Posts Tagged ‘European photographer

08
Jul
15

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

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

Curator: Michel Frizot, historian of photography

 

 

Germaine Krull. 'Rue Auber in Paris' about 1928

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Rue Auber in Paris
about 1928
Gelatin silver print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of David H. McAlpin, by exchange
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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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.

 

 

 

 

Germaine Krull: A Photographer’s Journey 

Michel Frizot, curator of the exhibition, talks about Germaine Krull, her life, her works and her publications.

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

 

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

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Étalage: les mannequins [Display: mannequins]
1928
Gelatin silver print
10.8 x 15.7cm
Amsab-Institut d’Histoire Sociale, Gand
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Mannequins in a shop window' 1930

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Mannequins in a shop window
1930
Gelatin Silver Print
13.7 x 23.5cm
Collection Bouqueret-Rémy
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

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

 

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

 

Germaine Krull. 'Nude' Nd

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Nude
Nd
Gelatin Silver Print
Collection Dietmar Siegert
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Jeu de Paume

 

Germaine Krull. 'Self Portrait with Icarette' around 1925

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Self Portrait with Icarette
around 1925
Gelatin silver print
23.6 x 17.5cm
Purchase through the patronage of Yves Rocher, 2011. Former collection Bouqueret Christian. Centre Pompidou, Paris. National Museum of Modern Art / Industrial Design Centre
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Photo: © Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN / picture Centre Pompidou-CCI MNAM

 

Germaine Krull. 'Self Portrait, Paris' 1927

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Self Portrait, Paris
1927
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 17.9cm
Foundation Ann and Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Assia's profile' 1930

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Assia’s profile
1930
Gelatin silver print
22.2 x 15.8cm
Collection Bouqueret-Rémy
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

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

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Étude pour La Folle d’Itteville [Study for The Madwoman of Itteville]
1931
Gelatin silver print
21.9 x 16.4cm
Purchase through the patronage of Yves Rocher, 2011. Former collection Bouqueret Christian. Centre Pompidou, Paris. National Museum of Modern Art / Industrial Design Centre
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen.
Photo: © Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN / Guy Carrard

 

Germaine Krull. 'Advertising Study for Paul Poiret' 1926

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Advertising Study for Paul Poiret
1926
Gelatin silver print
Purchase through the patronage of Yves Rocher, 2011. Former collection Bouqueret Christian. Centre Pompidou, Paris. National Museum of Modern Art / Industrial Design Centre
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Photo: © Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN / Georges Meguerditchian

 

Germaine Krull. 'Female nude' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Female nude
1928
Gelatin silver print
21.6 x 14.4cm
Purchase through the patronage of Yves Rocher, 2011. Former collection Bouqueret Christian. Centre Pompidou, Paris. National Museum of Modern Art / Industrial Design Centre
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Photo: © Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN / Guy Carrard

 

Germaine Krull. 'Jean Cocteau' 1929

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Jean Cocteau
1929
Gelatin silver print 1976
23.7 x 17.2cm
Bouqueret Remy collection
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'André Malraux' 1930

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
André Malraux
1930
Gelatin silver print
23 x 17.3cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

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

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Tibetan religious ceremony offering of the white scarf
Undated
Gelatin silver print
24.1 x 18.5cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Berlin and Paris: early days

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

 

1928: “My fers” and VU

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

 

Reportage and magazines

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

 

Paris, Paris!

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

 

Cars, the open road

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

 

Women

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

 

“My collection of hands”

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

 

Le Courrier littéraire, 1930

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

 

Free spirit

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

 

War

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

 

Asia

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

 

The films

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

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Michel Frizot
Exhibition curator

 

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

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Gibbs Advertising
L’Illustration, No. 4533, January 18, 1930
36.7 x 27.8cm
Private collection
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Pol Rab (illustrator)' 1930

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Pol Rab (illustrator)
1930
Photomontage, Gelatin silver print
19.5 x 14.5cm
Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. '100 x Paris' 1929

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
100 x Paris
1929
Cover, Publisher of the series Berlin-Westend
24.3 x 17.3cm
Private collection
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

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

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Métal
Cover of the photogravure portfolio Métal (set of 64 plates)
1928
30 x 23.5cm
Collection Bouqueret-Rémy
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

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

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Bridge crane, Rotterdam
about 1926
from the series Métal
Gelatin silver print
21.9 x 15.3cm
Foundation Ann and Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

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

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Architecture ancienne: imprimerie de l’Horloge [Ancient architecture: printing house Clock]
1928
Gelatin silver print
21.9 x 15.2cm
Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

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

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Electric plant, Issy les Moulineaux
1928
Gelatin silver print
22.6 x 16.6cm
Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

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

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Les Halles de nuit (en toute amitié à Van Ecke) [Halls of Night (in friendship to Van Ecke)]
around 1920
Gelatin silver print
22 x 16.2cm
Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

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

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Au bon coin, Paris [At the right corner, Paris]
1929
Gelatin silver print
14.2 x 10.5cm
Collection Bouqueret-Rémy
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Marseille' June 1930

 

Germaine Krull (European 1897-1985)
Marseille
June 1930
Gelatin silver print
21.2 x 15.3cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection.Gift of Thomas Walther
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Photo: © 2015. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

 

 

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15
Mar
15

Exhibition: ‘Florence Henri. Mirror of the avant-garde 1927-1940’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 24th February – 17th May 2015

Curator: Cristina Zelich

 

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition' 1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition
1928
Gelatin silver print, vintage
27.2 x 37.5cm
Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti Photo
© Bauhaus Archiv

 

 

Objects in and of space, the two the same

Florence Henri is rapidly becoming one of my favourite photographers, an artist who emerged during one of the golden periods of photography, the avant-garde of the 1920s-30s. While we have seen some of these photographs before in a previous posting, there are some new and delightful images to enjoy here.

If you believe the text by Priscilla Frank, “Meet Florence Henri, The Under-Acknowledged Queen Of Surrealist Photography,” on the Huffington Post website [02/20/2015], you could be forgiven for thinking that her photography is based on Surrealist themes. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is nothing about Henri’s photographs to suggest that they are based on the creative potential of the unconscious mind exemplified by the irrational juxtaposition of images. Henri’s photographs are quite logical and ordered, being an investigation into space, time and object using the “extension of the formal and structural aesthetics of Cubism, Purism and Constructivism.”

Her geometric abstractions “exploited the dialogue between realism and abstraction… and she explored spatial extension and fragmentation in her utter modern vocabulary. Her still life and abstract compositions achieved by balancing abstraction with a pure and essential subject were created in the spirit of the machine age. She viewed space as if it were elastic, distorting figure and ground and altering planes through the use of mirrors and lenses.”

Through attention and attentiveness to subject, Henri achieved her results by using created space to investigate the fragmentation and distortion of the world. Her art is not about the production of phenomena (the spectacle), but about the creation of volumes that are in an of space itself. As Donald Judd’s observes of his created volumes in 1981: “… familiar objects, objects as we habitually perceive them, assume physical neutrality because they and their environment are deactivated: “They are points in space, and space is an empty surround. Instead, what is needed is a created space, space made by someone, space that is formed as a solid, the two the same, with the space and the solid defining each other.” Objects in and of space, the two the same: this was the crux. Judd did more than set new solids into existing voids. He formed solids and their correlative spaces as an integrated operation, as if he were establishing an architecture from the ground up, creating the entire environment, intensifying it, saturating it with its own sensation.”1

In a photographic sense, Henri can be seen as a precursor to Judd’s volumes, creating her own worlds from the ground up, creating the entire environment where the space and the object are one and the same thing… only to then record and flatten that space into the essential nature of the photograph, its physicality. Her sensory affects “remain fixed in the concatenation of materials, structure and placement that generates it. They are the lived equivalent of those conditions, experienced as continuous in time – hence, timeless – remaining wholly the same until interrupted.”2 How appropriate for Henri’s photographs for they do indeed have a timeless “air”, a transcendence of the time and place they were taken, a transcendence of the space which her volumes inhabit. Objects in and of space, the two the same.

As Judd observes, “Time and space don’t exist [as idealised abstractions]; they are made by events and positions. Time and space can be made and don’t have to be found like stars in the sky or rocks on a hillside.” Time and space are grounded in being human: they exist when someone experiences them.”3 Here is the nub of the matter, for it matters that we experience Henri’s photographs each in its definite time and space. Henri’s being is immersed in these volumes and they hold our interest because the created environments are saturated with her own sensations.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Donald Judd quoted in Richard Shiff. “Sensous Thoughts,” in Marianne Stockebrand (ed.,). Donald Judd. The Multicolored Works. Yale University Press, 2014, p. 106
  2. Ibid.,
  3. Ibid., p. 107.

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

 

 

“With photography, what I really want to do is compose the image, as I do in painting. The volumes, lines, shadows and light should submit to my will and say what I would like them to say. All of this under the strict control of the composition, because I do not claim to be able to explain the world or to explain my own thoughts.”

.
Florence Henri in an interview with Attilio Colombo, “Specchio, essenzialità, geometría,” in ‘Florence Henri’ (Milan: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, 1983)

 

“Henri soon recognised the medium’s capacity as a pictorial language and outlet for creative expression. Upon returning to France [from the Bauhaus], Henri began to develop a large body of photographic work based upon her Bauhaus experience and an extension of the formal and structural aesthetics of Cubism, Purism and Constructivism. These non-objective principles forged an alternative to the then-dominant French art movement Surrealism. Henri transcended the avant-garde of one art form to that of another…

Henri’s greatest experimentation with geometric abstraction occurred during the period between 1929-1930… In the photographic work, Florence Henri exploited the dialogue between realism and abstraction, but always maintained a recognisable subject. She was concerned with transparency and movement, and she explored spatial extension and fragmentation in her utter modern vocabulary.

Her still life and abstract compositions achieved by balancing abstraction with a pure and essential subject were created in the spirit of the machine age. She viewed space as if it were elastic, distorting figure and ground and altering planes through the use of mirrors and lenses.”

.
Lynne Warren. ‘Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography’, 3-Volume set. Routledge, 2005, p. 691.

 

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition' 1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition
1928
Gelatin silver print, vintage
27 x 37.1cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition abstraite [Still-life composition]' 1929

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition abstraite [Still-life composition]
1929
Collage, gelatin silver print cut and pasted on paper
12 x 14cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Portrait Composition, Tulia Kaiser' c. 1930

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Portrait Composition, Tulia Kaiser
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print, vintage
23 x 29.2cm
Achat grâce au mécénat de Yves Rocher, 2011
Ancienne collection Christian Bouqueret Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne / Centre de création industrielle
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti Photo
© Centre Pompidou, Mnam-Cci, Dist. Rmn-Grand Palais / Georges Meguerditchian

 

 

Summary of exhibition

Florence Henri. Mirror of the avantgarde illustrates the desire of the Jeu de Paume to highlight the important role played by women photographers from the 1920s to the 1950s, and follows on from previous exhibitions devoted to Claude Cahun, Kati Horna, Eva Besnyö, Berenice Abbott, Lisette Model, Laure Albin Guillot and indeed, Lee Miller.

The exhibition brings together, for the first time in France, over 130 vintage prints by Florence Henri, as well as rare documents and publications, revealing the artist’s photographic production. Influenced by Constructivism, Cubism and Surrealism, Florence Henri’s work is part of the exciting creative tenor of the period, during which, photography, like cinema or architecture, embodied a spirit of innovation and progress, as well as a certain unconventionality in terms of the dominant visual order.

Familiar with Bauhaus, Florence Henri was one of the figures of the European artistic intelligentsia of the time. Her friendship with Fernand Léger, the Delaunays, Hans Arp, László Moholy-Nagy and Theo van Doesburg would have a profound influence on her work. In 1929, Florence Henri opened a photography studio in Paris. It soon rivalled that of Man Ray’s. Her classes were very well-attended and her talents as a portrait photographer were quickly recognised.

It is not so much the image alone as the constant research that brings Florence Henri’s work to life. Lines and geometric compositions are recurring elements in her photographs. Over the years, she made her compositions increasingly complex through the use of mirrors, industrial and natural objects, or through collage and superposition. The exhibition attempts to both decipher and highlight the work of Florence Henri in terms of reflections, perspective, the depth of field and photomontage – key technical experimentations in the history of modern photography.

 

Florence Henri. 'Mannequin de tailleur [Tailor's mannequin]' 1930-1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Mannequin de tailleur [Tailor’s mannequin]
1930-1931
Gelatin silver print, vintage
17.1 x 22.8cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
©Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]' 1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]
1931
Gelatin silver print dated 1977
23 x 30cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Pont [Bridge]' 1930-1935

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Pont [Bridge]
1930-1935
Gelatin silver print dated 1977
23.5 x 23.8cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition, The Glory that was Greece' c. 1933

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition, The Glory that was Greece
c. 1933
Photomontage, gelatin silver print dated 1975
23.5 x 29.5cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

“All that I know, and how I know this, is primarily made up of abstract elements: spheres, planes, and grids whose parallel lines provide numerous opportunities, without taking into account the mirrors I use, to present the same object from several different angles within a single photograph, in order to yield, in the same way, different visions that complement and complete each other, and which when taken as a whole, are better able to explain it. Essentially, all of this is much more difficult to explain than to do.”

.
Florence Henri in an interview with Attilio Colombo, “Specchio, essenzialità, geometría,” in ‘Florence Henri’ (Milan: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, 1983)

 

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne (France) 1982) was a multi-faceted artist, who was first known for her paintings before making a name for herself as a major figure in avant-garde photography between the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1940s. She lived in Silesia, Munich, Vienna, Rome and above all Berlin, before finally settling in Paris in 1924 and devoting herself to photography. This medium enabled her to experiment new relationships with space, in particular by the use of mirrors and other objects in her compositions.

The Jeu de Paume is presenting a vast panorama of Florence Henri’s photographic production from 1927 to 1940, including her self-portraits, abstract compositions, portraits of artists, nudes, photomontages, photocollages, as well as documentary photos taken in Rome, Paris and Brittany. The exhibition comprises vintage prints, various documents and published material.

When she was young, Florence Henri studied music and painting in England and Germany. In 1919, when she was a student at the Berlin Academy of Arts, she made the acquaintance of writer and art historian Carl Einstein and became friends with several figures of the avant-garde, including Hans Arp, Adrian Ludwig Richter, John Heartfield and Lázló Moholy-Nagy. She took classes with Paul Klee and Vassily Kandinsky at the Bauhaus in Weimar. In 1924 she moved to Paris, where she followed classes at the Académie Montparnasse, whose director was André Lhote, then at the Académie moderne (founded by Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant). In 1927, after a visit to Bauhaus in Dessau, she abandoned painting in favour of photography. It was at this time that she produced her famous self-portraits in mirrors and her still lifes; the result of her first steps in the spatial research that she would carry out through the medium of photography.

Between the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, three mythical exhibitions in terms of the history of European photography took place in Germany: “Fotografie der Gegenwart” at the Folkwang Museum in Essen (1929); “Film ind Foto” (Fifo) organised the same year by the Deutscher Werkbund in Stuttgart and “Das Lichtbild” held in Munich (1931). These exhibitions bore witness to the rapid expansion of new photographic concepts and a rupture with tradition. Fifo marked the zenith of the Neues Sehen (New Vision) movement of which László Moholy-Nagy was an exponent and “Das Lichtbild” marked the triumph of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), whose leading representative was Albert Renger-Patzsch.

Florence Henri was invited to show an important number of prints at these three exhibitions in recognition of her photographic production during this fundamental period that saw the photography used to free our vision and open out onto new experiences.

Florence Henri’s studio rivalled that of Man Ray, even if she had also opened a school of photography where Lisette Model and Gisèle Freund, amongst others, would enrol. In fact, despite the central position that her oeuvre occupied in avant-garde photography at the end of the 1920s, her reputation as a portraitist in Paris, and the fact that her photos had been published in many of the period’s illustrated magazines such as Arts et Métiers and Lilliput etc, Florence Henri’s body of work remains largely unknown.

László Moholy-Nagy’s* comments are a perfect illustration of Florence Henri’s position: “With Florence Henri’s photos, photographic practice enters a new phase, the scope of which would have been unimaginable before today. Above and beyond the precise and exact documentary composition of these highly defined photos, research into the effects of light is tackled not only through abstract photograms, but also in photos of real-life subjects. The entire problem of manual painting is taken onboard by the photographic process and is manifestly given a whole new depth thanks to this new optical instrument. Reflections and spatial relationships, superposition and intersections are just some of the areas explored from a totally new perspective and viewpoint.”

*László Moholy-Nagy, “Zu den Fotografien von Florence Henri”, i10, No 17-18, Amsterdam, December 20, 1928.

Press release from the Jeu de Paume website

 

Florence Henri. 'Double portrait' 1927-1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Double portrait
1927-1928
Gelatin silver print dated 1977
24 x 18cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Autoportrait [Self-portrait]' 1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Autoportrait [Self-portrait]
1928
Gelatin silver print, vintage
39.3 x 25.5cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

Her most well-known work is a self-portrait, in which Henri sits before a mirror, dolled up almost as if in drag. Two silver balls lay reflected up against the mirror, equivocal symbols of both testicles and breasts. Henri, influential in both her artistic style and personal styles, toyed with gender binaries, using her personal appearance to emphasise the performative nature of gender. The artist was married to a Swiss house servant, but went on to have other relationships with both men and women, including a longtime affair with artist and model Margarete Schall.

Henri established herself as a formidable photographer, and remained consistent in her work up until World War II. Then her work declined considerably, both due to lack of materials and the prohibitions imposed under the Nazi occupation. Henri briefly returned to painting, but her central period of output remained in the 1920s and 1930s. Her compositions, simultaneously warm, playful, clever and inquisitive, set the stage for future explorations into the limits of photography, or lack thereof.

Priscilla Frank. “Meet Florence Henri, The Under-Acknowledged Queen Of Surrealist Photography,” on the Huffington Post website, 20th February 2015 [Online] Cited 10/03/2015.

 

Florence Henri. 'Femme aux cartes [Woman with cards]' 1930

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Femme aux cartes [Woman with cards]
1930
Gelatin silver print, vintage
39 x 28.5cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Portrait Composition, Cora' 1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Portrait Composition, Cora
1931
Gelatin silver print, vintage
13.6 x 11.4cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Fernand Léger' 1934

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Fernand Léger
1934
Gelatin silver print, vintage
30.4 x 24cm
Private collection, courtesy Archives Florence Henri, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

Earliest compositions

Her earliest compositions introduce an element that would be fundamental for her artistic investigations, namely the mirror. Using a very limited number of elements, Henri created extremely complex images characterised by the fragmentation of space and the use of multiple viewpoints. They include one of her best-known works, the self-portrait looking in the mirror with two metal spheres, which may be said to embody the spirit of freedom typical of that period, conveying the image of a modern and emancipated female artist, one who failed to conform to the societal status traditionally assigned to women.

 

Multiple exposure

Florence Henri uses methods such as multiple exposures when shooting, or a combination of several negatives, some inverted, to obtain abstract images, in which she manages to bestow static objects with a sense of dynamism. Florence Henri’s output during this early phase can be described as a perfect synthesis between abstract geometrical painting and the innovations of New Vision photography.

 

“Florence Henri’s work lured me to come to Paris in 1929. I wanted to live in a place where images were made that coincided with my own concepts.”

Ilse Bing, quoted in Gisèle Freund’s preface to Ilse Bing 1929/1955: Femmes de l’enfance à la vieillesse

 

Advertising photography

In the field of professional photography, Florence Henri stands out for her very personal approach to advertising photography. Indeed, her images are the natural extension of her photographic experimentation and investigations using objects and mirrors.

 

Collages

She quickly substitutes industrial objects with natural elements in her compositions. In addition, she introduces a new tool in her work: collage. She makes them with fragments of prints, and then reproduces them to create the final print. She also introduces a new technique into her work – collage – thereby underlining her interest in autonomous images that move away from a simple reproduction of reality, all the while emphasising the conceptual work of the artist.

 

Shadows

Her quest for experimentation leads Florence Henri to work on the shadows passing vertically through the frame, creating a dark gap that interrupts and fragments the continuity of the image.

 

Nu composition

Their aesthetic characteristics clearly place the works grouped under the title Nu composition as part of the formal research Florence Henri carried out from the early 1930s, where the mastery of the composition obviously remains the central concern of her work.

Here, the camera is positioned at a slight distance in order to capture the sensuality of the female form, while natural objects – hyacinths and shells – or other more enigmatic elements, such as a comb or cards, also appear in the frame.

 

Rome

In late 1931 and early 1932, Florence Henri visits Rome where she takes a series of photographs, notably at the Roman Forum, but also at Saint Peter’s Square, which she uses, upon her return to Paris, as material for numerous collages, developing the technique she had already used in certain of her still lifes.

 

Portrait composition

The series Portrait Composition, is characterised by the tight framing of the central figurer – though some are models, most are her friends, including Grete Willers, Sonia Delaunay, Woty Werner, Kurt Wilhelm-Kästner, Fernand Léger, and Tulia Kaiser. The artist often makes use of harsh lighting, which marks the traits or make-up of her subjects with a diagonal composition or even distorts the image.

 

Brittany

The photographs taken in Brittany, which at first glance could be seen as purely documentary, reveal a very carefully considered attention to structure. In some of the more general shots, Florence Henri inserts a blurred, graphic element between the lens and the landscape, thereby going against the idea of photography as merely capturing reality, and once again, reinforcing the notion of composition.

 

Store windows

When Florence Henri strolls through Paris with her camera, her images reveal a very different preoccupation to that of other photographers. Faithful to her attention to structure, in the reflections of store windows she finds the same spirit that brings life to her studio compositions using mirrors. In 1936, Florence Henri moves to the Rue Saint-Romain in Montparnasse, where she makes use of the terrace to work in natural light, and to pursue her study of the fragmentation of the image through the use of shadows and reflections. She also returns to her self-portrait work.

 

Florence Henri. 'Fenêtre [Window]' 1929

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Fenêtre [Window]
1929
Gelatin silver print, vintage
37.3 x 27.5cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Jeanne Lanvin' 1929

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Jeanne Lanvin
1929
Gelatin silver print, vintage
36.7 x 28.7cm
Collection particulière, courtesy Archives Florence Henri, Gênes
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]' 1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]
1931
Gelatin silver print, vintage
45.9 x 37.7cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]' c. 1933

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]
c. 1933
Photomontage, épreuve gélatino-argentique d’époque
29.4 x 24cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Robert Delaunay' c. 1935

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Robert Delaunay
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print, vintage
49.5 x 39.7cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 - Compiègne 1982) 'Bretagne [Brittany]' 1937-1940

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Bretagne [Brittany]
1937-1940
Gelatin silver print, vintage
28.2 x 24.2cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Structure (intérieur du Palais de l'Air, Paris, Exposition Universelle) [Structure (Interior of the Palais de l'Air, Paris, World's Fair)]' 1937

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Structure (intérieur du Palais de l’Air, Paris, Exposition Universelle) [Structure (Interior of the Palais de l’Air, Paris, World’s Fair)]
1937
Gelatin silver print dated 1976
17.5 x 17.5cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Autoportrait [Self-portrait]' 1938

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Autoportrait [Self-portrait]
1938
Gelatin silver print dated 1970’s
24.8 x 23.1cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

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

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

Jeu de Paume website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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