Saturday, September 5, 2009

Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969)

I’ve spent my entire life on the prowl in used book stores. Hungry for all those endless words and magical pictures. I was certain that someday they would all stack up to a transcendent meaning. It was both an act of faith and a decadent pleasure. Every trip up and down the musty aisles provided me with new vistas into my imagination. 

It was during one such journey through the remainder photography section that I came across a stark image on an oversize soft-cover book entitled The Art Of Vogue Photographic Covers: Fifty Years Of Fashion And Design.

The powerful, startlingly simple cover depicted a face erased; with only a beautifully colored eye, a perfect arched eyebrow, pouting ruby lips and a black mole like a punctuation mark. The disembodied elements floated on the cover in perfect balance. I had to know more about the photographer who created this 1950 cover for Vogue magazine.

It turns out that Erwin Blumenfeld, the creator of this iconic image had a legendary career that began in his Amsterdam leather goods shop in 1932 with photo collages depicting the heinous evil of Hitler and Nazism. Born in Berlin to a Jewish family he emigrated to Amsterdam after serving as an ambulance driver in World War One. He participated in the Dada movement as a painter and writer and had befriended George Grosz and John Heartfield, also renown for his photomontages mocking Hitler.

In the late thirties he moved to Paris and circulated with the Surrealist artist’s of the day including Man Ray. He began shooting for many magazines including French Vogue and Votre Beauté. At the start of World War Two he was interned in a French concentration camp. After his release he moved to New York and began to shoot for Harper’s Bazaar.

Experimentation with darkroom techniques was key to Blumenfeld’s oeuvre. He utilized solarization and  superimposed images to remove the subject of his photographs from any object reality. He often utilized mirrors to refract and reflect light which amplified the subject, creating repeating patterns. Deconstructed in the manner of the cubists, shards now stand in for the whole, fragmenting reality. The psychology of the image becomes the photograph's intent.

His masterful use of color was a key ingredient to his success as a fashion and fine art photographer. He often employed a subtle tone on tone choice of color that could focus the viewer on the photograph's geometry.

His constant experimentation with color and form has influenced a generation of contemporary fashion photographers including Paolo Roversi, Javier Valhonrat and Nick Knight.



Arlene said...

Amazing photographs and info, luv it! I'm obsessed with anything Nick Knight does it's so interesting seeing the inspiration.

david said...

Rico, So good that you're doing a blog on this theme. Our tastes seem to running the same. I have this Vogue book from years ago (it even survived the fire) and I've looked to it for inspiration many times. And Paul Outerbridge!! I caught a show of his work at the Getty Center in May.

I hope you keep it up. I'll check back often. David

SFGooner said...

Great blog. While reading this entry, that line from Elvis Costello's "Two Little Hitlers" came to mind, "I need my eyes excited".

Rachel Garcia said...

Thanks Rico for posting this blog. I love art history and I'm so glad to have found this blog.

Anonymous said...

good points and the details are more precise than somewhere else, thanks.

- Norman