Photography | Germaine Krull: Female Photographer No 1

Advertisement for fashion designer, Paul Poiret, 1926
Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne /
Centre de création industrielle. Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI,
Distribution RMN-Grand Palais / Georges Meguerditchian



Germaine Krull
A Photographer’s Journey
Jeu de Paume
Paris | France
2 June > 27 September 2015



Cover of the portfolio Métal, 1928, by Germaine Krull
Collection Bouqueret-Rémy. © Estate Germaine Krull,
Museum Folkwang, Essen



The great American photographer, Mary Ellen Mark (1940 > 2015), died this week.

Although the importance of women photographers in the history and development of photography is no longer disputed, it remained obscure until recent decades. As early as the 1830s, Constance Talbot (1811–1880) – wife of William Henry Fox Talbot experimented with the process and may have been the first woman ever to take a photograph. British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 > 1879) became known for her closely-cropped portraits that would have an impact on 20th century photographers, both male and female. For the time being, however, it would be almost exclusively men who took up photography as a profession. The idea of the female career photographer wouldn’t properly materialise until free-spirited women such as Gertrude Krull (1897 > 1985), the subject of a major retrospective exhibition opening at Paris’s Jeu de Paume, next week, thrust herself headlong into the male-dominated mêlée in the 1920s.

Pol Rab (Illustrator), 1930
Photomontage, Gelatin silver print.
Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent



Advertisement for Gibbs, in L’Illustration, n°4533, 18 January 1930
Private collection



Marseille, June 1930
Gelatin silver print. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Thomas Walther Collection.
Gift of Thomas Walther



Born in East Prussia (now Poland), and having had a peripatetic, uncertain childhood, after studying photography in Munich, Krull became a communist and made her way to Moskow. By 1925 she was in the Netherlands, where, fascinated by the dockyard cranes and machinery, she photographed them, later publishing her pictures in portfolio form under the title Métal (1928) at the next stop on her journey, Paris. The whirl of excitement Métal created would earn her work as a regular contributor to the now legendary, but then new and thrusting reportage magazine, VU. Her close-up pictures of tramps for VU were a sensation. Now, with a string of regular commissions from other magazines including, Jazz, Variétés, Art et Médecine and L’Art vivant, she began earning a proper living from photography, paying her own way from the money she earned from her uncompromising and versatile photographic skill.

American documentary photographer, Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971), who would achieve monumental fame, began her career at about the same time. Another American, Lee Miller, a successful fashion model in New York during in the 1920s, was unable to withstand the magnetic draw of Paris, where she became a fashion and art photographer. Later, during World War II, transforming herself into a war correspondent for Vogue, covering events such the London Blitz, the liberation of Paris, and the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau.

Jean Cocteau, 1929
Gelatin silver print, 1976. Collection Bouqueret-Rémy



Mary Ellen Mark was just one prominent figure among the full-time women photographers who followed these pioneers, and includes such famous practitioners as Eve Arnold (1912 > 2012), Diane Arbus (1923 > 1971), Inge Morath (1923 > 200), Annie Leibovitz (1949 >), Sally Mann (1951 >), Bettina Rheims (1952 >), Ellen von Unwerth (1954 >), Nan Goldin (1953 >), Cindy Sherman (1954 >) and Alex Prager (1979 >), to name but a few. Their work and successes continue to influence and inspire the more recent and ever-growing number of women within the profession.

Germaine Krull would have an extraordinary life spanning nine decades and four continents, producing photographic images that are easily comparable with that of her male avant garde contemporaries: Man Ray (1890 > 1976), László Moholy-Nagy (1895 > 1946) and André Kertész (1894 > 1985).

Capitalising on her earlier successes, she published further portfolios: 100 x Paris (1929), Études de nu (1930), Le Valois (1930), La Route Paris-Biarritz (1931), and Marseille (1935). She also created what is credited by Michel Frizot – curator of the Jeu de Paume exhibition, Germaine Krull: A Photographer’s Journey – as the first photo-novel, La Folle d’Itteville (1931), with Georges Simenon.

This exhibition will also be shown at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany, 15 October 2015 > 31 January 2016. All images © Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen, courtesy Jeu de Paume


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