Posts Tagged ‘Alexey Brodovitch’

Photography | Studio Erwin Blumenfeld

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Blumenfeld Studio: New York, 1941-1960
Somerset House
London, UK
23rd May – 1st September, 2013

Day and night I try, in my studio with its six two-thousand watt suns,
balancing between the extremes of the impossible, to shake loose the real from
the unreal, to give visions body, to penetrate into unknown transparencies.

Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969)

With around 100 colour photographs as well as archive material from fashion magazines, this show at Somerset House focuses on the work Erwin Blumenfeld – one of the most influential, innovative and sought-after fashion photographers of the 1940s and 1950s – produced at his studio in New York.

Born into a Jewish family in Berlin, Blumenfeld began taking photographs when he was just ten years old. His first job was as an apprentice dressmaker, but between 1916 and 1933 he produced dadist montages in Germany, where he was closely associated with George Grosz, before moving first to Holland, then to Paris in 1936, where he met Cecil Beaton, who got him an introduction to Vogue. However, as a result of his publishing bitingly mocking collages of Adolf Hitler, Blumenfeld spent the occupation years in a concentration camp, eventually fleeing Europe with his family for the United States in 1941. In New York he worked in the studio of Martin Munkacsi until his own career started to flourish. Taken up by Russian emigré art director Alexey Brodovitch, who was fostering  the development of an expressionistic, almost primal style of picture-making at Harper’s Bazaar, Blumenfeld continued to work for Vogue, gaining him a reputation as the highest paid freelance photographer in New York. He went on to produce advertising campaigns for top cosmetics clients such as Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden and L’Oreal.

Blumenfeld had a passion for the female form, which he expressed through headily erotic images in which mirrors, gauzy fabrics, screens, wet silk and elaborately contrived shadows and angles were used to enhance or discreetly mask the body. He became a master of complex studio photography and developed sophisticated techniques of solarisation and superimposition that, even today, continue to influence photographers. The renowned fashion photographer Sølve Sundsbø recently commented: ‘Blumenfeld was shooting 60 years ago what the rest of us will be shooting in 10 years time’.

Images from top
City Lights

Support for the Red Cross
American Vogue cover, March, 1945

Grace Kelly
Cosmopolitan, 1955

Spring Fashion
American Vogue, 1953

All images ©The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld


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Photography | André Kertész: A Given Moment

Friday, July 1st, 2011

André Kertész – Photographs
Martin-Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany. Until 11th September 2011

In the caption to the first image by André Kertész in Bruce Bernard’s marvellous and indispensable, great slab-of-a-book, Century (Phaidon, 1999), in typical understatement, the author describes Kertész as: ‘…an Austrian soldier destined to become a great photographer’.

Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau in collaboration with Jeu de Paume in Paris is showing a retrospective of over 300 photographs by Kertész, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, whose early photojournalist work impacted on that of others, including writer and photographer, Brassï and Henri Cartier-Bresson, both also destined to merit the description great photographer.

Bernard goes on to tell us that André Kertész first acquired a camera in 1913 – he was eighteen years old – just prior to his drafting into the Austro-Hungarian army. Whilst on active service he was wounded and paralysed for a whole year but still managed to produce his first serious works – photographs of soldiers on the Eastern front. A few prints remain, however, the negatives of all the photographer’s early work were, unfortunately, destroyed in 1918.

Born in Hungary, to jewish middle-class parents, Andor Kertész (later André) lived in Budapest working at the stock exchange before, after the war, moving to Paris where he joined fellow emigrés, László Moholy-Nagy, Robert Capa and Brassaï.

“I interpret my feeling at a given moment. Not what I see, but what I feel,” Kertész once said, seeing photography as an instrument for describing contemporary life. In Paris, to make ends meet, he produced reportage photography for the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung and The Times (London) and made contact with the avant garde artists of Montparnasse: Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger, Alexander Calder and Brancusi, among others. He also met and discovered he had much in common with the Surrealism group led by André Breton that included the American photographer and artist, Man Ray. He had taken the famous photograph Underwater Swimmer while recuperating in 1917; the optically distorted body beneath light reflections on the surface of the water would appear to anticipate his later works – and of some of the surrealists – and it wasn’t until some 10 years later the aesthetic effects of reflection were to become popular at the Bauhaus. In 1933 Kertész went on to produce the series entitled Distortions, in which female figures, distorted by mirrors, lead a life of their own between caricature and eroticism.

Despite the often complex nature of the thinking that the photographer put into them, like the best photojournalism, Kertész’s images are always simple, uncompromisingly direct and carefully cropped to include only those elements the eye demands. One of my particular favourites, which is included in the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition is the Magritte-like Martinique, shot on New Year’s Day, 1972. The image is rich, yet so reduced that it appears almost flat, almost but not quite devoid of perspective and with the very minimal shape of the upper torso of a man, who we know instinctively is alone on the other side of the translucent, frosted glass screen that separates the balconies of this hotel near the water’s edge. I love Washington Square, too, for similar reasons: again, the simplicity, the reduction of the features of the park scene in deepest winter to almost but not quite pure black and pure white. As a photographer specialising mostly in garden and plant photography, myself – click here to access my website – I’m drawn towards Melancholic Tulip, an earlier work produced during the year that WWII began in Europe. It’s not difficult to imagine the uneasiness of Kertész, who moved to New York City only three years before.

In New York City where, struggling to make ends meet he accepted a post on House & Garden. Later, Kertész began working for the fashion magazine Look and for Harper’s Bazaar , with legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch, who was previously with VU in Paris, one of the French publications, including Art et Médecine, Paris Magazine and UHU that the photographer had contributed to. In 1942, accepting an offer to work exclusively for Condé Nast, he remained with the company until 1963. That year, on a trip to Paris Kertész discovered a large number of his old negatives that fired his enthusiasm to begin experimenting again, bringing him much wider recognition and international recognition. His work has appeared in numerous books and in exhibitions around the world.

André Kertész, most certainly a great photographer, was awarded the Legion of Honour by the French government in 1983 and died on 28th September 1985, leaving an archive of 100,000 negatives.

Images above from top:
Melancholic Tulip New York, 1939
Gelatin silver print. Printed c. 1980. Courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

Martinique January 1st 1972
Gelatin silver print. Vintage print. Courtesy Attila Pocze, Vintage Galéria, Budapest, Hungary

Washington Square
January 9th, 1954
Gelatin silver print. Vintage print. Collection of Leslie, Judith and Gabrielle Schreyer

Also showing
Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century,
Brassaï, Capa, Kertész, Moholy-Nagy, Munkácsi
Royal Academy, London, UK. Until 2nd October 2011

Are you familiar with Kertész’s work?
What do you see as its merits?

Please leave a comment

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