Springs
1960

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Palm Springs' 1960

 

Robert Doisneau
Palm Springs
1960

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Palm Springs' 1960

 

Robert Doisneau
Palm Springs
1960

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Palm Springs' 1960

 

Robert Doisneau
Palm Springs
1960

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Palm Springs' 1960

 

Robert Doisneau
Palm Springs
1960

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Palm Springs' 1960

 

Robert Doisneau
Palm Springs
1960

 

 

Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
T: +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening Hours:
Wednesday to Monday 10 – 19 hrs
Tuesday closed

Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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18
Jan
17

Exhibition: ‘Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s’ at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee

Exhibition dates: 21st October 2016 – 22nd January 2017

 

The interwar years of the European avant-garde are some of the most creative years in the history of the human race.

Whether because of political and social instability – the aftershocks of the First World War, the hardships, the looming fight between Communism and Fascism, the Great Depression – or the felt compression and compaction of time and space taking place all over Europe (as artists fled Russia, as artists fled Germany for anywhere but Germany, as though time was literally running out…. as it indeed was), these years produced a frenzy of creativity in writing, film, design, architecture and all the arts.

The “avant-garde” produced new and experimental ideas and methods in art, music, and literature, the avant-garde literally being the “vanguard” of an army of change, producing for so very brief an instant, a bright flowering of camp, cabaret, and kitsch paralleled? intertwined with a highly charged emotionalism which, in German Expressionist film, “employed geometrically skewed set designs, dramatic lighting, off-kilter framing, strong shadows and distorted perspectives to express a sense of uneasiness and discomfort.”

Here we find the catalyst for subsequent film genres, most notably science fiction, horror and film noir. Here we find dark fantasies, desire, love and redemption. All to be swept away with the rushing rushing rushing tide of prejudice and persecution, of death and destruction that was to envelop the world during the Second World War.

The creative legacy of this period, however, is still powerful and unforgettable. I just have to look at the photographic stills of Metropolis to recognise what a visionary period it was, and how that film and others have stood the test of passing time (as the hands of the workers move the clock hands to their different positions in Metropolis). The feeling and aesthetic of the art remains as fresh as the day it was created.

Marcus

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

 

 

 

Unknown photographer(s). 'Set photograph from Fritz Lang's "The Nibelungen: The Death of Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod)"' 1923

 

Unknown photographer(s)
Set photograph from Fritz Lang’s “The Nibelungen: The Death of Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod)”
1923
Gelatin silver prints
BiFi, Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris
Photo courtesy Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

Unknown photographer(s). 'Set photograph from Fritz Lang's "The Nibelungen: The Death of Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod)"' 1923

 

Unknown photographer(s)
Set photograph from Fritz Lang’s “The Nibelungen: The Death of Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod)”
1923
Gelatin silver prints
BiFi, Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris
Photo Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

Unknown photographer(s). 'Set photograph from Fritz Lang's "The Nibelungen: The Death of Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod)"' 1923

 

Unknown photographer(s)
Set photograph from Fritz Lang’s “The Nibelungen: The Death of Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod)”
1923
Gelatin silver prints
BiFi, Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris
Photo Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

 

Fritz Lang

… In this first phase of his career, Lang alternated between films such as Der Müde Tod (“The Weary Death”) and popular thrillers such as Die Spinnen (“The Spiders”), combining popular genres with Expressionist techniques to create an unprecedented synthesis of popular entertainment with art cinema.

In 1920, he met his future wife, the writer and actress Thea von Harbou. She and Lang co-wrote all of his movies from 1921 through 1933, including Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse the Gambler; 1922), which ran for over four hours in two parts in the original version and was the first in the Dr. Mabuse trilogy, the five-hour Die Nibelungen (1924), the famous 1927 film Metropolis, the science fiction film Woman in the Moon (1929), and the 1931 classic, M, his first “talking” picture.

Considered by many film scholars to be his masterpiece, M is a disturbing story of a child murderer (Peter Lorre in his first starring role) who is hunted down and brought to rough justice by Berlin’s criminal underworld. M remains a powerful work; it was remade in 1951 by Joseph Losey, but this version had little impact on audiences, and has become harder to see than the original film. During the climactic final scene in M, Lang allegedly threw Peter Lorre down a flight of stairs in order to give more authenticity to Lorre’s battered look. Lang, who was known for being hard to work with, epitomized the stereotype of the tyrannical German film director, a type embodied also by Erich von Stroheim and Otto Preminger. His wearing a monocle added to the stereotype.

In the films of his German period, Lang produced a coherent oeuvre that established the characteristics later attributed to film noir, with its recurring themes of psychological conflict, paranoia, fate and moral ambiguity. At the end of 1932, Lang started filming The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Adolf Hitler came to power in January 1933, and by March 30, the new regime banned it as an incitement to public disorder. Testament is sometimes deemed an anti-Nazi film as Lang had put phrases used by the Nazis into the mouth of the title character.

Lang was worried about the advent of the Nazi regime, partly because of his Jewish heritage, whereas his wife and screenwriter Thea von Harbou had started to sympathize with the Nazis in the early 1930s and joined the NSDAP in 1940. They soon divorced. Lang’s fears would be realized following his departure from Austria, as under the Nuremberg Laws he would be identified as a Jew even though his mother was a converted Roman Catholic, and he was raised as such.

Shortly afterwards, Lang left Germany. According to Lang, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels called Lang to his offices to inform him that The Testament of Dr Mabuse was being banned but that he was nevertheless so impressed by Lang’s abilities as a filmmaker (especially Metropolis), he was offering Lang a position as the head of German film studio UFA. Lang had stated that it was during this meeting that he had decided to leave for Paris – but that the banks had closed by the time the meeting was over. Lang has stated that he fled that very evening. …

In Hollywood, Lang signed first with MGM Studios. His first American film was the crime drama Fury, which starred Spencer Tracy as a man who is wrongly accused of a crime and nearly killed when a lynch mob sets fire to the jail where he is awaiting trial. Lang became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1939. He made twenty-three features in his 20-year American career, working in a variety of genres at every major studio in Hollywood, and occasionally producing his films as an independent. Lang’s American films were often compared unfavorably to his earlier works by contemporary critics, but the restrained Expressionism of these films is now seen as integral to the emergence and evolution of American genre cinema, film noir in particular. Lang’s film titled in 1945 as Scarlet Street is considered a central film in the genre.

One of his most famous films noir is the police drama The Big Heat (1953), noted for its uncompromising brutality, especially for a scene in which Lee Marvin throws scalding coffee on Gloria Grahame’s face. As Lang’s visual style simplified, in part due to the constraints of the Hollywood studio system, his worldview became increasingly pessimistic, culminating in the cold, geometric style of his last American films, While the City Sleeps (1956) and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Otto Hunte and Fritz Lang. 'Set design drawing for "The Nibelungen: The Death of Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod)"' 1923

 

Otto Hunte and Fritz Lang
Set design drawing for “The Nibelungen: The Death of Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod)”
1923
BiFi, Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris
Photo Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

Otto Hunte and Fritz Lang. 'Set design drawing for "The Nibelungen: The Death of Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod)"' 1923

 

Otto Hunte and Fritz Lang
Set design drawing for “The Nibelungen: The Death of Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod)”
1923
BiFi, Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris
Photo Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

Caspar David Friedrich. 'Two Men Contemplating the Moon' c. 1825-30

 

Caspar David Friedrich
Two Men Contemplating the Moon
c. 1825-30
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wrightsman Fund, 2000
Photo: courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Erich Kettelhut and Fritz Lang. 'Set design drawing for "The Nibelungen: The Death of Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod)"' 1923

 

Erich Kettelhut and Fritz Lang
Set design drawing for “The Nibelungen: The Death of Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod)”
1923
BiFi, Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris
Photo courtesy Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

 

“In the wake of WWI, while Hollywood and the rest of Western cinema were focused mostly on adventure, romance and comedy, German filmmakers explored the anxiety and emotional turbulence that dominated life in Germany. They took their inspiration from Expressionist art and employed geometrically skewed sets, dramatic lighting, off-kilter framing, strong shadows and distorted perspectives.

The impact of this aesthetic has lasted nearly a century, inspiring directors from Alfred Hitchcock to Tim Burton. Its influence is reflected to this day in the dark, brooding styles of film noir, the unsettling themes of horror, and the fantastic imagery of sci-fi. From Blade Runner to The Godfather, from Star Wars to The Hunger Games – our modern blockbusters owe much to these German masters and the visions they created.

Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s explores masterworks of German Expressionist cinema, from the stylized fantasy of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to the chilling murder mystery M. Featured are production design drawings, photographs, posters, documents, equipment and film clips from more than 20 films. The exhibition ends with a contemporary 3-channel projection work – Kino Ektoplamsa, 2012 – by filmmaker Guy Maddin, which was inspired by German Expressionist cinema.”

Text from the Milwaukee Art Museum website

 

Designed by USC architecture professor Amy Murphy and architect Michael Maltzan, “Haunted Screens” has been grouped by theme: “Madness and Magic,” “Myths and Legends,” “Cities and Streets” and “Machines and Murderers.” The latter contains a subsection, “Stairs,” that includes drawings from films that feature stairs as both a visual and psychological theme. Two darkened tunnels will feature excerpts from the movies highlighted in the exhibit.

“The core of the show is the collection from La Cinémathèque française,” said Britt Salvesen, LACMA’s curator of both the department of prints and drawings and the department of photography.

The 140 drawings from the Cinémathèque were acquired by noted German film historian Lotte Eisner, who wrote the 1952 book “The Haunted Screen.”

 

Josef Fenneker (Germany, 1895-1956) 'Reissue of original poster for The Burning Soil (Der brennende acker)' c. 1922

 

Josef Fenneker (Germany, 1895-1956)
Reissue of original poster for The Burning Soil (Der brennende acker)
c. 1922
Director: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (Germany, 1888-1931)
Offset lithograph
Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

 

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

Friedrich Wilhelm “F. W.” Murnau (born Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe; December 28, 1888 – March 11, 1931) was a German film director. Murnau was greatly influenced by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Ibsen plays he had seen at the age of 12, and became a friend of director Max Reinhardt. During World War I he served as a company commander at the eastern front and was in the German air force, surviving several crashes without any severe injuries.

One of Murnau’s acclaimed works is the 1922 film Nosferatu, an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Although not a commercial success due to copyright issues with Stoker’s novel, the film is considered a masterpiece of Expressionist film. He later directed the 1924 film The Last Laugh, as well as a 1926 interpretation of Goethe’s Faust. He later emigrated to Hollywood in 1926, where he joined the Fox Studio and made three films: Sunrise (1927), 4 Devils (1928) and City Girl (1930). The first of these three is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.

In 1931 Murnau travelled to Bora Bora to make the film Tabu (1931) with documentary film pioneer Robert J. Flaherty, who left after artistic disputes with Murnau, who had to finish the movie on his own. A week prior to the opening of the film Tabu, Murnau died in a Santa Barbara hospital from injuries he had received in an automobile accident that occurred along the Pacific Coast Highway near Rincon Beach, southeast of Santa Barbara.

Of the 21 films Murnau directed, eight are considered to be completely lost. One reel of his feature Marizza, genannt die Schmuggler-Madonna survives. This leaves only 12 films surviving in their entirety.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Hermann Warm and Henrik Galeen. 'Drawing for "Der Student von Prag" (The Student of Prague)' 1926

Hermann Warm and Henrik Galeen. 'Drawing for "Der Student von Prag" (The Student of Prague)' 1926

 

Hermann Warm and Henrik Galeen
Drawing for “Der Student von Prag” (The Student of Prague)
1926
Pastel
Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris/LACMA

 

Andrei Andrejew (Russia, 1887-1966) 'Set design drawing for Crime and Punishment (Raskolnikow)' 1923

 

Andrei Andrejew (Russia, 1887-1966)
Set design drawing for Crime and Punishment (Raskolnikow)
1923
Director: Robert Wiene (Germany, 1873-1938)
Ink and ink wash
Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

 

Raskolnikow is a 1923 German silent drama film directed by Robert Wiene. The film is based on the novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, whose protagonist is Rodion Raskolnikov. The film’s art direction is by André Andrejew. The film is characterised by Jason Buchanan of Allmovie as a German expressionist view of the story: a “nightmarish” avante-garde or experimental psychological drama.

Robert Wiene (German, 27 April 1873 – 17 July 1938) was a film director of the German silent cinema. He is particularly known for directing the German silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and a succession of other expressionist films. Wiene also directed a variety of other films of varying styles and genres. Following the Nazi rise to power in Germany, Wiene fled into exile.

Four months after the Nazis took power Wiene’s latest film, “Taifun,” was banned on May 3, 1933. A Hungarian film company had been inviting German directors to come to Budapest to make films in simultaneous German/Hungarian versions, and given his uncertain career prospects under the new German regime Wiene took up that offer in September to direct “One Night in Venice” (1934). Wiene went later to London, and finally to Paris where together with Jean Cocteau he tried to produce a sound remake of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. …

Wiene died in Paris ten days before the end of production of a spy film, Ultimatum, after having suffered from cancer. The film was finished by Wiene’s friend Robert Siodmak.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Otto Erdmann and Georg Wilhelm Pabst. 'Die Freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street)' 1923

 

Otto Erdmann and Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Die Freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street)
1923
Gouache and watercolor
Photo courtesy Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris/LACMA

 

Otto Erdmann and Georg Wilhelm Pabst. 'Die Freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street)' 1923

 

Otto Erdmann and Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Die Freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street)
1923
Director: Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Gouache and watercolor
Photo courtesy Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris/LACMA

 

Boris Bilinsky (Russia, 1900-1948) 'Poster for The Joyless Street (Die freudlose Gasse)' c. 1925

 

Boris Bilinsky (Russia, 1900-1948)
Poster for The Joyless Street (Die freudlose Gasse)
c. 1925
Director: Georg Wilhelm Pabst (Austria, 1885-1967)
Lithograph
Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

Walter Röhrig and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. 'Faust' 1926

 

Walter Röhrig and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
Faust
1926
BiFi, Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris
© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo courtesy Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

Robert Herlth and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. 'Faust' 1926

 

Robert Herlth and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
Faust
1926
Director: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
BiFi, Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris
Photo courtesy Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

Robert Herlth and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. 'Faust' 1926

 

Robert Herlth and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
Faust
1926
BiFi, Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris
Photo courtesy Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

Robert Herlth and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. 'Faust' 1926

 

Robert Herlth and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
Faust
1926
BiFi, Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris
Photo courtesy Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

'Drawing for "Faust"' 1926

 

Drawing for “Faust”
1926
Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

Unknown photographer. 'Set photograph from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari)' 1919

 

Unknown photographer
Set photograph from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari)
1919
Director: Robert Wiene (German, 1873-1938)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies

 

Hermann Warm. 'Robert Wiene's "Das Kabinett des Dr Caligari"' 1919

 

Hermann Warm
Robert Wiene’s “Das Kabinett des Dr Caligari”
1919
Watercolor and ink
BiFi, Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

'Set drawing for the"Das Kabinett des Dr Caligari" (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari)' 1920

 

Set drawing for the”Das Kabinett des Dr Caligari” (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari)
1920
Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

Ernst Stern. 'Paul Leni's "Das Wachfigurenkabinett (Le cabinet des figures de cire)"' (Wax Works) 1924

 

Ernst Stern
Paul Leni’s “Das Wachfigurenkabinett (Le cabinet des figures de cire)” (Wax Works)
1924
Director: Paul Leni
Watercolor and charcoal
Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris/LACMA

 

Ernst Stern and Paul Leni. '"Das Wachfigurenkabinett (Le cabinet des figures de cire)"' (Wax Works) 1924

 

Ernst Stern and Paul Leni
“Das Wachfigurenkabinett (Le cabinet des figures de cire)” (Wax Works)
1924
Watercolor, gouache, and graphite
34.6 x 24.8 cm
Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris/LACMA

 

Unknown photographer. 'Set photograph from "The Blue Angel" (Der blaue Engel)' 1930

 

Unknown photographer
Set photograph from “The Blue Angel” (Der blaue Engel)
1930
Director: Josef von Sternberg (Austria, 1894-1969)
Gelatin silver print
Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

Karl Struss. 'Set photograph from "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" (Sonnenaufgang: Ein Lied zweier Menschen)' (detail) 1927, printed 2014

 

Karl Struss
Set photograph from “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” (Sonnenaufgang: Ein Lied zweier Menschen) (detail)
1927, printed 2014
Directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
Courtesy of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library

 

Emil Hasler. 'Drawing for Fritz Lang's "Das Testament des Dr Mabuse"' 1932

 

Emil Hasler
Drawing for Fritz Lang’s “Das Testament des Dr Mabuse” (The Testament of Dr Mabuse)
1932
Pastel, graphite, and gouache
Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris/LACMA

 

Paul Scheurich. 'Poster design for Fritz Lang's "Das Testament des Dr Mabuse"' 1932

 

Paul Scheurich
Poster design for Fritz Lang’s “Das Testament des Dr Mabuse” (The Testament of Dr Mabuse)
1932
Ink, gouache, and graphite
BiFi, Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

Emil Hasler. 'Drawing for Fritz Lang's "M," le Maudit' (Cursed) 1931

 

Emil Hasler
Drawing for Fritz Lang’s “M,” le Maudit (Cursed)
1931
Charcoal, gouache, and colored pencil
Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris/LACMA

 

Unknown artist. 'Poster for "M"' 1931

 

Unknown artist
Poster for “M”
1931
Director: Fritz Lang (Austria, 1890-1976)
Collection of La Cinémathèque française

 

Unknown artist. 'Poster for "M"' 1933

 

Unknown artist
Poster for “M”
1933
Made for Paramount release in Los Angeles
Director: Fritz Lang (Austria, 1890-1976)
Courtesy of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library

 

 

“The Milwaukee Art Museum is excited for visitors to experience its newest exhibition, Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s on view from Oct. 21 through Jan. 22. Organized by La Cinémathèque française, Paris, the exhibition examines the groundbreaking period in film history that occurred in Germany during the Weimar era after World War I, through more than 150 objects, including set design drawings, photographs, posters, documents, equipment, cameras and film clips from more than 20 films.

The Expressionist movement introduced a highly charged emotionalism to the artistic disciplines of painting, photography, theater, literature and architecture, as well as film, in the early part of the 20th century. German filmmakers employed geometrically skewed set designs, dramatic lighting, off-kilter framing, strong shadows and distorted perspectives to express a sense of uneasiness and discomfort. These films reflected the mood of Germany during this time, when Germans were reeling from the death and destruction of WWI and were enduring hyperinflation and other hardships.

“We’re thrilled to present Haunted Screens at the Milwaukee Art Museum this fall, and to offer our visitors a glimpse into a unique and revolutionary time in film and art history,” said Margaret Andera, the Museum’s adjunct curator of contemporary art. “This exhibition represents a tremendous period of creativity, and allows visitors a fascinating look at the nuanced aesthetics of German Expressionist cinema through a wealth of diverse objects.”

The exhibition is grouped into five sections by theme: Nature, Interiors, The Street, Staircases and The Expressionist Body. From the dark fantasy of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to the chilling murder mystery M, the exhibition explores masterworks of German Expressionist cinema in aesthetic, psychological and technical terms. More than 140 drawings are complemented by some 40 photographs, eight projected film clip sequences, numerous film posters, three cameras, one projector, and a resin-coated, life-size reproduction of the Maria robot from Metropolis.

German Expressionist cinema was the first self-conscious art cinema, influencing filmmakers throughout the world at the time and continuing to inspire artists today. It served as a catalyst for subsequent film genres, most notably science fiction and horror. The conflicting attitudes about technology and the future that are the cornerstones of science fiction, and the monsters and villains that form the basis of horror, appear often in Expressionist films. The influence of Expressionist cinema undoubtedly extends to the work of contemporary filmmakers, including Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese and Guy Maddin, whose 3-channel projection work, Kino Ektoplamsa, appears at the end of the exhibition.

The Museum is taking a unique approach to the exhibition’s installation design, one that mirrors the mood of the time and the objects on display. Walls intersecting at unexpected angles and even breaking through the exhibition space into Windhover Hall give visitors an engaging experience.

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s permanent collection includes extensive holdings in the German Expressionist area, including a significant collection of paintings from the period, as well as one of the most important collections of German Expressionist prints in the nation, the Marcia and Granvil Specks Collection. This collection includes more than 450 prints by German masters. Visitors are encouraged to stroll through the collection galleries after seeing Haunted Screens.”

Press release from the Milwaukee Art Museum

 

 

 

Synopsis of Metropolis

Metropolis is ruled by the powerful industrialist Joh Fredersen. He looks out from his office in the Tower of Babel at a modern, highly technicised world. Together with the children of the workers, a young woman named Maria reaches the Eternal Gardens where the sons of the city’s elite amuse themselves and where she meets Freder, Joh Fredersen’s son. When the young man later goes on a search for the girl, he witnesses an explosion in a machine hall, where numerous workers lose their lives. He then realizes that the luxury of the upper class is based on the exploitation of the proletariat. In the Catacombs under the Workers’ City Freder finally finds Maria, who gives the workers hope with her prophecies for a better future. His father also knows about Maria’s influence on the proletariat and fears for his power. In the house of the inventor Rotwang, Joh Fredersen learns about his experiments to create a cyborg based on the likeness of Hel, their mutual love and Freder’s mother. Fredersen orders Rotwang to give Maria’s face to the robot in order to send it to the underground city to deceive and stir up its inhabitants.

After the robot Maria has succeeded, a catastrophe ensues. The riotous workers destroy the Heart Machine and as a result the Workers’ City, where only the children have remained, is terribly flooded. The real Maria brings the children to safety along with Freder. When they learn about the disaster, the rebelling masses stop. Their rage is now aimed at the robot Maria, who is captured and burned at the stake. At the same time Rotwang, driven by madness, pursues the genuine Maria across the Cathedral’s rooftop, where he ultimately falls to his death. Freder and Maria find each other again. The son devotes himself to his father, mediating between him and the workers. As a consequence, Maria’s prophecy of reconciliation between the ruler and those who are mastered (head and hands) triumphs – through the help of the mediating heart.

 

Horst von Harbou. 'Set photograph from "Metropolis"' 1927

 

Horst von Harbou (Germany, 1879-1953)
Set photograph from “Metropolis”
1927
Director: Fritz Lang (Austria, 1890-1976)
Gelatin silver print
Collection of La Cinémathèque française

 

Horst von Harbou. 'Set photograph from "Metropolis"' 1927

 

Horst von Harbou (Germany, 1879-1953)
Set photograph from “Metropolis”
1927
Director: Fritz Lang (Austria, 1890-1976)
Gelatin silver print
Collection of La Cinémathèque française

 

Horst von Harbou. 'Set photograph from "Metropolis"' 1927

 

Horst von Harbou (Germany, 1879-1953)
Set photograph from “Metropolis”
1927
Director: Fritz Lang (Austria, 1890-1976)
Gelatin silver print
Collection of La Cinémathèque française

 

Horst von Harbou. 'Set photograph from "Metropolis"' 1927

 

Horst von Harbou (Germany, 1879-1953)
Set photograph from “Metropolis”
1927
Director: Fritz Lang (Austria, 1890-1976)
Gelatin silver print
Collection of La Cinémathèque française

 

Horst von Harbou. 'Set photograph from "Metropolis"' 1927

Horst von Harbou. 'Set photograph from "Metropolis"' 1927

 

Horst von Harbou (Germany, 1879-1953)
Set photograph from “Metropolis”
1927
Director: Fritz Lang (Austria, 1890-1976)
Gelatin silver print
Collection of La Cinémathèque française

 

Horst von Harbou. 'Set photograph from "Metropolis"' 1927

 

Horst von Harbou (Germany, 1879-1953)
Set photograph from “Metropolis”
1927
Director: Fritz Lang (Austria, 1890-1976)
Gelatin silver print
Collection of La Cinémathèque française

 

Horst von Harbou. 'Set photograph from "Metropolis"' 1927

 

Horst von Harbou (Germany, 1879-1953)
Set photograph from “Metropolis”
1927
Director: Fritz Lang (Austria, 1890-1976)
Gelatin silver print
Collection of La Cinémathèque française

 

 

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) is a defining film of the silent era and science fiction genre. But the work of the film’s still photographer Horst von Harbou has remained obscure. Von Harbou, brother of Thea von Harbou, Lang’s then wife and co-screenwriter of Metropolis, photographed filmed scenes as well as off-camera action, and made an album of thirty-five photographs which he gave to the film’s young star Brigitte Helm. The book Metropolis is a careful reconstruction of this album, showing the photographs and some of their backsides which feature hand-written notes. Von Harbou’s photographs not only offer a rare insight into Lang’s film, but have been crucial in reconstructing missing scenes from it.

Horst von Harbou was born in 1879 in Hutta, Posen, and died in 1953 in Potsdam-Babelsberg. Very little is known about von Harbou, except for the films on which he worked as a still photographer: these include Mensch ohne Namen (1932), Starke Herzen im Sturm (1937) and Augen der Liebe (1951).

Text from the Steidl Books website

 

Horst von Harbou. 'Set photograph from "Metropolis"' 1927 (detail)

 

Horst von Harbou (Germany, 1879-1953)
Set photograph from “Metropolis” (detail)
1927
Director: Fritz Lang (Austria, 1890-1976)
Gelatin silver print
Collection of La Cinémathèque française

 

Otto Hunte. 'Set design drawing for "Metropolis"' 1923

 

Otto Hunte
Set design drawing for “Metropolis”
1923
Director: Fritz Lang
Collection of La Cinémathèque française, Paris

 

 

Otto Hunte (9 January 1881 – 28 December 1960) was a German production designer, art director and set decorator. Hunte is considered as one of the most important artists in the history of early German cinema, mainly for his set designs on the early silent movies of Fritz Lang. His early career was defined by a working relationship with fellow designers Karl Vollbrecht and Erich Kettelhut. Hunte’s architectural designs are found in many of the most important films of the period including Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, Die Nibelungen (1924), Metropolis (1927) and Der blaue Engel. Hunte subsequently worked as one of the leading set designers during the Nazi era. Post-Second World War he was employed by the East German studio DEFA.

 

 

Paramount
Trade advertisement
1927
Lithograph

 

 

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16
Aug
14

Exhibition: ‘Roman Vishniac Rediscovered’ at the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 4th April – 24th August 2014

 

ICP_Vishniac_pressimage_1-DETAIL

 

Roman Vishniac
Recalcitrance, Berlin (detail)
1926
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

It takes guts and moral fortitude to continue photographing the city that you live in even as the state that controls that city and country conspires against you. It takes talent to produce memorable images of urban poverty, to record for posterity communities that would soon vanish forever under the weight of a malignant form of madness, of genocide.

Vishniac was the only one not concerned with ego. He went out there and got the job done where no one else did. He produced thoroughly modern images of an ancient culture on the verge of destruction. He knew the danger and yet he still took the photos. Courage and fortitude, and in the end the luck to escape the Holocaust himself.

You can’t look at these images without a sense of regret and sadness – at the stupidity of humanity, of the egos of men, and the waste of millions of lives. One name says it all: Ernst Kaufmann. Standing on a pile of rocks, wearing wooden clogs, this man with the wavy hair looks down into the camera and he will ever be thus – young, handsome, alive in the moment that the photograph was taken.

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.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Jewish Historical Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Lots more images can be found on the excellent Roman Vishniac Archive website.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin]' late 1920s - early 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac
[Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin]
late 1920s – early 1930s
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered brings together four decades of work by an extraordinarily versatile and innovative photographer for the first time. Vishniac (1897-1990) created the most widely recognised and reproduced photographic record of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. These celebrated photographs were taken on assignment for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the world’s largest Jewish relief organisation, from 1935-38, yet this exhibition follows the photographer’s long and accomplished career from the early 1920s through the 1950s. Roman Vishniac Rediscovered introduces a radically diverse body of work – much of it only recently discovered – and repositions Vishniac’s iconic photographs of Eastern European Jewry within a broader tradition of 1930s social documentary photography.

More than any other photographer, Roman Vishniac’s images have profoundly influenced contemporary notions of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Vishniac created the most widely recognized and reproduced photographic record of that world on the eve of its annihilation, yet only a small fraction of his work was published or printed during his lifetime. Known primarily for this poignant record, Vishniac was in fact a remarkably versatile and innovative photographer. His body of work spans more than five decades, ranging from early engagements with European modernism in the 1920s to highly inventive colour photomicroscopy in the 1950s and ’60s.

Born in 1897 to an affluent Russian-Jewish family, Vishniac was raised in Moscow, where he studied zoology and biology. He immigrated to Berlin in 1920 in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. As an amateur photographer he took to the streets, offering witty and wry visual commentary on his adopted city while experimenting with new approaches to framing and composition. As Vishniac documented the Nazi rise to power, foreboding signs of oppression soon became a focal point of his work. In 1935, he was commissioned by the European headquarters of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) – the world’s largest Jewish relief organisation – to photograph impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Vishniac’s four years of work on the project yielded the celebrated images that have largely defined his photographic legacy.

Arriving in New York on New Year’s Day 1941, Vishniac opened a portrait studio, working to make ends meet by documenting American Jewish communal and immigrant life, while establishing himself as a pioneer in the field of photomicroscopy. In 1947, he returned to Europe and documented Jewish Displaced Persons’ Camps, the efforts of Holocaust survivors to rebuild their lives, emigration and relief efforts, and the ruins of Berlin.

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is a comprehensive reappraisal of Vishniac’s total photographic output, from his early years in Berlin through the postwar period in America. The exhibition is drawn from the Roman Vishniac archive at ICP and serves as an introduction to this vast assemblage comprising more than 30,000 objects, including recently discovered vintage prints, rare moving film footage, contact sheets, personal correspondence, and exhibition prints made from his recently digitized negatives.

 

Berlin Street Photography, 1920s-30s

Vishniac immigrated to Berlin in 1920, shortly after the formation of the Weimar Republic. He and his wife Luta settled in the Wilmersdorf district, home to a large community of affluent Russian-Jewish expatriates. Berlin in the 1920s was the epitome of a modern city: cosmopolitan, loud, vibrant, diverse, and full of recent immigrants. Already an accomplished amateur photographer, Vishniac joined several of the city’s ubiquitous camera clubs. Armed with his Rolleiflex and Leica, he took to the streets, creating astute, often humorous observations of his adopted city.

Vishniac’s interest in photography had begun during his childhood in Russia; many Russian Jews owned photography shops and studios, and Vishniac’s family encouraged his pursuits. In Berlin, his perspective as an outsider contributed to his inventive and dynamic images of life in the city, and marked his transformation from amateur hobbyist to accomplished street photographer. His best, most intimate photographs were often taken in his own neighbourhood, where he built a fully equipped photo-processing lab in his apartment.

Vishniac took full advantage of the city’s manifold resources, improving his technique and experimenting with modernist and avant-garde approaches to framing and composition – hallmarks of Weimar Berlin. This prodigious body of early work became increasingly influenced by European modernism as he captured the buzzing day-to-day life of the city: streetcar drivers, municipal workers and day laborers, marching students and children at play, bucolic park scenes and the intellectual café life of the bustling metropolis that was, in Vishniac’s words, “the world’s center of music, books, and science.”

 

Roman Vishniac. 'People behind bars, Berlin Zoo' Early 1930s (printed 2012)

 

Roman Vishniac
People behind bars, Berlin Zoo
Early 1930s (printed 2012)
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

The oldest and most renowned zoo in Germany, the Zoologische Garten was a popular gathering place for Berlin’s middle- and upper-class Jewish community before World War II. Many affluent Jewish families, including the Vishniacs, were shareholders. Beginning in 1933, the zoo began to force out Jewish board members. In 1938, a sign reading “Juden unerwünscht” (Jews Unwanted) was displayed at the entrance to the zoo and in early 1939 Jews were denied entry entirely. In Vishniac’s photograph of the zoo’s famous polar bears, it appears that the visitors, and not the animals, are in a cage.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Boys admiring a motorcycle, Brandenburg, outskirts of Berlin]' 1929 - early 1930s (printed 2012)

 

Roman Vishniac
[Boys admiring a motorcycle, Brandenburg, outskirts of Berlin]
1929 – early 1930s (printed 2012)
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Nazi Rise to Power in Germany, 1933-38

“I grew up in Berlin with a pervasive sense of danger and dread combined with a perceived obligation not to show fear. I was aware of personal danger and knew that whatever happened to me, my parents could offer no protection or help. That was everyday life.”

Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Vishniac’s development as a professional photographer coincided with the Nazi rise to power and the establishment of the Third Reich. Widespread antisemitism and the implementation of increasingly restrictive measures against Jews became daily realities. Vishniac documented the ominous changes he encountered, photographing campaign posters, swastika banners, phrenology shops, and marching Nazi soldiers. Following Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in 1933, the government relentlessly pursued those artists and intellectuals not in line with the Reich’s values. Berlin’s cosmopolitan vivacity was soon drained of its intellectual and cultural capital. Once-vibrant neighbourhoods became ruled by fear; anyone considered an opponent of the Nazi government could be sent to Dachau, a concentration camp established in 1933 outside Munich.

Many photographers suffered from the Nazi policies; the Schriftgesetz (Editorial Act) of November 1933 forced anyone working in publishing – photographers included – to provide proof of Aryan heritage. In 1934, the Deutsche Presse (German Press) published a list of authorised Aryan photographers whose work aligned with the Nazi party. Jews were forbidden to take photographs on the street. In spite of these restrictions, Vishniac tenaciously documented Berlin’s rapid acclimation to Nazi policy. To avoid suspicion, he often used his young daughter Mara as a prop, snapping seemingly innocuous pictures of her in front of advertising columns and shop windows festooned with Nazi propaganda.

These symbols of oppression formed the quotidian backdrop of Vishniac’s Germany, a fact to which the ubiquity of Nazi flags, banners, and posters in his later Berlin photographs testify. Capturing the spread of Nazi ideology on Berlin’s streets, Vishniac’s images embodied his own marginalisation – and endangerment – as both a photographer and a Jew.

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Recalcitrance, Berlin' 1926

 

Roman Vishniac
Recalcitrance, Berlin
1926
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[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

 

Roman Vishniac
[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
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Street scene with a swastika flag on a storefront (at left), Berlin]' c. 1935-36 (printed 2012)

 

Roman Vishniac
[Street scene with a swastika flag on a storefront (at left), Berlin]
c. 1935-36 (printed 2012)
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Vishniac often positioned himself in doorways or building foyers in his Berlin street photography, documenting daily life as a removed observer. This image reveals multiple layers of time in one shot: the car positioned alongside the horse-drawn wagon, bicyclists speeding by as pedestrians young and old navigate the cobblestones and pavement, against the backdrop of a rapidly modernising metropolis. Only upon closer examination do our eyes move to a swastika flag blowing in the wind above the horses, a common site on most Berlin streets by 1935.

 

 

German-Jewish Relief and Community Organizations, Berlin, mid- to late 1930s

Prior to Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933, Jewish social service organisations in Germany primarily served Eastern European Jews, the majority of whom were less cosmopolitan, assimilated, and affluent than their German-born coreligionists. The Nazi regime recognised no such distinction, however, and their rise to power drastically affected almost every Jew living in Germany. As Germany’s Jewish population was gradually excluded from both social and economic life, many came to depend upon a Jewish social structure that was originally intended to look outward but quickly expanded to serve the growing needs of the community.

In 1933, German-Jewish groups unified into the Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden (Central Organization of German Jews), an umbrella organisation intended to ameliorate the effects of Nazi racial policy. Between 1933 and 1938, subsidiary and affiliate organisations created Jewish education and healthcare systems and instituted a welfare system for Jews facing impoverishment. Zionist and other youth organisations flourished under the exclusionary policies of the Nazis, helping would-be émigrés learn the agricultural and vocational skills needed to build new lives in Palestine and elsewhere. The Jüdischer Kulturbund (Jewish Cultural Association) was established in response to restrictions placed on Jewish artists. Vishniac and his family were among its 70,000 members and regularly attended lectures and performances. Vishniac was also a member of T’munah, a Jewish photographic group founded in 1934 in response to the exclusionary policies of “Aryan” camera clubs.

As restrictions on photographers increased, Vishniac was commissioned to document the work of several Jewish community and social service organisations in Berlin. This fascinating body of work is largely unknown, but it helped establish his reputation in Jewish philanthropic circles, leading to major commissions from a wide range of Jewish relief and community organisations from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Drawer of freshly farmed eggs, Gut Winkel, a training farm for German-Jewish youth hoping to emigrate to Palestine, Spreenhagen in der Mark, Brandenburg, Germany]' c. 1938

 

Roman Vishniac
[Drawer of freshly farmed eggs, Gut Winkel, a training farm for German-Jewish youth hoping to emigrate to Palestine, Spreenhagen in der Mark, Brandenburg, Germany]
c. 1938
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Preparing food in a Jewish soup kitchen, Berlin]' mid- to late 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac
[Preparing food in a Jewish soup kitchen, Berlin]
mid- to late 1930s
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Jewish Life in Eastern Europe, c. 1935-38

In 1935, Roman Vishniac was hired by the European headquarters of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) to document impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Photographic images offered limitless, affordable reproducibility, and could be used in slide lectures, brochures, appeals, and annual reports throughout America and Western Europe. Vishniac’s images played a crucial role in communicating the AJDC’s message, and they would ultimately become the last extensive photographic record by a single photographer of Jewish communities that had existed for centuries.

The majority of Vishniac’s published photographs of Eastern Europe depict privation. Many others illustrate the philanthropic activities of the AJDC such as children’s camps, free loan societies, soup kitchens, schools, and health organizations. And while Vishniac is often associated with images of rural villages and small towns, or shtetlach, most of his photographs record urban poverty in major cities like Warsaw, Krakow, and Lodz. His work for the AJDC echoes the contemporaneous projects of American photographers like Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Arthur Rothstein, and Walker Evans. In the same years that the Farm Security Administration sent photographers to the American South and West to document those affected by drought, depression, and migration, Vishniac was sent east by the AJDC. Today, his work stands alongside the best social-documentary photographers of his era. His unpublished work imparts a much more complex and nuanced perspective on Eastern European Jewish life, and reveals a much more versatile – and modern – artist.

That Vishniac was commissioned to document the most impoverished Jews is significant, as is the fact that he often chose the most traditional and observant Jews as subjects, to amplify the contrast between Ostjuden, or Eastern Jews, and the more assimilated Western Jews who would be viewing the images. It was only after the Holocaust, when the communities he had so poignantly depicted were annihilated, that his body of work came to symbolise the vanished world of Eastern Jewry.

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Jewish schoolchildren, Mukacevo]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Jewish schoolchildren, Mukacevo]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Eastern Europe]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Eastern Europe]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Eastern Europe]' (detail) c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Eastern Europe] (detail)
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Boy with kindling in a basement dwelling, Krochmalna Street, Warsaw]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Boy with kindling in a basement dwelling, Krochmalna Street, Warsaw]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stenciled flowers above her head, Warsaw]' c. 1935-37

 

Roman Vishniac
[Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stenciled flowers above her head, Warsaw]
c. 1935-37
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Werkdorp Nieuwesluis Agrarian Training Camp, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands, 1939

As the plight of German Jews became increasingly dire throughout the 1930s and many Jewish families attempted to send their children to safety in neutral countries, many young German Jews, including Vishniac’s children Wolf and Mara, joined a large number of Zionist organisations. With the British government maintaining strict immigration quotas, hundreds of young German Jews planning to go to Palestine and waiting to obtain visas were sent to the Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, a Zionist agrarian youth training complex, or hachschara, in the Netherlands. Established in 1934 by the Foundation for Jewish Labor on land donated by the Dutch government, the Werkdorp taught young, urban Jews farming, animal husbandry, construction, and other unfamiliar skills they would need as pioneers in Palestine.

In 1939, Vishniac was sent by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) to document the Werkdorp’s activities. Vishniac photographed the capable young men and women as idealized, heroic Zionist pioneers, lifting heavy stones, constructing scaffolding, and tugging on rope. The images bear a striking resemblance to heavily circulated halutz (Zionist pioneer) photography made in Palestine in the 1930s, and demonstrate Vishniac’s versatility: here is an ambitious, accomplished series in a style that is radically different from his earlier work, and perfectly suited to his athletic, industrious subjects. Shot from a low vantage point, the Werkdorp images juxtapose clear skies and strong silhouettes to form vigorous, balanced compositions. Young, healthy bodies play off the clean, rhythmic geometry of the construction sites in a manner that is also reminiscent of the Russian Constructivist photographer Rodchenko, whose work would certainly have been familiar to Vishniac.

In March 1941, Nazi SS officers ordered the evacuation of the camp, and most of its inhabitants were sent to transit camps, including Westerbork. Out of 315 Werkdorp residents in May 1940, 175 were killed in concentration camps in the east.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Zionist youth building a school and foundry while learning construction techniques, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]' 1939

 

Roman Vishniac
[Zionist youth building a school and foundry while learning construction techniques, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]
1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth, wearing clogs while learning construction techniques in a quarry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]' 1939

 

Roman Vishniac
[Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth, wearing clogs while learning construction techniques in a quarry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]
1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Vishniac’s Werkdorp images did not include any caption information on the few existing prints of the work, and were thus difficult to identify. A small, 2¼-inch-square contact print of three young men wearing wooden clogs provided a vital clue that facilitated the attribution of this larger body of Werkdorp material, with the assistance of curators at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. This is the only known example of a professional photographer documenting this Dutch Zionist agrarian training camp.

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.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Willy Lefkowitz and Martin Grünpeter constructing a foundry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]' 1939 (printed 2012)

 

Roman Vishniac
[Willy Lefkowitz and Martin Grünpeter constructing a foundry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]
1939 (printed 2012)
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Willy Lefkowitz, left, was forcibly removed from the Werkdorp when it was closed by the Nazis in 1941. Lefkowitz, along with the majority of the Werkdorp’s remaining inhabitants, was sent to the Westerbork Transit Camp in northeastern Netherlands, a site where Dutch Jews and Roma were assembled during World War II prior to their deportation to Nazi extermination camps in the east. Of the 107,000 people who passed through Westerbork – among them Anne Frank and her family – only 5,200 survived, including Lefkowitz, who immigrated to the United States. He is believed to have died in Brooklyn in 2001. Martin Grünpeter, right, a German Jew born in 1914, survived World War II and immigrated to Palestine.

 

 

Travel, Refuge, and Internment in France: Paris, Nice, and Marseille, c. 1939

From April to September 1939, Vishniac worked as a freelance photographer based in France while his family struggled to secure exit visas to the U.S. (his children had been sent to safety in Sweden). In the interwar years, France had welcomed Jews from across Europe. By 1939, as Jews fleeing Nazi rule brought the Jewish population in France to over 300,000, an increasingly conservative and nationalist government sought to limit immigration. Detention camps for Jews were established in southern France.

During this time, Vishniac was commissioned by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) and the Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor (ORT) to photograph and film an ORT vocational training school for Jewish refugees near Marseille. Vishniac’s parents had relocated to Nice in 1937, and while visiting them, he took playful, spontaneous photographs of Riviera beach life, a stark contrast to the intense and machine-focused ORT images that were to be his final photographic assignment for the AJDC until his return to Europe in 1947.

In late 1939, after entrusting a large selection of his negatives to his friend Walter Bierer in Paris, Vishniac was arrested and imprisoned at the Camp du Ruchard internment camp. Held for three months, he wrote desperate letters to family, friends, and the staff of the AJDC, describing the dismal conditions and pleading for assistance. Following his release, secured through the efforts of his wife, Vishniac waited in France while his family worked to obtain exit visas, with assistance from the AJDC. Vishniac reunited with Luta, Wolf, and Mara in Lisbon, and the family sailed for America on the S.S. Siboney in December 1940, arriving in America on New Year’s Day 1941.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Beachgoers in the afternoon, Nice, France]' c. 1939

 

Roman Vishniac
[Beachgoers in the afternoon, Nice, France]
c. 1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Students learning metalwork techniques, Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor (ORT), Marseille]' 1939

 

Roman Vishniac
[Students learning metalwork techniques, Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor (ORT), Marseille]
1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

YIVO Exhibitions in New York, January 1944 and January 1945

In 1944 and 1945, as World War II raged in Europe, Vishniac staged two large exhibitions at YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, presenting his commissioned work from Eastern Europe to an American audience.

Founded in 1925 as the Yiddish Scientific Institute in Wilno, Poland, YIVO was created to preserve, research, and promote Eastern European Jewish culture and history during a period of rapid modernisation and immigration. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the organisation was reestablished in New York in 1940 as the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, at 55 West 123rd Street, while a group of brave and dedicated archivists in Wilno worked to rescue precious material in defiance of Nazi orders.

Vishniac’s first exhibition at YIVO, Pictures of Jewish Life in Prewar Poland, opened in January 1944 and focused on urban Jewish life, with a large selection of images from Lublin, Warsaw, and Wilno. The second exhibition, Jewish Life in the Carpathians, opened in January 1945, and featured photographs of Jewish farming communities in the Carpathian Mountains, and yeshivas and religious life in Galicia.

The largely Yiddish-speaking audience in New York viewed images of their communities of origin just as those communities were being destroyed, a fate the viewers were virtually powerless to stop. As word of the destruction of Eastern European Jews spread across the Atlantic, Vishniac’s photographs – originally intended to call attention to the privation of living Eastern European Jews – began to be seen as “documents of a lost epoch,” as phrased in the exhibition text at YIVO. These exhibitions signalled the first major shift in the contextualisation of Vishniac’s work: from documentary assignments to bolster relief efforts in the late 1930s to images capturing a world on the brink of annihilation.

The YIVO exhibition boards, labeled in both English and Yiddish utilising an innovative, Bauhaus-inspired typography that originated in interwar Wilno, are now in the collection of ICP and are being displayed as a group for the first time since the original exhibitions.

Today, YIVO continues to advance the study of Eastern European Jewish cultural heritage, and houses an archive of more than 24 million artefacts.

 

“The Face of America at War”: New York, 1941-44

The recent discovery of Vishniac’s unsuccessful 1944 application for a Guggenheim Fellowship sheds new light on a group of more than 200 negatives from the early 1940s that had previously appeared to be unrelated. Printed and exhibited here for the first time, these images show the impact of war rationing on shoppers at the Washington Market, the war relief efforts of New York’s Chinese-American community, women’s entrance into the industrial workforce and the military, the carousing of off-duty soldiers in Central Park, and the impact of war on the lives of New Yorkers. Vishniac’s Guggenheim proposal described a “photographic series portraying the face of America at war,” and this diverse yet cohesive group of images was likely submitted as a sample portfolio with his application, the beginnings of a project never completed for want of funding. His extraordinary, extensive series on Chinatown, reminiscent of his photographs of urban Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, depicts a neighbourhood that is both separated from and integrated into the fabric of the larger city, reflective of Vishniac’s own efforts to navigate yet another new, adopted home as an outsider. The images capture the “objectivity” of “un-posed” journalistic photography, in the words of one recommender, and have a great deal in common with fellow Jewish émigré Robert Frank’s Guggenheim-funded project, The Americans, made a decade later.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Sisters Marion, Renate, and Karen Gumprecht, refugees assisted by the National Refugee Service (NRS) and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), shortly after their arrival in the United States, Central Park, New York]' 1941

 

Roman Vishniac
[Sisters Marion, Renate, and Karen Gumprecht, refugees assisted by the National Refugee Service (NRS) and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), shortly after their arrival in the United States, Central Park, New York]
1941
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Customers waiting in line at a butcher's counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York]' 1941-44

 

Roman Vishniac
[Customers waiting in line at a butcher’s counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York]
1941-44
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn]' 1949

 

Roman Vishniac
[Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn]
1949
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Berlin in Ruins, 1947

In 1947, Vishniac returned to Europe as an American citizen, hired by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) and United Jewish Appeal (UJA) to document relief efforts in Jewish Displaced Persons’ Camps. While on assignment, Vishniac visited Berlin, where he created a bleak and poignant record of the destroyed city that had been his home for twenty years. Focusing on West Berlin, he took intimate photographs of his former Wilmersdorf neighbourhood, now reduced to ruins. The same locations that had thrummed with life in his street photography from the Weimar era are suffused with a haunting silence in his 1947 photographs. One photograph reveals the crumbling and mangled platform that had once been Vishniac’s living room. Other images capture the tentative steps of a city emerging from devastation: children walking hand-in-hand and playing amidst the ruins, flowers growing through the rubble, and hairdressers once more advertising their services. Together, these pictures, which have not been previously printed or exhibited, constitute a unique and highly personal contribution to the documentation of postwar life in Berlin.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Boy standing on a mountain of rubble, Berlin]' 1947

 

Roman Vishniac
[Boy standing on a mountain of rubble, Berlin]
1947
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. 'The streets are free of brown batallions!, Berlin' 1947

 

Roman Vishniac
The streets are free of brown batallions!, Berlin
1947
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Refugees and Displaced Persons’ Camps, Germany and France, 1947

In the aftermath of World War II, the Allied nations had initially expected the repatriation of displaced refugees to take six months. Most Jewish refugees, however, no longer had communities or family to which they could return, presenting a unique challenge. Following the 1945 Harrison Report, the Allies considered Jewish survivors a distinct group, to be housed in exclusively Jewish camps and aided in eventual emigration. By mid-1947, 250,000 Jews lived in Displaced Persons’ Camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy. Officially administered by the United Nations, the primary aid, support, and administration for the DP Camps came from Jewish charitable organisations, most notably the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC). In France, Jewish organisations ran DP Camps privately, housing nearly 40,000 refugees. Despite difficult conditions and profound trauma, Jewish life soon flourished in the camps, as families reunited and formed anew.

Commissioned by the AJDC and the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), Vishniac traveled to various DP Camps in 1947, documenting a broad range of relief programs, including food distribution centres, visa application lines, occupational training, and health services. Other images record children’s camps, religious and cultural events, and refugee reunions. Wired back to America, Vishniac’s images helped publicise the plight of homeless and stateless Jewish refugees, raising funds and increasing the pressure on Britain and the U.S. to open their doors to survivors.

Spurred by these cultural and educational programs and the emerging Zionist youth movement, survivors soon rallied against British restrictions on immigration to Palestine. Following the Declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, and the American Displaced Persons Act of 1948, most Jews left DP Camps for Israel or the United States. By 1952, almost all DP Camps had closed.

Maya Benton, Curator at the International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Holocaust survivors and American relief worker, probably Schlachtensee Displaced Persons' Camp, Zehlendorf, Berlin]' 1947

 

Roman Vishniac
[Holocaust survivors and American relief worker, probably Schlachtensee Displaced Persons’ Camp, Zehlendorf, Berlin]
1947
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Holocaust survivors gathering outside a building where matzoh is being made in preparation for the Passover holiday, Hénonville Displaced Persons' Camp, Picardy, France]' 1947

 

Roman Vishniac
[Holocaust survivors gathering outside a building where matzoh is being made in preparation for the Passover holiday, Hénonville Displaced Persons’ Camp, Picardy, France]
1947
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

 

 

Jewish Historical Museum
Nieuwe Amstelstraat 1
1011 PL Amsterdam

Opening hours:
Daily 11am – 5pm

Jewish Historical Museum 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.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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