miscellanea  |  visual history











History of Photography



Introduction  
History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary










 

 



Chapter 9

 

 

CHRISTIAN SCHAD
MAN RAY
  (collection)
LASZLO MOHOLY-NAGY
  (collection)
RAOUL HAUSMANN
  (collection)
JOHN HEARTFIELD (collection)

ANTON GIULIO
and ARTURO BRAGAGLIA
ALEXANDER RODCHENKO
  (collection)
ANTON STANKOWSKI
  (collection)
KAREL TEIGE
  (collection)
ALICE LEX-NERLINGER
 

 



 

ART, PHOTOGRAPHY,



AND MODERNISM




1920-1945


 

 


The new camera counts the stars and discovers a new planet sister to our earth, it peers down a drop of water and discovers microcosms. The camera searches out the texture of flower petals and moth wings as well as the surface of concrete. It has things to reveal about the curve of a girl's cheek and the internal structure of steel.


Egmont Arens, 1939

 

 

IF ANY PERIOD can be said to have encompassed the full potential of photography it would have to be the era between the two World Wars. Some 80 years after the medium first appeared, photographers and their patrons discovered forms and uses for camera images that imbued them with exceptional inventiveness and immediacy. Photography was not only enriched by expanded roles in journalism, advertising, and publicity, but it was nourished also by acceptance within avant-garde movements in the graphic arts. In fact, it might with justice be claimed that except for holography all later directions were foretold during this period. The extraordinary vitality of the medium was apparent in many different localities—in England, Erance, Central Europe, the Soviet Union, Japan, and North America—yet photographs also retained distinctive national characteristics. This chapter will survey the range of experimentation and explore the relationship of the "new vision," as it is sometimes called, to other visual art of the time; Chapter 10 will be concerned with the flowering of the medium in journalism, advertising, and book publication.

A distinguishing feature of the photography of the 1920s was the emergence of a wide variety of techniques, styles, and approaches, all displaying unusual vigor. Responding to greater economic opportunities in the medium and involved in the intense intellectual, political, and cultural ferment that followed the first World War, many photographers became conscious of the effects of technology, urbanization, cinema, and graphic art on camera expression. In addition to the "isms" of prewar avant-garde art—especially Cubism—the aesthetic concepts associated with Constructivism, Dadaism, and Surrealism inspired a climate of experimentation, with photo-collage, montage, cameraless images, nonobjective forms, unusual angles, and extreme close-ups marking the photographic expression of the era. In common with other visual artists, photographers also took note of Freudian and related theories of the psyche and of the part that images might play in the social and political struggles of the times.

In Europe the new vision was nurtured by the complex artistic and social tendencies that emerged following the revolutionary uprisings at the end of the first World War. Embodied in Russian Constructivism, the German Bauhaus—a school of architecture and design—and the

Deutscbes Werkbund (German Work Alliance), these movements and organizations viewed artistic expression as concerned with the analysis and rational reconstruction of industrial society rather than as a means of producing unique decorative objects based on personal feelings or experiences for an elite class. With art activity conceived as a way to improve the lives of ordinary people through the redesign of their physical and mental environments, the artist emerged as an individual who "remained true . . . to reality [in order] to reveal the true face of our time."2 In the eyes of a significant number of artists, the various media were no longer regarded as discrete entities; the applied arts were considered as important as the "fine" arts of painting and sculpture; and respect for machine technology led to a high regard for both printing press and camera as the most effective visual instruments of the age.
 


Experimentation in Europe: Light Graphics

The developments that followed the end of the first World War had been heralded earlier in the breakdown of conventional modes of artistic expression. As the 1914-18 conflict raged in Europe, Dadaists urged that the moribund art of the past be jettisoned; that new themes and new forms be found to express the irrational nature of society. This attitude opened fertile fields for all kinds of visual experimentation, including the production of cameraless photographic images. It will be recalled that "photogenic drawing"—Talbot's name for prints made by exposing real objects placed directly on light-sensitive paper—actually had preceded photography through the use of a camera. In updating this concept, photographers of the new vision employed a variety of substances and light sources to create nonreprescntational images. The earliest examples were made in 1918 by Christian Schad, a German artist soon to become a leading exponent of the New Objectivity in painting, who exposed chance arrangements of found objects and waste materials—torn tickets, receipts, rags—on photographic film (pi. no. 483); the results, baptized Schadographs by the Dada leader Tristan Tzara, expressed the Dadaist interest in making art from junk materials.

Independently, the American Man Ray (born Emmanuel Rudnitsky), a close associate of Duchamp and Francis Picabia during their New York Dada period, undertook similar experiments that the photographer called Rayographs (pi. no. 484), a designation incorporating both his name and a reference to their source in light. Made soon after Man Ray's arrival in Paris in 1921, these cameraiess images were effected by arranging translucent and opaque materials on photographic paper, at times actually immersed in the developer during their exposure to moving or stationary light sources. Indifferent to conventional distinctions between fine and applied art yet devoted to the expression of intuitive states of being and chance effects, Man Ray sought commercial as well as artistic outlets for his extensive visual output that, besides Rayographs, included straight photographs, paintings, collages, assemblages, and constructions.

Cameraiess images also were called photograms (pi. no. 485), the name given the technique worked out together by Lucia Moholy and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Originally from Czechoslovakia and Hungary, respectively, but active after 1923 at the Bauhaus in Germany, these two artists held that, like other products produced by machine, photo-graphic images—cameraiess and other—should not deal with conventional sentiments or personal feelings but should be concerned with light and form. It is ironic that even though they promoted photography as the most fitting visual form for the machine age precisely because the camera image could be easily and exactly replicated, photograms are unique examples for which no matrix exists for duplication. Other Europeans who experimented with cameraiess imagery—or light graphics, as this aspect of photography came to be called—include Raoul Hausmann, Gyorgy Kepes, Kurt Schwitters, die Russians El Lissitzky and Alexander Rodchenko, the Czech artist Jaromir Funke, and Curtis Moffat, an English assistant to Man Ray. For reasons to be discussed presently, interest in this form of expression did not develop in the United States until after the Bauhaus relocated in Chicago in 1938 as the Institute of Design.
 

483. CHRISTIAN SCHAD. Schadograpb, 1918.
Gelatin silver print. Edward L. Bafford Photography Collection, Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery,
University of Man-land, Baltimore. Courtesy Mrs. Christian Schad.

CHRISTIAN SCHAD. Amourette. 1918

484. MAN RAY. Untitled (Wire Spiral and Smoke), 1923.
Gelatin silver print. Private Collection, New York.


MAN RAY
  (see collection)


(b Philadelphia, PA, 25 Aug 1890; d Paris, 18 Nov 1976).

American photographer and painter. He was brought up in New York, and he adopted the pseudonym Man Ray as early as 1909. He was one of the leading spirits of DADA and SURREALISM and the only American artist to play a prominent role in the launching of those two influential movements. Throughout the 1910s he was involved with avant-garde activities that prefigured the Dada movement. After attending drawing classes supervised by Robert Henri and George Bellows at the Francisco Ferrer Social Center, or Modern School, he lived for a time in the art colony of Ridgefield, NJ, where he designed, illustrated and produced several small press pamphlets, such as the Ridgefield Gazook, published in 1915, and A Book of Diverse Writings.


see also:
Man Ray. Noire et blanche, 1926
 


MAN RAY.
Nude


 

485. LASZLO MOHOLY-NAGY. Photqgram.
Gelatin silver print. Art Institute of Chicago; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Baxford.


LASZLO MOHOLY-NAGY
  (see collection)
 


 LASZLO MOHOLY-NAGY. Dolls, 1926
 


Collage and Montage

In Europe, an even more fertile field for experimentation involved collage and montage—techniques whose terms sometimes are used interchangeably. The former (from the French colter, to glue) describes a recombination of already existing visual materials effected by pasting them Together on a nonsensitized support and, if desired, re-photographing the result (pi. no. 486). Montage refers to the combining of camera images on film or photographic paper in the darkroom (pi. no. 487). The creation of a new visual entity from existing materials appealed to avantgarde artists in part because it was a technique employed by naive persons to create pictures—a folkcraft, so-to-speak —and in part because it used mass-produced images and therefore did not carry the aura of an elitist activity. These artists also felt that the juxtaposition of unlikely materials might serve to arouse feelings in the spectator that conventional photographic views no longer had the power to evoke. Besides, collage and montage promised to be extremely malleable—amenable to the expression of both political concerns and private dreams. Constructivists in the Soviet Union, who regarded the visual arts as a meansto serve revolutionary ideals, hailed collage and montage as a means to embody social and political messages in an unhackneyed way, while for artists involved with personal fantasies these techniques served to evoke witty, mysterious, or inexplicable dimensions. Still other individuals, inspired by the aesthetic elements of Cubism, used these techniques to control texture, form, and tonality to achieve nuanccd formal effects.

Although a number of artists have claimed to be inventors of montage, as with cameraless photography it was an old idea whose time had come. Hausmann, painter, poet, and editor of a Dada journal, was one of its earliest partisans, realizing in the summer of 1918, as he later recalled, "that it is possible to create pictures out of cut-up photographs." Needing a name for the process, he, along with artists George Grosz, Helmut Herzfelde (who later renamed himself John Heartfield), and Hannah Hoch, selected photomontage as a term that implies an image "engineered" rather than "created." To these originators, montage seemed to reflect "the chaos of war and revolution," visible in Hausmann's preoccupation with savagery and irrationality and in Hoch's expressions of socially generated fantasies. A strong political component characterizes the work of Heartfield (pi. no. 488), who was initially a Dadaist and was pictured by his colleague Grosz as the quintessential photomontagist, or "Dada Monteur," of the era (pi. no. 489).

Photographers in Italy found montage a versatile technique with which to express "spiritual dynamism," the term they used to describe their interest in urbanism, energy, and movement that had emerged in the wake of the Futurist Manifesto of 1908. Then, the brothers Anton Giulio and Arturo Bragaglia (among others) had incorporated the scientific experiments of Marey into what they called "Photodynamks," making multiple exposures on a single plate (pi. no. 490) to suggest a world in flux. After World War I, Italian modernists, among them Vincio Paladini and Wanda Wulz, continued in this vein, combining printed and pasted materials in two and three dimensions with multiple exposures.

Montage found favor in the Soviet Union during the 1920s as an instrument for revealing what was termed "documentary truth." Instead of relying on conventional time-consuming modes of graphic representation, Constructivists, notably Lissitzky and Rodchenko, sought to awaken working-class viewers to the meaning of contemporary socialist existence by utilizing photographs and text in visual messages (pi. no. 491). Like their counterparts in Russian Him (then considered the most advanced of the era), they were convinced that montage—which they called "deformation" of the photograph—and straight camera images taken extremely close to the subject or from unusual angles could communicate new realities.

Toward the end of the 1920s, true photographic montage, effected on light-sensitive materials rather than by cutting and pasting, became more commonplace and was sometimes combined with other darkroom manipulations such as solarization. Owing to its flexibility, montage could be structured to serve different stylistic and thematic ends—personal as well as political. To cite only a few examples, Anton Stankowski, working in Germany, explored an enigmatic psychological component in Eye-Montage (pi. no. 492) of 1927; the Czech photographer Karel Teige embraced a similar theme in a 1937 cover for a Surrealist journal (pi. no. 493); and Man Ray's ironic wit is seen in the oft-reproduced Violon d'lngres (pi. no. 494). Socially oriented concerns were expressed by Alice Lex-Nerlinger, part of a German husband and wife team, in Seamstress (pl. no. 495) of 1930. Incidentally, the themes of eye, hand, and work visible in several of these images engaged many photographers of the period whether they worked with montage or straight images. The eye obviously can be taken as a symbol for camera or photographer, while the combined emphasis on all of these elements suggest that camera work was seen as the result of both craft and vision, a concept embodied in the theories and programs of Constructivism, the Bauhaus, and the Werkbund.

486. HANNAH HOCH. The Cut of the Kitchen Knife, 1919.
Montage. National galerie, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.


see also collection:
Hoch Hannah
 

487. RAOUL HAUSMANN. Mechanical Toys, 1957.
Gelatin silver print; double exposure of two photographs showing Hausmann's
Dadaist sculpture Mechaniscber Kopf, 1919. Schirmer/Mosel, Munich.


RAOUL HAUSMANN 
(see collection)
 

(b Vienna, 12 July 1886; d Limoges, 1 Feb 1971).

Austrian photomontagist, painter, photographer, printmaker, writer and theorist. He trained in the academic artistic tradition under his father, Victor Hausmann (1859–1920). In 1900 he went to Berlin, where he later became a central figure in Dada. His important friendship with the eccentric architect and mystical artist Johannes Baader (1875–1956) began in 1905. In the first years of the next decade he was associated with such artists as Erich Heckel and Ludwig Meidner and produced numerous paintings, including Blue Nude (1916; Rochechouart, Mus. Dépt.), and woodcuts, several of which were published in his book Material der Malerei Plastik Architektur (Berlin, 1918). These works blended Expressionism with the influences of artists then exhibiting at Herwarth Walden’s Sturm-Galerie: Fernand Léger, Alexander Archipenko, Robert Delaunay and Sonia Delaunay, Arthur Segal and others. Around 1915 his widening contacts with the writers Salomon Friedländer and Franz Jung led to innumerable theoretical and satirical writings that were published in Der Sturm, Die Aktion, Die freie Strasse and other magazines of the era. Hausmann’s views reflected a diversity of influences ranging from biologist Ernst Haeckel and psychologist Otto Gross, to Nietzsche and Henri Bergson, to Eastern philosophers including Laozi, and to such anarchists as Max Stirner. In 1915 he also met Hans Richter and Hannah Höch; Höch became Hausmann’s close companion until 1922. By 1917 he was associated with Richard Huelsenbeck, George Grosz, John Heartfield and Wieland Herzfelde, who together formed the nucleus of Dada in Berlin during 1918–22.


see also:
Hausmann Raoul
 


RAOUL HAUSMANN.
Nude, Vera Broido
 

488. JOHN HEARTFIELD. Adolf the Superman; He Eats Gold and Spews Idiocies, 1932.
Gelatin silver print. Courtesy Mrs. Gertrud Heartfield, Berlin.


JOHN HEARTFIELD
(see collection)
 

(b Berlin, 19 June 1891; d Berlin, 26 April 1968).

German photomontagist, draughtsman, typographer and stage designer. After a difficult childhood owing to the persecution of his father for his political beliefs, he studied art at the Königliche Kunstgewerbeschule in Munich from 1907 to 1911, specializing in poster design. In 1912 he took his first job in a printing works in Mannheim, moving to Berlin in 1913, where he and his brother Wieland Herzfelde made contact with avant-garde circles. Heartfield’s experiences in World War I led him to conclude that the only worthy art was that which took account of social realities. He destroyed all his early work.


see also collection:
Heartfield John
 


JOHN HEARTFIELD. Dialogue at the Berlin Zoo,
1934

 

489. GEORGE GROSZ. The Engineer Heartfield (Dada Monteur), 1920.
Watercolor and collage of pasted postcard and halftone.
Museum of Modern Art, New York; Gift of A. Conger Goodyear.


see also collection:
 Grosz George
 

490. ANTON GIULIO and ARTURO BRAGAGLIA. The Smoker, 1913.
Gelatin silver print. Weston Gallery, Inc., Carmel, Cal.

491. ALEXANDER RODCHENKO. Montage, c. 1923.
Gelatin silver print. Sovfoto Magazine and VAAP, MOSCOW.


ALEXANDER RODCHENKO  (see collection)

(b St Petersburg, 23 Nov 1891; d Moscow, 3 Dec 1956).

Russian painter, sculptor, designer and photographer. He was a central exponent of Russian Constructivism, owing much to the pre-Revolutionary work of Malevich and Tatlin, and he was closely involved in the cultural debates and experiments that followed the Revolution of 1917. In 1921 he denounced, on ideological grounds, easel painting and fine art, and he became an exponent of Productivism (CONSTRUCTIVISM) in many fields, including poster design, furniture, photography and film. He resumed painting in his later years. His work was characterized by the systematic way in which from 1916 he sought to reject the conventional roles of self-expression, personal handling of the medium and tasteful or aesthetic predilections. His early nihilism and condemnation of the concept of art make it problematic even to refer to Rodchenko as an artist: in this respect his development was comparable to that of Dada, although it also had roots in the anarchic activities of Russian Futurist groups.


see also:
Rodchenko Alexander
 


ALEXANDER RODCHENKO.
About This (Pro eto), a poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1923

 

492. ANTON STANKOWSKI. Eye-Montage, 1927.
Gelatin silver print. Prakapas Gallery, Bronxville, N.Y.


ANTON STANKOWSKI
(see collection)

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Anton Stankowski (June 18, 1906 - December 11, 1998) was a German graphic designer, photographer and painter. He developed an original Theory of Design and pioneered Constructive Graphic Art. Typical Stankowski designs attempt to illustrate processes or behaviours rather than objects. Such experiments resulted in the use of fractal-like structures long before their popularisation by Benoit Mandelbrot in 1975.
Anton Stankowski was born in Gelsenkirchen, Westphalia. Before embarking on the profession of graphic designer, Stankowski worked as a decorator and church painter. In 1927 he attended the Folkwang Academy with fellow photographer, Max Burchartz.
Stankowski's work is noted for straddling the camps of fine and applied arts by synthesising information and creative impulse. He was inspired by the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Malevich and Kandinsky. Stankowski advocated graphic design as a field of pictorial creation that requires collaboration with free artists and scientists.
Despite producing many unique examples of concrete art and photo-graphics, Stankowski is best known for designing the simple trademark of the Deutsche Bank.
By 1980, Stankowski had produced a volume of trademarks for clients in Germany and Switzerland. In 1983, he established the Stankowski Foundation to award others for bridging the domains of fine and applied art. Following his death in December 1998, the German Artist Federation awarded Anton Stankowski the honorary Harry Graf Kessler Award for his life work.
 


ANTON STANKOWSKI.
Suring, 1929-1934

 

493. KAREL TEIGE. Untitled, 1937. Montage.
Collection Jaroslav Andel, New York.


KAREL TEIGE
  (see collection)
 

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Karel Teige (December 13, 1900 – October 1, 1951) was the major figure of the Czech avant-garde movement Devetsil (Nine Forces) in the 1920s, a graphic artist, photographer, and typographer. Teige also worked as an editor and graphic designer for Devětsil's monthly magazine ReD (Revue Devetsilu).
With evidently endless energy, Teige introduced modern art to Prague. Devetsil-sponsored exhibitions and events brought international avant-garde figures like Le Corbusier, Man Ray, Paul Klee, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Walter Gropius, among many others, to lecture and perform in Prague. Teige interpreted their work, sometimes literally, for the Czech audience. In his 1935 Prague lecture, André Breton paid tribute to his "perfect intellectual fellowship" with Teige and Nezval: "Constantly interpreted by Teige in the most lively way, made to undergo an all-powerful lyric thrust by Nezval, Surrealism can flatter itself that it has blossomed in Prague as it has in Paris."
Although not an architect, Teige was an articulate and knowledgeable architecture critic, an active participant in CIAM, and friends with Hannes Meyer, the second director of the Bauhaus. Teige and Meyer both believed in a scientific, functionalist approach to architecture, grounded in Marxist principles. In 1929 he famously criticized Le Corbusier's Mundaneum project (planned for Geneva but never built) on the grounds that Corbusier had departed from rational functionalism, and was on his way to becoming a mere stylist. Teige believed that 'the only aim and scope of modern architecture is the scientific solution of exact tasks of rational construction.
After welcoming the Soviet army as liberators, Teige was silenced by the Communist government in 1948. In 1951 he died of a heart attack, said to be a result of a ferocious Soviet press campaign against him as a 'Trotskyite degenerate,' his papers were destroyed by the secret police, and his published work was suppressed for decades.
 


KAREL TEIGE.
Collage Number 128

 

494. MAN RAY. Violon d'Ingres, 1924.
Gelatin silver print. Savage Collection, Princeton, N.J.

495. ALICE LEX-NERLINGER. Seamstress, 1930.
Gelatin silver print. Art Institute of Chicago; Julien Lew Collection,
Gift of Jean and Julien Levy, 1975.

 
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