Erwin Blumenfeld


14.6.2010 - 17.7.2010


Erwin Blumenfeld’s arrival in Paris in 1936 marked the beginning of his career as a professional photographer. Prior to that year, the photographer born in Berlin in 1897 had tried his hand at a variety of disciplines, doing amateur photography and creating Dada collages, painting and writing short stories alongside work in his leather goods shop. When his Amsterdam business went bankrupt due to Hitler’s propaganda he escaped to Paris. Man Ray’s contemporary soon established himself on the fertile ground of the Ville Lumière, landing his first commissions and publishing professional photographs. VERVE, the new art magazine, introduced his impressive works to a highly discerning French audience. Commissions from VOGUE and HARPER’S BAZAAR eventually enabled him to reach America, and to save his life.


Luck was often on Blumenfeld’s side: he survived the First World War as a soldier and later slipped through the Nazi grip. Most importantly, however, he was able to give artistic form to his admiration of feminine beauty and to carve a successful career from his inclination. The photographer had a weakness for women – they were his strength. He adored them with the fervour of a romantic youth seeking their soul, which he occasionally found in the sleeping countenance of the dream-enraptured muse.


His beauties were aloof and often veiled, less from prudishness than in a playful evocation of the hidden unconscious – Freud’s discovery – and exuding an erotic aura. Blumenfeld liked to quote Karl Kraus, who quipped that a normal man loved a lady’s naked leg while an erotic man preferred it sheathed in a silk stocking, but a pervert craved the stocking itself. In 1938 Blumenfeld’s love of silk and tulle blossomed in his iconic Nude under Wet Silk series. He also used solarisation to erect a magic barrier, and made masterful use of various other techniques – mirror-images, double exposures, shadow images, screens, etc. – to endow his subjects with a hint of surrealism.


Blumenfeld’s idealisation of women sets him apart from contemporary photographers, many of whom have taken to swamping eroticism with crude pornography, a trend that goes back to the 1970s. The ubiquitous presence of brutality and perversion has all but smothered any aesthetic sensibilities. In contrast, back in the 1940s and 50s it was the admiration for and respect of all things feminine by someone like Blumenfeld that led to a long and brilliant career in New York. As a fashion photographer and precursor to Richard Avedon and Irving Penn he took thousands of photographs, which have been all the more exemplary for his imagination and the fact that he was directly involved in graphic design.


Alongside his many commissions for fashion and advertising photography, Blumenfeld always continued to photograph women and nudes. Just as he had earlier animated sculptures by breathing life into them, he would often imbue his photographs with hints of the abstract or the sculptural. His portraits of female beauty are time-capsules of their day. They have become valuable rarities and will remain so in the future.


Marina Schinz



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