Posts Tagged ‘i10

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

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

 

 

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, 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 idealized absractions]; 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 for the Art Blart blog

 

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.

.
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
27.2 x 37.5 cm
Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti Photo
© Bauhaus Archiv

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition' 1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition
1928
Gelatin silver print, vintage
27 x 37.1 cm
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 14 cm
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 29.2 cm
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 recognized.

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 22.8 cm
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 30 cm
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 23.8 cm
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 29.5 cm
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 18 cm
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 25.5 cm
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 emphasize 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.

 

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 28.5 cm
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 11.4 cm
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 24 cm
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 emphasizing 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 characterized 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 27.5 cm
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 28.7 cm
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 37.7 cm
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 24 cm
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 39.7 cm
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 24.2 cm
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 17.5 cm
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 23.1 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

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

07
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘Florence Henri. Compositions’ at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 14th September 2014

 

When I started experimenting with a camera in the early 80s, my first experiments were with mirrors, shoes, tripod legs, cotton buds and reflections of myself in mirrors (with bright orange hair). I still have the commercially printed colour photos from the chemist lab!

Henri’s sophisticated, avante-garde, sculptural compositions have an almost ‘being there’ presence: a structured awareness of a way of looking at the world, a world in which the artist questions reality. She confronts the borders of an empirical reality (captured by a machine, the camera) through collage and mirrors, in order to take a leap of faith towards some form of transcendence of the real. Here she confronts the limitless freedom of creativity, of composition, to go beyond objectivity and science, to experience Existenz (Jaspers) – the realm of authentic being.

These photographs are her experience of being in the world, of Henri observing the breath of being – the breath of herself, the breath of the objects and a meditation on those objects. There is a stillness here, an eloquence of construction and observation that goes beyond the mortal life of the thing itself. That is how these photographs seem to me to live in the world. I may be completely wrong, I probably am completely wrong – but that is how these images feel to me: a view, a perspective, the artist as prospector searching for a new way of authentically living in the world.

I really like them.

Marcus

.
Thankx to the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich for allowing me to publish five of the photographs in the posting. The other images have all been sourced from the internet. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition' Nd

 

Florence Henri
Composition
Nd

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition' 1931

 

Florence Henri
Composition
1931

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition No 10' 1928

 

Florence Henri
Composition No 10
1928

 

Florence Henri. 'Abstract Composition' 1928

 

Florence Henri
Abstract Composition
1928
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

 

 

“The photographs and photo-montages of Florence Henri (1893-1982) attest to her broad artistic education and an unusual openness for new currents in the art of the time.

The artist, who had studied the piano under Ferruccio Busoni in Rome and painting in Paris under Fernand Léger, in Berlin under Johann Walter-Kurau and in Munich under Hans Hofmann, spent a brief semester as a guest at the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1927. Although photography was not part of the curriculum at the Bauhaus at this time, lecturers such as László Moholy-Nagy and Georg Muche, as well as pupils including Walter Funkat and Edmund Collein experimented intensively with this medium. It was here that Florence Henri gained the inspiration to become a photographer herself.

That same year she returned to Paris, stopped painting and devoted herself thoroughly to photography. She created extensive series of still lifes and portrait and self-portrait compositions, in which the artist divided up the pictorial space using mirrors and reflective spheres, expanding it structurally. The fragmented images created this way point to the inspiration Florence Henri gained from Cubist and Constructivist pictorial concepts.

Through her experimental photography Florence Henri swiftly became a highly respected exponent of modern photography and participated in numerous international shows such as the trailblazing Werkbund exhibition ‘Film und Foto’ in 1929. After World War II, however, the artist no longer pursued her photographic interest with the same intensity as before, devoting herself instead almost exclusively to painting. This most certainly also contributed to her photographs largely falling into oblivion after 1945.

The emphasis in the exhibition Florence Henri. Compositions in the Pinakothek der Moderne has been placed on the artist’s compositions using mirrors and her photo-montages, It comprises some 65 photographs, including the portfolio published in 1974, as well as documents and historical publications from the holdings of the Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation. As such, Ann and Jürgen Wilde significantly contributed towards the rediscovery of this exceptional artist’s work. Her photographic oeuvre now has a permanent place within the art of the avant-garde.”

Press release from the Pinakothek der Moderne website

 

Florence Henri. 'Still-Life Composition' 1929

 

Florence-Henri
Still-Life Composition
1929

 

Florence Henri. 'Abstract Composition' 1932

 

Florence Henri
Abstract Composition
1932

 

Florence Henri. Still-life with Lemon and Pear' c.1929

 

Florence Henri
Still-life with Lemon and Pear
c.1929

 

Florence Henri. 'Little Boot' 1931

 

Florence Henri
Little Boot
1931

 

 

Florence Henri was born in New York on 28 June 1893; her father was French and her mother was German. Following her mother’s death in 1895, she and her father moved first to her mother’s family in Silesia; she later lived in Paris, Munich and Vienna and finally moved to the Isle of Wight in England in 1906. After her father’s death there three years later, Florence Henri lived in Rome with her aunt Anni and her husband, the Italian poet Gino Gori, who was in close touch with the Italian Futurists. She studied piano at the music conservatory in Rome.

During a visit to Berlin, Henri started to focus on painting, after meeting the art critic Carl Einstein and, through him, Herwarth Walden and other Berlin artists. In 1914, she enrolled at the Academy of Art in Berlin, and starting in 1922, trained in the studio of the painter Johannes Walter-Kurau. Before moving to Dessau, Henri studied painting with the Purists Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant at the Académie Moderne in Paris. She arrived at the Bauhaus in Dessau in April 1927. She had already met the Bauhaus artists Georg Muche and László Moholy-Nagy and had developed a passion for Marcel Breuer’s tubular steel furniture. Up to July 1927, Henri attended the preliminary course directed by Moholy-Nagy, lived in the Hungarian artist’s house, and became a close friend of his first wife,Lucia Moholy, who encouraged her to take up photography. From the Moholy-Nagys, Henri learned the basic technical and visual principles of the medium, which she used in her initial photographic experiments after leaving Dessau. In early 1928, she abandoned painting altogether and from then on focused on photography, with which she established herself as a professional freelance photographer with her own studio in Paris – despite being self-taught.

Even during her first productive year as a photographer, László Moholy-Nagy published one of her unusual self-portraits, as well as a still life with balls, tyres, and a mirror, in i10. Internationale Revue. The first critical description of her photographic work, which Moholy-Nagy wrote to accompany the photos, recognizes that her pictures represented an important expansion of the entire ‘problem of manual painting’, in which ‘reflections and spatial relationships, overlapping and penetrations are examined from a new perspectival angle’.

Mirrors become the most important feature in Henri’s first photographs. She used them both for most of her self-dramatizations and also for portraits of friends, as well as for commercial shots. She took part in the international exhibition entitled Das Lichtbild [The Photograph] in Munich in 1930, and the following year she presented her images of bobbins at a Foreign Advertising Photography exhibition in New York. The artistic quality of her photographs was compared with Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy and Adolphe Baron de Mayer, as well as the with winner of the first prize at the exhibition, Herbert Bayer. Only three years after the new photographer had taken her first pictures, her self-portrait achieved the equal status with her male colleagues that she had been aiming for.

Up to the start of the Second World War, Henri established herself as a skilled photographer with her own photographic studio in Paris (starting in 1929). When the city was occupied by the Nazis, her photographic work declined noticeably. The photographic materials needed were difficult to obtain, and in any case Henri’s photographic style was forbidden under the Nazi occupation; she turned her attention again to painting. With only a few later exceptions, the peak of her unique photographic experiments and professional photographic work was in the period from 1927 to 1930.

Even in the 1950s, Henri’s photographs from the Thirties were being celebrated as icons of the avant-garde. Her photographic oeuvre was recognized during her lifetime in one-woman exhibitions and publications in various journals, including N-Z Wochenschau. She also produced photographs during this period, such as a series of pictures of the dancer Rosella Hightower. She died in Compiègne on 24 July 1982.”

Text from the Florence Henri web page on the Bauhaus Online website

 

Florence Henri. 'Parisian Window' 1929

 

Florence Henri
Parisian Window
1929

 

Florence Henri. 'The Forum' 1934

 

 

Florence Henri
The Forum
1934

 

Florence Henri. 'Rome' 1933-1934

 

 

Florence Henri
Rome
1933-1934

 

Florence Henri. 'Abstract Composition' 1929

 

Florence Henri
Abstract Composition
1929

 

Florence Henri. 'Self-portrait in a mirror' 1928

 

Florence Henri
Self-portrait in a mirror
1928

 

Florence Henri. 'A Bunch of Grapes' c. 1934

 

Florence Henri
A Bunch of Grapes
c. 1934

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition' 1932

 

Florence Henri
Composition
1932
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

 

Florence Henri. 'Untitled, USA' 1940

 

 

Florence Henri
Untitled, USA
1940

 

Florence Henri. 'Paris Window' 1929

 

Florence Henri
Paris Window
1929
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

 

Florence Henri. 'Portrait' 1928

 

Florence Henri
Portrait
1928
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

 

Florence Henri. 'Self Portrait' 1928

 

Florence Henri
Self Portrait
1928
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

 

 

Pinakothek der Moderne
Barer Strasse 40
Munich

Opening hours:
Daily except Monday 10am – 6pm
Thursday 10am – 8pm

Pinakothek der Moderne website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

31
Jul
14

Exhibition: ‘Knud Lonberg-Holm: The Invisible Architect’ at Ubu Gallery, New York Part 2

Exhibition dates: 6th May – 30th September 2014

 

The second part of this posting about the work of architect Knud Lonberg-Holm. “Backside-views of buildings and fire escapes, rather than historicist ornamental facades, are presented in their “unselfconscious beauty” in opposition to traditional, pictorialist architectural photography.” You only have to look at the photographs of the city by Alfred Stieglitz or Berenice Abbott taken at around the same time to notice the difference – less romantic, more “modern” in their geometry and form.

If it weren’t for the shock of seeing 1920s cars at the bottom of some of the images (for example, Detroit, Rear Façade of a Hotel, 1924 below) you could almost believe that they had been made 40 years later, around the time of Bernd and Hilla Becher. These photographs are monumental, industrious but are tinged with humanity – the billboards, cars, people and advertising signs that hover at the bottom or in the deep shadows of the image. Then look at the tonality and atmosphere of the images, including the vibration of light in the two Dazzlescapes (New York, Madison Square and New York, Times Square, both 1923 below).

I don’t think I have ever seen a better collection of images of city architecture.

Marcus

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

 

 

“I’ve always been annoyed by rummaging through the past; the future interests me much more.”

.
Knud Lonberg-Holm

 

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition' West elevation 1922

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition
West elevation
1922
Vintage photograph mounted on board
9 1/8 x 3 5/8 inches (23.2 x 9.2 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition' West view axonometric 1922

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition
West view axonometric
1922
Vintage photograph mounted on board
8 7/8 x 4 5/8 inches (22.5 x 11.7 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Equity Trust Building - Oblique View' 1923

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Equity Trust Building – Oblique View
1923
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 41
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 3/8 x 3 1/4 inches (11.1 x 8.3 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Woolworth Building - Oblique View' 1923

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Woolworth Building – Oblique View
1923
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 40
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches (10.8 x 8.3 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition' Side elevation with Tribune sign visible 1922

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition
Side elevation with Tribune sign visible
1922
Vintage photograph mounted on board
9 1/8 x 4 7/8 inches (23.2 x 12.4 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition' Preliminary side elevation 1922

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition
Preliminary side elevation
1922
Photograph mounted on board
9 x 4 5/8 inches (22.9 x 11.7 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

 

“Throughout the 1920s, he traveled to other American cities like Chicago and New York City, where, with a 35-millimeter handheld Leica, he took worm’s-eye views and extreme close-ups of skyscrapers, the back sides of buildings, fire escapes, billboards, and dazzling “lightscapes,” ignoring – for the most part – the facades of the buildings. Some of these images would appear, uncredited, in Erich Mendelsohn’s 1926 publication Amerika: Bilderbuch eines Architekten, the first book on the “International Style” in American architecture. (Only in an expanded, later edition from 1928 is Lonberg-Holm credited for 17 of the images.)

Soon the photographs cropped up in design and architecture journals in Holland, Germany, and Russia. “They received acclaim for being progressive and dynamic presentations of technology, commerce, and urbanization,” says Adam Boxer, founder and owner of Ubu Gallery. “To expose Lonberg-Holm’s role as photographer means one can situate him in his deserved role – a pioneer of New Photography.” As a correspondent for the avant-garde, having his images and writings appear in radical European Modernist reviews – such as the Functionalist-Constructivist Swiss bulletin ABC Beitrage zum Bauen (Contributions on Building) and the Dutch i10 – were of crucial importance, since they circulated amongst members of the European vanguard. By the 1930s, however, Lonberg-Holm had given up architecture for marketing research, and his photographs, never signed or dated, no longer circulated. …

Lonberg-Holm also questioned how architecture was practiced and he pioneered the idea of the life cycle of a building. Decades before William McDonough discovered cradle-to-cradle thinking, Lonberg-Holm had been trying to put across the concept that all buildings, like all organisms, are subject to a life cycle, as predictable and as inevitable as the cycles in nature. “The building cycle involves research, design, construction, use, and elimination – and repeat,” wrote an editor in the January 1960 issue of Architectural Forum. “One of Lonberg-Holm’s chief contentions is that design that anticipates the cycle as a whole makes each succeeding step more rational and easier… Lonberg-Holm’s principle, ‘Anticipate remodeling in the initial design,’ carries a corollary, which might be put this way, in keeping with the very important principle of design articulation: ‘Design each “system” in the building – the structural system, the heating or the air-conditioning system, the wiring, the plumbing, etc. – to be self-contained for easy assembly, with interconnections to other systems held to a minimum and made easy to alter.'”

Extract from Paul Makovsky. “The Invisible Architect of Invisible Architecture,” on the Metropolis website [Online] Cited 18/07/2014

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Detroit' 1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Detroit
1924
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 67
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches (10.8 x 8.3 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Detroit, Rear Areaway' 1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Detroit, Rear Areaway
1924
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 91
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches (11.4 x 8.9 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

During the 1920s, Lonberg-Holm traveled to American cities like Detroit, Chicago, and New York. With his 35-millimeter Leica camera, he took extreme close-ups of skyscrapers (such as this rear view Detroit Hotel, above), the back sides of buildings, fire escapes, billboards, and dazzling nighttime views.

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Detroit' 1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Detroit
1924
variant cropping reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 21
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 3/8 x 3 3/8 inches (11.1 x 8.6 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Detroit, Rear Façade of a Hotel' 1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Detroit, Rear Façade of a Hotel
1924
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 89
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 3 3/8 inches (11.4 x 8.6 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Chicago, Skyscraper of the Second Period' c. prior to 1926

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Chicago, Skyscraper of the Second Period
c. prior to 1926
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 77 (right)
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 3/8 x 3 3/8 inches (11.1 x 8.6 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

KLH_18_HR-WEB

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Chicago, 2 Skyscrapers
c. prior to 1926
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 75
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches (11.4 x 8.9 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm: The Invisible Architect

Lonberg-Holm was the first architect in my knowledge to talk about the ultimately invisible architecture. In 1929, when I first met him, he said the greatest architect in history would be the one who finally developed the capability to give humanity completely effective environmental control without any visible structure and machinery. Thus we have in our day an unsung Leonardo of the building industry, whose scientific foresight and design competence are largely responsible for the present world-around state of advancement of the building arts.

.
Buckminster Fuller, 1968

 

The historical documents in this collection represent a hitherto unexplored aspect of the influence of European modernist architects – specifically, those who emigrated to the United States early and voluntarily, before the rise of fascism necessitated the wholesale evacuation of the European avant-garde. The seemingly disparate archive of photographs, drawings, diagrams and correspondence can be grouped around a unifying theme: the realization of the avant-garde ambition of integration and control of architectural production through industrialization; and around a central figure: the architect Knud Lonberg-Holm. The documents bear witness to a complex history that is not easily tracked elsewhere. This is due, in part, to the fact that they bridge two continents, and in part because they unveil processes of reform, such as the scientific conversion of the institutions of architectural practice and the transformation of the project, that were aimed at the most mundane level of building, not at exceptional structures. Moreover, the documents show this professional and anonymous destiny together in line with inversely artistic and revolutionary origins. Thus, the archive documents a phenomenon of cultural disappearance, bringing missing substance to the link between the Americanism of the European avant-garde and the history of modern architecture in the United States.

A native of Denmark, which he leaves in 1923 for the United States, Knud Lonberg-Holm (1895-1972) is the emblematic figure of this disappearance. Initially considered a “pioneer of modern architecture” by the anthropologists of the 1920s, and even held representative of “the space-time conception” by Henry Russell Hitchcock, his true contributions will be ever more unacknowledged as they become more fundamental. First of the modernist émigrés in the United States, he becomes the obliged correspondent for the European avant-garde, in particular for the De Stijl group and also the Berlin Constructivists, with whom he was closest. He was a contributor to both ABC and i10, a member of ASNOVA, a collaborator of Buckminster Fuller, and also the American delegate to CIAM with Richard Neutra. His experiments with photography in the early 1920s (diffused widely by J.J.P. Oud, Moholy-Nagy, Erich Mendelsohn, and others) were received with critical success in Europe and the USSR. This is due as much to the revolutionary use of extreme viewpoints from below and above, as to the renewal of the iconographic sources of modernism: the substitution of the imagery of the grain elevators and the “balancing of the masses,” for an aesthetic of structure and tension gleaned from the metallic skeletons of unfinished skyscrapers. In Lonberg-Holm, this aesthetic schism is accompanied by a renouncement of the project – a sort of Duchampian abandonment of the traditional identity of the architect, which intervenes at the moment he arrives in his work at a controlled resolution of the opposing influences of rationalism and neo-plasticism, for example in the McBride Residence project of 1926.

Lonberg-Holm’s institutional itinerary begins at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1924-1925, where he introduces a basic design course similar to that of the Soviet Vkhutemas. Moving to New York in 1929, he enters the organization of the F.W. Dodge publishing corporation, initially at the journal The Architectural Record, where he devises both content and format, and then as the head of the research department of Sweet’s Catalog Service, the indispensable architect’s handbook of building products. The reorganization of Sweet’s Catalog, perhaps Lonberg-Holm’s most tangible contribution to modern architectural production in America, gives substance to his doctrinaire activity of the 1930s, concerned with urban obsolescence, cycles of production, and information theory. In collaboration with Czech designer Ladislav Sutnar, Sweet’s Catalog becomes a complete oeuvre of industrial and plastic organization. Its critical and enduring importance in the process of architectural production makes it an implemented avant-garde project, at an appreciable scale, and testament to Lonberg-Holm’s heretofore-unacknowledged influence on the development of a truly modern American architecture.

Marc Dessauce, 2003

 

Marc Dessauce (1962-2004) was an architectural historian who lived and worked in NYC and Paris. His research, exhibitions, and writings focused on the foundations of both American and European avant-garde architecture in the twentieth century. Marc assembled this arhive between 1986 and 1995 when he was a PhD candidate at Columbia University in the department of Art History. His book The Inflatable Moment: Pneumatics and Protest in ’68, was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 1999.

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'New York, Madison Square' 1923

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
New York, Madison Square
1923
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 31
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/8 x 3 1/4 inches (10.5 x 8.3 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'New York, Times Square' 1923

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
New York, Times Square
1923
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 6
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/4 x 3 3/8 inches (10.8 x 8.6 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Amerika: Bilderbuch eines Architekten

Seventeen of Lonberg-Holm’s photographs appeared uncredited in Erich Mendelsohn’s 1926 book, a very influential volume on modern American architecture. Only in a later, expanded edition was Lonberg-Holm given credit. El Lissitzky was so impressed with Amerika that he said the volume “thrills us like a dramatic film. Before our eyes move pictures that are absolutely unique. In order to understand some of the photographs you must lift the book over your head and rotate it.”

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Sweet's Display Exposition des Techniques Américianes de l’Habitation et de l'Ubranisme (Information 1, 2, 3)' Paris, Grand Palais, June 14-July 21, 1946

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Sweet’s Display
Exposition des Techniques Américianes de l’Habitation et de l’Ubranisme
(Information 1, 2, 3)
Paris, Grand Palais, June 14-July 21, 1946
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 1/8 x 7 1/4 inches (18.1 x 18.4 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Sweet's Display Exposition des Techniques Américianes de l'Habitation et de l'Ubranisme (Biblioteque SS)' Paris, Grand Palais, June 14-July 21, 1946

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Sweet’s Display
Exposition des Techniques Américianes de l’Habitation et de l’Ubranisme
(Biblioteque SS)
Paris, Grand Palais, June 14-July 21, 1946
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 1/8 x 7 1/8 inches (18.1 x 18.1 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

A diagram from Development Index

 

A diagram from Development Index illustrating the interrelations of cultural and social factors, which Lonberg-Holm and Larson considered necessary to the practice of design. The index was a screening system intended to manage incoming and outgoing streams of data.

Larson and Knud Lonberg-Holm later collaborated on the idea of a “Development Index” – a systems-thinking approach and research tool that studied the interaction of human activity, environmental relations, and communications with the idea to improve the built environment. It was an attempt to manage information flow and, in a pre-Internet sort of way, provide relevant data through a centralized system, using what was then state-of-the-art media such as microfilm, microfiche, and electronics.

 

Wendingen "Skyscraper as a solution of the Housing Problem" No. 3, 1923

 

Wendingen
“Skyscraper as a solution of the Housing Problem”
No. 3, 1923
Paperbound volume
12 7/8 x 13 inches (32.7 x 33 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

'Shelter' Cover design by Knud Lonberg-Holm April 1938

 

Shelter
Cover design by Knud Lonberg-Holm
April 1938
Magazine cover
11 x 9 inches (27.9 x 22.9 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

'Shelter now' Cover design by Knud Lonberg-Holm Vol. 2, No. 4, May 1932

 

Shelter now
Cover design by Knud Lonberg-Holm
Vol. 2, No. 4, May 1932
Magazine cover
12 x 9 inches (30.5 x 22.9 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

The cover of a catalog for 'Multi-Measure Metal Enclosures'

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm with Latislav Sutnar
Multi-Measure (MM) Metal Enclosures
c. 1942-1944
Cover of catalog
11 x 8 1/2 inches (27.9 x 21.6 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

The cover of a catalog for Multi-Measure Metal Enclosures, Inc., designed with Ladislav Sutnar between 1942 and 1944. Lonberg-Holm collaborated with architect C. Theodore Larson at F.W. Dodge Corporation’s Sweet’s Catalog division to develop a systematic approach to organizing the information needed by the building industry. When graphic designer Ladislav Sutnar later joined him, they radically altered the way business information was streamlined, designed, and packaged, becoming pioneers of “information design” along the way.

 

i10 "America, Reflections" (by Knud Lonberg-Holm) No. 15, October 20, 1928

 

i10
“America, Reflections” (by Knud Lonberg-Holm)
No. 15, October 20, 1928
Paperbound volume
11 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches (29.8 x 21 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Lonberg-Holm’s 1928 essay on America for i10 – focused on the country’s obsession with time and efficiency – shows that the fields of communications, the car industry, elevators, railways, and the movie industry were more important to him. He wrote: “Time-study is a profession. And a highly paid profession. What the [Saint] Peters church was for the European Renaissance, Henry Ford’s assembly line is for America of today. The most perfect expression for a civilization whose god is efficiency. Detroit is the Mecca of this civilization. And the pilgrims come from all over the world to meditate before this always-moving line.”

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Photograph of "Modern Architecture" at Fifth Avenue' c. 1923-1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Photograph of “Modern Architecture” at Fifth Avenue
c. 1923-1924
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches (11.4 x 7 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Automobile Plant Detroit' 1931

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Automobile Plant
Detroit, 1931
Vintage gelatin silver print
5 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches (13.3 x 10.8 cm)
Titled on verso
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Photograph of Longberg-Holm' c. 1923-1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Photograph of Longberg-Holm
c. 1923-1924
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches (11.4 x 7 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. '48th Street/St. Nicholas Church scaffolding' c. 1923-1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
48th Street/St. Nicholas Church scaffolding
c. 1923-1924
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches (11.4 x 7 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Photograph of Antenna' c. 1923-1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Photograph of Antenna
c. 1923-1924
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches (11.4 x 8.9 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Note from Iwao Yamawaki to Knud Lonberg-Holm Dessau, July 9, 1931

 

Note from Iwao Yamawaki to Knud Lonberg-Holm
Dessau, July 9, 1931
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm Iwao Yamawaki (attributed) 'Knud & his wife Ethel outside of Bauhaus' 1931

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Iwao Yamawaki (attributed)

Knud & his wife Ethel outside of Bauhaus
1931
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 3/8 x 3 3/8 inches (11.1 x 8.6 cm)
Dated & inscribed on verso
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

This photo, attributed to the Japanese Bauhaus-trained photographer Iwao Yamawaki, shows Lonberg-Holm and his wife, Ethel (who later became an art director for J. Walter Thompson advertising agency), at the Bauhaus in 1931. A friend of Bauhaus instructors László Moholy-Nagy, Josef Albers, Hannes Meyer, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe, Lonberg-Holm taught the first foundational course based on the Bauhaus model at the University of Michigan in 1924.

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm (1895-1972)

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm (1895-1972), an overlooked but highly influential Modernist architect, photographer, and pioneer of information design
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

 

Ubu Gallery
416 East 59th Street
New York 10022
Tel: 212 753 4444

Opening hour:
Monday – Friday 11 am – 6 pm

Ubu Gallery 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 2,513 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