Germany’s modern period is underscored by the Third Reich and the Second World War. From the propaganda to the widespread trauma, the country’s photographers were documenting and producing astonishing images of life during the war and the promise of a more peaceful postwar society. Many of these images live in the Berlinische Galerie’s vaults and are now on show as part of the European Month of Photography. We take a look at five seminal German photographers who defined the country’s tumultuous journey through the 20th century.
Portrait photographer Steffi Brandl shot Weimar stars of the Twenties and Thirties. Brandl was one of many women photographers who fled Europe to escape the Nazis and their terrorising mission. Researcher Elke Tesch has spent the past few years piecing together Brandl’s career, a project which continues to surface new images, leading him to discover exciting new source material from various magazines and archives.
Fritz Brill was tutored by Bauhaus teacher Johannes Itten and began his career as a commercial artist. Together with his wife Hedwig Bornemann, he founded a studio for advertising design in Berlin, despite rudimentary equipment and very little funds. In 1950, Brill deepened his research to create “Photo Analysis”, a project which consisted of micro, macro, high-speed photography and cinematography. His methodological approach also encompassed more scientific inquiries that were elaborate experiments in which to “achieve the impossible”.
Hajek-Halke is renowned for his sensational colour photomontages. An autodidact who worked throughout 1920s Berlin, his unconventional nude studies demonstrate the scale of his pioneering practice. Working under the shadow of National Socialism, the anarchic Hajek-Halke left Berlin for Lake Constance where he continued to study industrial and aerial photography. Though many of his photographs remain unpublished, Hajek-Halke was a leading figure of the post war Subjective Photography movement.
The Berliner Zeitung helped launch Eric Salomon’s career in 1928, when the newspaper published his images documenting a famous murder trial. Salomon spent much of the 1930s in the United States, photographing Marlene Dietrich and other luminaries for his book “Berühmte Zeitgenossen in Unbewachten Augenblicken (Famous Contemporaries in Unguarded Moments)”. Salomon was the original “candid camera” photographer, famed for his ability to infiltrate VIP events and spontaneously capture members of high society.
It was the writer Kurt Tucholsky who said that nineteenth-century street photographer Heinrich Zille “embodies the purest incarnation of Berlin”. Although Zille captured folk festivals and the studios of artists Max Liebermann, August Gaul and Käthe Kollwitz, he was mostly interested in documenting the working class and those from marginalized groups. His photographs are now housed in collections around the world including the Heinrich Zille Museum in Berlin.
“Photography in Berlin 1900-1980” is on display at Berlin’s Berlinische Galerie until 31 October 2016