Posts Tagged ‘Germaine Krull Métal

09
Dec
18

Photographs: Germaine Krull ‘MÉTAL’ 1928

December 2018

 

Germaine Krull (photographer) Cover design by M. Tchimoukow. 'MÉTAL' cover 1928

 

Germaine Krull (photographer)
Cover design by M. Tchimoukow (Louis Bonin)
MÉTAL cover
1928
Librairie des Arts décoratifs
A. Calavas, Editeur

Portfolio comprising a title page, a preface by Florent Fels and sixty four (64) loose photogravures, each mentioning the photographer’s name, titled ‘MÉTAL’, plate number and publisher’s name. Original dust jacket.

folio 30 x 23.5 cm; 11 ¾ x 9 ¼ in.
plate 29.2 x 22,5 cm; 11 ½ x 8 ¾ in.
image 23.6 x 17.1 cm; 9 ¼ x 6 ½ in.

 

 

“Dans toute sa force” (In full force)

For my new body of work I have been researching the concept of The Oblique Function which was first developed in the 1960’s by Architecture Principe (Claude Parent and Paul Virilio). “The idea was to tilt the ground in order to revolutionise the old paradigm of the vertical wall. In fact, being inclined, the wall becomes experiencable and so are the cities imagined by the two French architects. The oblique is fundamentally interested in how a body physically experiences a space. The slope implies an effort to climb up and a speed to climb down; this way the body cannot abstract itself from the space and feel the degrees of inclination.”1

The key to the concept is: The oblique is fundamentally interested in how a body physically experiences a space.

Perhaps we can transfer this concept to the portfolio MÉTAL by Germaine Krull, one of the most important photobooks every produced … and ask how does Krull, her camera, and by extension the viewer, inhabit the spaces she creates.

In this portfolio Krull, through “extreme angles, producing dizzying compositions of overlapping and intersecting details”, one upside down image and two multiple exposures, “one showing two overlapped power generators and the other several layered bicycle parts printed at right angles to one another to create an effect of circular motion”2 – produces and directs (Krull was also an avant-garde filmmaker) the creation of a molecular structure – both grand and intimate, macro and micro at one and the same time. Probing further, we can link her filmic structure, this oblique mass of machines and images, to Eisenstein’s dynamic comprehension of a work of art, that is, “The logic of organic form vs. the logic of rational form [which] yields, in collision, the dialectic of the art-form.”3

This dialectic (the tension that exists between two conflicting or interacting forces, elements, or ideas; and, the process, in Hegelian and Marxist thought, in which two apparently opposed ideas, the thesis and antithesis, become combined in a unified whole, the synthesis) rests on Eisenstein’s definition of the organic form as “the passive principle of being”, defining its limit to be nature, and his definition of the rational form as “the active principle of production”, defining its limit to be industry, with art falling where nature and industry intersects.4 How these two forces interact “produces and determines Dynamism”, in which:

The spatial form of this dynamism is expression.
The phases of its tension: rhythm.5

.
These new concepts and viewpoints are the result of a constantly dynamic evolution from old perceptions to new perceptions which produce contradictions within the spectator’s mind. Eisenstein observes, “That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal; from which it follows that irregularity – that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment, are an essential part and characteristic of beauty.”6 “And Baudelaire wrote in his journal: That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal; from which it follows that irregularity-that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment, are an essential part and characteristic of beauty. Upon closer examination of the particular beauty of irregularity as employed in painting, whether by Grünewald or by Renoir, it will be seen that it is a disproportion in the relation of a detail in one dimension to another detail in a different dimension. The spatial development of the relative size of one detail in correspondence with another, and the consequent collision between the proportions designed by the artist for that purpose, result in a characterization – a definition of the represented matter.”7

What could me appropriate for Krull’s multi-layered, distorted, scaled, twisted representations of the new temples of industry than this definition of represented matter – a symbiosis between nature and industry, acknowledging, through emotion, beauty in the nature of industry, and landscapes of plenty in a people-less world?

An anonymous author on the Cinema Confessions blog comments, “Any art form ought to be understood as a communicative medium in which the thing being communicated is not an idea, but an emotion. Language communicates intellect, whereas art communicates sensation. The two are certainly compatible, as in poetry, but also just as certainly inimitably unique. And as communication requires the process of a message being sent and received, we must acknowledge that distinct communication is impossible without the process of time. Thus, as words in a sentence are given meaning through context of contiguous words in the same sentence, and sentences are given sub-textual meaning through context of other sentences within a conversation, given shots within a scene will conform to an over-tonal meaning intrinsically contextualized by other shots within the same scene, and in a broader sense, other scenes throughout the film.”

They continue: “In the essay The Filmic Fourth Dimension, Eisenstein compares film to music thusly, “There, along with the vibration of a basic dominant tone, comes a whole series of similar vibrations … Their impacts against each other … envelop the basic tone in a whole host of secondary vibrations … We find the same thing in optics, as well. All sorts of aberrations, distortions, and other defects, which can be remedied by systems of lenses, can also be taken into account compositionally, providing a whole series of definite compositional effects.” To simplify, he is describing the methods by which musicians and filmmakers are capable of manipulating audience emotion.”8

Thus, through Krull’s definitive compositional effects, her tonal montages capture more than just linear time, construct more than the spectator’s eye directed along the lines of some immobile object … for her holistic movement of the piece is perceived in a wider sense: where the “montage is based on the characteristic emotional sound of the piece – of its dominant. The general tone of the piece… I do not mean to say that the emotional sound of the piece is to be measured “impressionistically.” The piece’s characteristics in this respect can be measured with as much exactitude as in the most elementary case of “by the ruler” measurement in metrical montage. But the units of measurement differ. And the amounts to be measured are different.”9

This is the key to the effective nature of Krull’s portfolio, the power of the emotional sound of the piece: her understanding of the compositional effects of tonal montage as a piece of theatre measured in a different unit – through rhythm, through the interruption of sequences, through the distortion of spaces – to create a single unit of sensory and emotional experience. As Eisenstein notes, “In the Kabuki … a single monistic sensation of theatrical “provocation” takes place. The Japanese regards each theatrical element, not as an incommensurable unit among the various categories of affect (on the various sense-organs), but as a single unit of theatre . . .. Directing himself to the various organs of sensation, he builds his summation [of individual “pieces”] to a grand total provocation of the human brain, without taking any notice which of these several paths he is following.”10

Pace Krull. Her holistic compositions are intertextual and multi-faceted at a time when “straight” photography and even avant-garde photography could not string an adequate sentence together, let alone a multi-dimensional visual, sensual and emotional narrative. This is why Krull’s portfolio is so revolutionary for its time. And just to reinforce this shock of the new, of surprise and astonishment, Krull gets the writer Florent Fels – a traditionalist who by this time (1928) did not like contemporary art – to write a romantic eulogy of an introduction to the new gods of the sky, an introduction which gives the reader a sense of the soaring romanticism which is ascribed to these machinic megaliths. Citing Dostoyevsky, Rousseau and Cocteau, Fels’ florid fornications are, just like Krull’s stunning images, a joy for the senses:

“The trains break the horizon with a deafening roar. They leave the ground and glide there on the ether into the inevitable advance of progress, dragging the living with wonder towards the astral stations.

The strong and soft movement of the hammer softens the ingots like lead elephants. And see the Eiffel Tower, now a bell tower of acoustic waves, its improper monstrosity has provided for surprise and confusion. Now lovers are treated there, three hundred metres above the ground, to a rendezvous with the birds. And the poets, from the old Douanier Rousseau to Jean Cocteau, claim that on beautiful spring evenings fairies ride tobogan on its wing.

This giant was missing a heavenly glow: One has been given to it. The luminous progress of industry is evident in every majestic metre of its height.

Aeroplane, elevator and wheel, with which some humans soar up to the kingdom of the birds, are suddenly transformed into elements of our nature.”11

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,438

.
All of the photographs in this posting are published under “fair use” conditions for the purpose of educational research and academic comment. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. “# Great Speculations /// The Oblique Functon by Claude Parent and Pau Virilio” on The Funambulist website [Online] Cited 09/12/2018
  2. Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 09/12/2018
  3. Sergei Eisenstein. Film Form: Essay in Film Theory. Edited and translated by Jay Leyda. New York and London: A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1949, p. 46
  4. Ibid.,
  5. Ibid., p. 47
  6. Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Journals (13 May 1 856), translated by Christopher Isherwood. New York, Random House, 1930, quoted in Sergei Eisenstein. Film Form: Essay in Film Theory. Edited and translated by Jay Leyda. New York and London: A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1949, p. 51
  7. Anonymous. “Film as Language: The Method and Form of Sergei Eisenstein,” on the Cinema Confessions blog 05/05/2011 [Online] Cited 09/12/2018
  8. Eisenstein op. cit., p. 51
  9. Ibid., p. 75
  10. Ibid., p. 64
  11. Extract of the Preface from Florent Fels to the first edition of MÉTAL. Librairie des Arts décoratifs, A. Calavas, Editeur, 68, Rue la Fayette, Paris, 1928

 

 

I did not have a special intention or design when I took the Iron photographs. I wanted to show what I see, exactly as the eye sees it.
‘MÉTAL’ is a collection of photographs from the time. ‘MÉTAL’ initiated a new visual era and open the way or a new concept of photography.
‘MÉTAL’ was the starting point which allowed photography to become an artisanal trade and which made an artist of the photographer, because it was part of this new movement, of this new era which touched all art.

.
Germaine Krull. Extract from the Preface to the 1976 edition of ‘MÉTAL’

 

Roland Barthes was skeptical of Krull’s experimental photographs. In his famous 1980 meditation on photography, ‘Camera Lucida’, he wrote: “There are moments when I detest Photographs: what have I to do with Atget’s old tree trunks, with Pierre Boucher’s nudes, with Germaine Krull’s double exposures (to cite only the old names).”3 Barthes discounts what he calls photographic “contortions of technique: superimpressions, anamorphoses, deliberate exploitation of certain defects (blurring, deceptive perspectives, trick framing),” and comments that “great photographers (Germaine Krull, Kertész, William Klein) have played on these surprises, without convincing me, if I understand their subversive bearing.”4 But while such photographs are sometimes subversive, to be sure, they are often celebratory in tone. Krull and her colleagues carried out their “contortions of technique” to produce metaphors for the swirling, confusing, exhilarating urban life in their post-World War I decade.

.
Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida, p. 33 quoted in Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018

 

Krull’s most renowned photographs are not street scenes but abstracted views of the Eiffel Tower, and three of these images, accompanied by a short text by Florent Fels and laid out in overlapping fashion, appeared in a ‘Vu’ article titled “Dans toute sa force” (In full force) published in May 1928, just before the tower’s fortieth birthday (fig. 8).19 According to Krull’s memoirs, Vogel told her, “Go and photograph the Eiffel Tower, Germaine. Photograph it as you really see it, and make sure that you don’t bring me a postcard view.”20 As Krull wrote, she did not see much in the “dead old form” until she began climbing the staircases and experiencing the tower from various vantage points. Some of the resultant images  – vertiginous views of the wrought iron structure - appeared in the German magazine UHU and Philippe Lamour’s journal ‘Grand’route’ as well as in ‘Vu’, and others (eleven in all) grace the pages of ‘Métal’.21

.
“Protest gegen ein unmögliches Bauwerk,” ‘UHU’ 4 (December 1927): 106-11; Eric Hurel, “La Confusion des arts,” ‘Grand’route’ 1, no. 3 (May 1930): 71-74; and Krull, ‘Métal’, cover and pls. 2, 11, 19, 26, 28, 33, 37, 50, 54, 57. Footnote 21 in Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018

 

 

Although a portfolio, rather than a book, MÉTAL is widely considered to be among the most important photographic publications of the 1920s. Not only was Krull able to create work that stood the test of time, but she managed it in a profession dominated by men. It is interesting that with MÉTAL, she embraces a clearly masculine theme.

Krull’s photographs, whether of bridges, cranes, or the Eiffel Tower, tend towards the unconventional. It seems as if her initial approach is quite conservative, but then she questions common rules of composition, avoiding the more obvious ways her subjects would have been photographed at the time. Krull consequently avoids implementing a strict visual language. Instead of striving for a “realistic” documentation of her subject in her photographs she chooses her angles instinctively, cropping the images tightly, or even reversing them. It is exactly this unexpected approach that makes MÉTAL stand out. …

The photographs were taken in Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Marseille and Saint-Malo.

Curiously the cover image of the portfolio (also plate 37) is actually presented upside down. This decision was presumably taken by M. Tchimoukow (real name Louis Bonin), the designer of the portfolio’s cover. There appear to have been at least two versions of the portfolio. One with a black spine and band, and one with a brown spine and band. The brown cloth version (shown below) seems to be the rarer of the two. The portfolio consists of 64 plates with images printed on one side, and two folded sheets unbound resulting in 8 pages which include a two and a half page text by Florent Fels in French and a short explanatory text by Germaine Krull.

Text from the achtung.photography website

 

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
In the port of Amsterdam
1924
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Museum of Technology, Paris
1925
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Antwerp
1924
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

 

Preface from Florent Fels to the first edition of MÉTAL

The industrial activity of our times spreads a spectacle before our eyes, to which they have not yet become accustomed. Its newness captures and frightens us like that of a large natural phenomenon. In turn it expresses an attitude of mind, to which painters and poets are among those who devote themselves.

Europe’s cities appear to us as outdated and anachronistic. The provincial towns with their promenades, pleasant fountains and music pavilion suddenly become somewhat old fashioned, whilst the lyricism of our time succeeds in writing itself in concrete and steel cathedrals. Yet we are witness to the paradoxical fact, that the largest enterprises serve as forms of progress with exception of those who can contribute to an improvement in human dwellings. Except for a privileged few the accommodation of our contemporaries shows a similarity with that of our forebears at the time of Richelieu and Cromwell. The people of the cities succumb to the push of commercial practises. We demand houses with windows, which give a free view of the garden. Modern housing for modern people in which the sun and the fresh air find an unhindered inlet. Concrete and steel are their most important constituents: Ten years after the end of the war steel will at last serve a noble purpose, it will perhaps be rehabilitated.

Steel changes our landscape. Forests of masts replacing trees centuries old. Blast furnaces replacing hills.

From this new expression of the world some aspects have no been captured by beautiful photographs representative of a new romanticism.

Germaine Krull is the Marceline Desbores-Valmore of this lyricism and her photographs are sonnets of shining, piercing verse. Like an orchid is the driving force of Farcot and like frightening insects are the cogs.

Double exposure lends to the finest mechanisms a fantastic appearance and in considering a milling machine covered in muddy oil and detritus and from water dripping, one thinks of Dostoyevsky. In the halo that surrounds them the powerful, noiseless and quietly working dynamos seem to radiate luminous vibrations, and whose chimneys ring out whose fanfare tones to the heavens, these new godly concepts laid out before us. The bridges penetrate into the space. The trains break the horizon with a deafening roar. They leave the ground and glide there on the ether into the inevitable advance of progress, dragging the living with wonder towards the astral stations.

The strong and soft movement of the hammer softens the ingots like lead elephants. And see the Eiffel Tower, now a bell tower of acoustic waves, its improper monstrosity has provided for surprise and confusion. Now lovers are treated there, three hundred metres above the ground, to a rendezvous with the birds. And the poets, from the old Douanier Rousseau to Jean Cocteau, claim that on beautiful spring evenings fairies ride tobogan on its wing.

This giant was missing a heavenly glow: One has been given to it. The luminous progress of industry is evident in every majestic metre of its height.

Aeroplane, elevator and wheel, with which some humans soar up to the kingdom of the birds, are suddenly transformed into elements of our nature.

The Tower is and remains the highest symbol of the modern age. As he left New York and its vapour crowned palaces it was the Eiffel Tower, this beacon of the air, which Lindbergh envisaged, in order to reach Paris in the sentimental heart of the modern world.

Florent Fels.

 

The Eiffel Tower, the cranes and bridges of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Marseille and Saint-Malo provided me with the material for a number of plates which form this album. I am indebted to others for the extreme kindness with which I was welcomed, by the Director of the Conservatoire des Arts-et-Métiers to his museum, by the Director of the CPDE at the Saint-Quen Power Station, and by M. André Citroën in his factories.
The cover of the book is a composition by M. Tchimoukow.

Germaine Krull
Cover design by M. Tchimoukow

Librairie des Arts décoratifs,
A. Calavas, Editeur, 68, Rue la Fayette, Paris, 1928
Portfolio

23.5 x 29.9cm (Portfolio)
22.5 x 29cm (Plates)

64 plates and 2 leaves

 

Marceline Desbores-Valmore

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (20 June 1786 – 23 July 1859) was a French poet and novelist…

She published Élégies et Romances, her first poetic work, in 1819. Her melancholy, elegiacal poems are admired for their grace and profound emotion. In 1821 she published the narrative work Veillées des Antilles. It includes the novella Sarah, an important contribution to the genre of slave stories in France…

The publication of her innovative volume of elegies in 1819 marks her as one of the founders of French romantic poetry. Her poetry is also known for taking on dark and depressing themes, which reflects her troubled life. She is the only female writer included in the famous Les Poètes maudits anthology published by Paul Verlaine in 1884. A volume of her poetry was among the books in Friedrich Nietzsche’s library. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Railway lifting bridge, Rotterdam
1923-24
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Factory in Rotterdam
1923
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

 

Florent Fels

Ferdinand Florent Fels (1891-1977) was a French journalist, publisher and author prominent in discussing art in France. He often used the pseudonym Felsenberg. Fels launched the art magazine Action: Cahiers individualistes de philosophie et d’art in 1919. Here he expressed his individualist anarchist philosophy. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Fels as an art critic before 1925

I now feel the need to make a step back on Fels. Born in 1891, he was recruited as a soldier-interpreter in the First World War thanks to his knowledge of English, and here became an anti-militaristic minded person. His experience at the front was quite parallel to that of Georg Grosz, the only German artist in his anthology, whose sad pages on the role of artists and critics during World War I corresponded largely to the thoughts of the French author. The experience of war convinced the young Fels of the need to overcome the traditional aesthetic models, linked to symbolism, but also of the emptiness of contemporary art, which had propagated or somehow supported the war effort. It is no coincidence that his friend de Vlaminck – in the Propos dedicated to him – used disdainful words on the role of Cubism in the years leading up to the war. According to Fels, the only art that, after the slaughter at the front, could still be trusted was the Dada movement, born in Zurich in 1916 and spread rapidly in Europe (it is also what can be read in the pages of Grosz, an artist about whom Fels published – in addition to the pages in the anthology – several other articles in the French world [14]).

Returning from the war front, in 1919, the twenty-eighty year old Fels launched with Robert Mortier (painter and poet) and Marcel Sauvage (poet) the journal Action. Cahiers individualistes de philosophie et d’art (Action. Individualist Notebooks on Philosophy and Art), which would have a short life (the last issue was 1922). The editors were young ex-soldiers who invested the money they had got from the state at the time they left the army, to launch the new journal. The founders of Action attempted to both awake and open the French culture. In the field of literature, Action hosted a series of poets, writers and literary critics such as Andre Malraux, Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau and Antonin Artaud; in the area of art, the journal liaised with all contemporary avant-garde movements (dada, fauves, cubists), discussed and exalted the production of the greatest artists (Claude Monet, Picasso, Matisse, Henri Rousseau Le Douanier) and gave great emphasis to African art. Looking at the journal’s issues, all available on the Internet [15], it is also easy to find that Action also housed reproductions of paintings and prints by many of the painters who later on were included in Propos d’Artistes: Derain, Kisling, Léger, Lhote, Pascin, Utrillo, Vlaminck. There were also art criticism articles of Duret and poems by Vlaminck.

Within Dadaism, Action preached a ‘subjectivist’, or individualist, version of vanguard aesthetics. It did not propagate revolutions, but proclaimed the need for the absolute freedom of the artists. Fels’ points of reference were in fact the individualistic anarchist movements inspired by Rousseau and Proudhon; in March 1920, he held a conference on “Les Classiques de l’Esprit nouveau” and published the text in the journal L’un [16]: he rejected the traditional Dadaist attitude of total destruction of the past and identified the new classics (Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, Van Gogh) that were due to be the basis of the new art. Fels took distance from the anti-social attitudes typical of Dadaism, and animated a controversy over the direction of new art movements: for him, everyone should make his personal revolution, without destroying any social foundations. At the root of Fels’s aesthetic theory there was “the enhancement of individual psychologies, the free but orderly expression of the heart, the sense of art, inspiration, and individuality” [17].

In 1922, Action‘s experience ended: money was over and the attempt to counter the revolutionary drift within Dadaism had failed. Starting with 1924, André Breton imposed surrealism, inspired by a much more corrosive aesthetic and social criticism. Fels condemned it.

 

Florent Fels between 1923 and 1925

Once the experience of Action was concluded in 1922, Fels joined in 1923 the editorial staff of Les Nouvelles Littéraires. There he dealt not only with contemporary art, but with reviews of exhibitions of all kinds (from Renaissance to Art of Polynesia). Often, his articles updated the public on the developments of decorative arts (in those years, he published his already mentioned essay on French tapestries and carpets).

I already mentioned that Fels stated in the postscript of the anthology: “I wanted to produce a document dated 1925” [18]. The idea was therefore to offer the reader almost an instant book. In fact, as we have already said, the book gave readers a real-time image of the art discussion in 1923-1924. 1925 was however a very important year for Fels. In addition to the anthology, he published a monograph on Claude Monet with Gallimard and became chief editor of the new art journal “L’Art Vivant“, founded by Jacques Guenne (1896-1945) and Maurice Martin du Gard (1896-1970), i.e. the two directors of “Les Nouvelles Littéraires“. The new publication was in fact presented as the artistic attachment (complément artistique) to the literary weekly. Art Vivant. It was published by the house Larousse since January 1925.

As previously mentioned, Fels’s aesthetic taste (think again that only a few years before he had been forced to finance his own publication with the liquidation of the time spent in war as a simple soldier) was becoming closer to those of the great French progressive publishing companies (Gallimard, Larousse). In other words, he was taking on more and more classic aesthetic orientations. The Art Vivant magazine (which will have long life: Fels was his chief editor until 1939, when the magazine closed its doors in the wake of the war) became therefore one of the favourite targets of the communist intellectual and surrealist leader Louis Aragon (1897-1982), who called Fels “Paysan de Paris“, the peasant of Paris. From Aragon’s perspective, the only veritable surrealist anthology of art literature with a Marxist orientation will be published twenty years later by Paul Éluard.

Extract from Review by Francesco Mazzaferro of Florent Fels, Propos d’Artistes [The Propositions of the Artists], 1925. Part One 22 May 2017 [Online] Cited 30/11/2018

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Electricity France, Paris
1925
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Negative collotype print

 

Detail of a centrifugal speed governor?

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Technical Museum, Paris
1926
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Motor industry Citreon, Paris
1926-27
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Technical Museum, Paris
1926
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Her book MÉTAL contains only two multiple exposures, one showing two overlapped power generators and the other several layered bicycle parts printed at right angles to one another to create an effect of circular motion.

 

 

Germaine Krull

Germaine Luise Krull (20 November 1897 – 31 July 1985) was a photographer, political activist, and hotel owner. Her nationality has been categorized as German, French, and Dutch, but she spent years in Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand, and India. Described as “an especially outspoken example” of a group of early 20th-century female photographers who “could lead lives free from convention”, she is best known for photographically-illustrated books such as her 1928 portfolio MÉTAL.

Krull was born in Posen-Wilda, a district of Posen (then in Germany; now Poznań, Poland), of an affluent German family. In her early years, the family moved around Europe frequently; she did not receive a formal education, but instead received homeschooling from her father, an accomplished engineer and a free thinker (whom some characterised as a “ne’er-do-well”). Her father let her dress as a boy when she was young, which may have contributed to her ideas about women’s roles later in her life.[6] In addition, her father’s views on social justice “seem to have predisposed her to involvement with radical politics.”

Between 1915 and 1917 or 1918 she attended the Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Photographie, a photography school in Munich, Germany, at which Frank Eugene’s teaching of pictorialism in 1907-1913 had been influential. She opened a studio in Munich in approximately 1918, took portraits of Kurt Eisner and others, and befriended prominent people such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Pollock, and Max Horkheimer.

Krull was politically active between 1918 and 1921. In 1919 she switched from the Independent Socialist Party of Bavaria to the Communist Party of Germany, and was arrested and imprisoned for assisting a Bolshevik emissary’s attempted escape to Austria. She was expelled from Bavaria in 1920 for her Communist activities, and traveled to Russia with lover Samuel Levit. After Levit abandoned her in 1921, Krull was imprisoned as an “anti-Bolshevik” and expelled from Russia.

She lived in Berlin between 1922 and 1925 where she resumed her photographic career. She and Kurt Hübschmann (later to be known as Kurt Hutton) worked together in a Berlin studio between 1922 and 1924. Among other photographs Krull produced in Berlin were a series of nudes (recently disparaged by an unimpressed 21st-century critic as “almost like satires of lesbian pornography”).

Having met Dutch filmmaker and communist Joris Ivens in 1923, she moved to Amsterdam in 1925. After Krull returned to Paris in 1926, Ivens and Krull entered into a marriage of convenience between 1927 and 1943 so that Krull could hold a Dutch passport and could have a “veneer of married respectability without sacrificing her autonomy.”

In Paris between 1926 and 1928, Krull became friends with Sonia Delaunay, Robert Delaunay, Eli Lotar, André Malraux, Colette, Jean Cocteau, André Gide and others; her commercial work consisted of fashion photography, nudes, and portraits. During this period she published the portfolio MÉTAL (1928) which concerned “the essentially masculine subject of the industrial landscape.” Krull shot the portfolio’s 64 black-and-white photographs in Paris, Marseille, and Holland during approximately the same period as Ivens was creating his film De Brug (“The Bridge”) in Rotterdam, and the two artists may have influenced each other. The portfolio’s subjects range from bridges, buildings (e.g., the Eiffel Tower), and ships to bicycle wheels; it can be read as either a celebration of machines or a criticism of them. Many of the photographs were taken from dramatic angles, and overall the work has been compared to that of László Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Rodchenko. In 1999-2004 the portfolio was selected as one of the most important photobooks in history.

By 1928 Krull was considered one of the best photographers in Paris, along with André Kertész and Man Ray. Between 1928 and 1933, her photographic work consisted primarily of photojournalism, such as her photographs for Vu, a French magazine. Also in the early 1930s, she also made a pioneering study of employment black spots in Britain for Weekly Illustrated (most of her ground-breaking reportage work from this period remains immured in press archives and she has never received the credit which is her due for this work). Her book Études de Nu (“Studies of Nudes”) published in 1930 is still well-known today. Between 1930 and 1935 she contributed photographs for a number of travel and detective fiction books.

In 1935-1940, Krull lived in Monte Carlo where she had a photographic studio. Among her subjects during this period were buildings (such as casinos and palaces), automobiles, celebrities, and common people. She may have been a member of the Black Star photojournalism agency which had been founded in 1935, but “no trace of her work appears in the press with that label.”

In World War II, she became disenchanted with the Vichy France government, and sought to join the Free French Forces in Africa. Due to her Dutch passport and her need to obtain proper visas, her journey to Africa included over a year (1941-1942) in Brazil where she photographed the city of Ouro Preto. Between 1942 and 1944 she was in Brazzaville in French Equatorial Africa, after which she spent several months in Algiers and then returned to France.

After World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia as a war correspondent, but by 1946 had become a co-owner of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, a role that she undertook until 1966. She published three books with photographs during this period, and also collaborated with Malraux on a project concerning the sculpture and architecture of Southeast Asia.

After retiring from the hotel business in 1966, she briefly lived near Paris, then moved to Northern India and converted to the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. Her final major photographic project was the publication of a 1968 book Tibetans in India that included a portrait of the Dalai Lama. After a stroke, she moved to a nursing home in Wetzlar, Germany, where she died in 1985.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Railway lifting bridge, Rotterdam
1923-24
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Curiously the cover image of the portfolio (also plate 37) is actually presented upside down. This decision was presumably taken by M. Tchimoukow (real name Louis Bonin), the designer of the portfolio’s cover.

 

 

Germaine Krull

Germaine Krull was a pioneer in the fields of avant-garde photomontage, the photographic book, and photojournalism, and she embraced both commercial and artistic loyalties. Born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia, in 1897, Krull lived an extraordinary life lasting nine decades on four continents – she was the prototype of the edgy, sexually liberated Neue Frau (New Woman), considered an icon of modernity and a close cousin of the French garçonne and the American flapper. She had a peripatetic childhood before her family settled in Munich in 1912. She studied photography from 1916 to 1918 at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen (Instructional and Research Institute for Photography), and in 1919 opened her own portrait studio. Her early engagement with left-wing political activism led to her expulsion from Munich. Then, on a visit to Russia in 1921, she was incarcerated for her counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler. In 1926, she settled in Paris, where she became friends with artists Sonia and Robert Delaunay and intellectuals André Malraux, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and André Gide, who were also subjects of her photographic portraits.

Krull’s artistic breakthrough began in 1928, when she was hired by the nascent VU magazine,the first major French illustrated weekly. Along with photographers André Kertész and Éli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage rooted in a freedom of expression and closeness to her subjects that resulted in intimate close-ups, all facilitated by her small-format Icarette, a portable, folding bed camera. During this period, she published the portfolio, Metal (MÉTAL)(1928), a collection of 64 pictures of modernist iron giants, including cranes, railways, power generators, the Rotterdam transporter bridge, and the Eiffel Tower, shot in muscular close-ups and from vertiginous angles. Krull participated in the influential Film und Foto, or Fifo, exhibition (1929-30), which was accompanied by two books, Franz Roh’s and Jan Tschichold’s Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) and Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!)Fifo marked the emergence of a new critical theory of photography that placed Krull at the forefront of Neues Sehen or Neue Optik (New Vision) photography, a new direction rooted in exploring fully the technical possibilities of the photographic medium through a profusion of unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques. After the end of World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia, and then moved to India, where, after a lifetime dedicated to recording some of the major upheavals of the twentieth century, she decided to live as a recluse among Tibetan monks.

Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016 on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018

 

Métal and Filmic Montage

For Krull, metal was the most powerful metaphor for the modern world, and her book Métal includes many of the industrial forms she saw in Europe. It features both multiple exposures and straight images, and the entire volume is structured according to the principles of film montage. As noted earlier, Krull was a member of the Dutch avant-garde film collective Filmliga, which was cofounded by Joris Ivens, who in 1927 became her husband. Both of them published work in Arthur Lehning’s related avant-garde journal i10.

They saw screenings of Soviet avant-garde films by Vsevolod Pudovkin and Sergei Eisenstein, and Krull made a portrait of Eisenstein when he visited Paris in 1930. Eisenstein’s theories of montage were particularly important to the couple, and Krull’s Métal serves to demonstrate them. She actively adopted the Soviet filmmaker’s ideas of rupture and “visual counterpoint,” involving graphic, planar, volumetric, and spatial conflicts.26

The book is technically an album, with sixty-four numbered but unbound collotype reproductions that can ostensibly be rearranged at will. There are no captions and no identifying markers, and the images include both vertical and horizontal compositions. In a brief note beneath an introductory text by Florent Fels, Krull tells us that these photographs include a lifting bridge over the Meuse River in Rotterdam (also the subject of Ivens’s renowned avant-garde montage film, The Bridge [De Brug], from that same year); the cranes in the Amsterdam port; the Eiffel Tower; Marseille’s transporter bridge; and other industrial forms she found.27 But it would be difficult to decipher these subjects from the photographs themselves. Although there are eleven Eiffel Tower images in the book, for example, they are often so abstracted that the subject is unidentifiable, and none are on contiguous pages. …

Scholars have often read Métal as a purely formal experiment, but Krull used it as a commentary on contemporary life, producing the kind of montage that her friend Walter Benjamin championed, in which “the superimposed element disrupts the context in which it is inserted. … The discovery is accomplished by means of the interruption of sequences. Only interruption here has not the character of a stimulant but an energizing function.”29 The quality of interruption, according to Benjamin, differentiates truly revolutionary work from the mere aping of the modern world, an approach that he scornfully attributes to the work of Albert Renger-Patzsch.30 For Krull, interruption could occur in a multiple exposure, as in the aforementioned Métal image depicting overlapping views of bicycle parts. Or interruption can be found while turning a book’s pages, moving from a drive-belt detail to ominously large-scale cargo cranes, or from the Rotterdam Bridge over the Meuse to a detail of a centrifugal speed governor. Whether portraying a roller coaster, documenting the Eiffel Tower, or creating her book of industrial fragments, Krull engaged the decade’s cacophony and used provocative experimental techniques to capture its allure.

Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” p. 7 on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018.

Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” in Mitra Abbaspour, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg, eds. Object: Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949. An Online Project of The Museum of Modern Art. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

27. Sergei Eisenstein, “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form” (1929), in Jay Leyda, ed., Film Form: Essays in Film Theory (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949), pp. 52-54
29. Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer” (1934), in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), pp. 234-35
30. Benjamin, “The Author as Producer,” p. 230

 

 

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

08
Jul
15

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

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

Curator: Michel Frizot, historian of photography

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

 

Germaine Krull. 'Rue Auber in Paris' about 1928

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Germaine Krull. 'Mannequins in a shop window' 1930

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Germaine Krull. 'Nude' Nd

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Jeu de Paume

 

Germaine Krull. 'Self Portrait with Icarette' around 1925

 

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

 

Germaine Krull. 'Self Portrait, Paris' 1927

 

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

 

Germaine Krull. 'Assia's profile' 1930

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Germaine Krull. 'Advertising Study for Paul Poiret' 1926

 

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

 

Germaine Krull. 'Female nude' 1928

 

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

 

Germaine Krull. 'Jean Cocteau' 1929

 

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

 

Germaine Krull. 'André Malraux' 1930

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Berlin and Paris: early days

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

1928: “My fers” and VU

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

Reportage and magazines

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

Paris, Paris!

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

Cars, the open road

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

Women

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

“My collection of hands”

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

Le Courrier littéraire, 1930

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

Free spirit

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

War

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

Asia

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

The films

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

.
Michel Frizot
Exhibition curator

 

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

 

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

 

Germaine Krull. 'Pol Rab (illustrator)' 1930

 

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

 

Germaine Krull. '100 x Paris' 1929

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Germaine Krull. 'Marseille' June 1930

 

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

 

 

Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 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

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top




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

Join 2,512 other followers

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Lastest tweets

June 2019
M T W T F S S
« May    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Archives

Categories