Helmar Lerski (born Israel Schmuklerski) grew up in Switzerland and emigrated to the US in 1893. There he worked in the theater and began photographing his fellow actors in 1911. He moved to Berlin in 1915 and began a career as a lighting cameraman in the silent film industry before returning to photography in 1928. His portraits, which use stage-like lighting, were exhibited in 1929 at the Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart and published in 1930 as the book Köpfe des Alltags. He emigrated in 1932 to Palestine, where he worked on the portrait series Araber und Juden. In 1936 he completed the Verwandlungen durch Licht (Metamorphoses through Light) project for which he took 175 portraits of the same worker under various lighting conditions. Lerski returned to Zurich in 1948. After his death, his friends Reni Mertens-Bertozzi and Walter Marti served as executors of his estate, which they donated to the Museum Folkwang in Essen in 1993.