Thursday, 23 January 2014

Erwin Blumenfeld - experimental portraits

 Though self taught, Blumenfeld was an inspired photographer, experimenting with props including ground glass screens, coloured gels and fluted glass to capture optimum visual effect ‘in camera’. He famously began his sittings in the dark, switching on each of his directional lights one by one to allow him to concentrate on the optical effect of each. Blumenfeld was also a virtuoso printer and spent long periods in his darkroom, controlling the appearance of the final artwork, the layout of which he also liked to direct. More an auteur than a team player, Blumenfeld highly resented intervention in any part of this process –from commission to printed page. Most of all, he hated the meddling ‘arse directors’, as he called them, that his fashion work called him to work with.

Despite his extraordinary success, commercial image-making was a double-edged sword for Blumenfeld. Having immersed himself in the Berlin art world at the end of the First World War, fraternising with the early Dadaists, befriending painter Georges Groz and creating montage artworks of his own and working as a painter in Amsterdam in the early 1930s, Blumenfeld’s first priority was to establish himself as an artist. He was a connoisseur of photography and well aware of the scepticism towards the world of commerce expressed by prevailing contemporary art practitioners such as Alfred Steiglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Weston. Blumenfeld echoed their sentiments by openly admitting he loathed being called a ‘commercial’ photographer – as was common in New York - feeling it prevented recognition of his work by the art galleries and museums he so respected.

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