UMBO – ever since the retrospective organised by Herbert Molderings in 1995, if not earlier, this name has been synonymous with a kind of “Big Bang” in modern photography in the mid-1920s. UMBO, born Otto Maximilian Umbehr in Düsseldorf in 1902, the second of ten children of a structural engineer and a teacher, is considered the inventor of the image of the “New Woman”, the new conception of the street and of photographic reporting per se. His name stands for the youth-driven departure of the “Wandervögel” of the Wilhelminian era to early Bauhaus. It also stands for the media city of Berlin strongly influenced by Eastern European immigrants, for a rapidly developing film, music, theatre and cabaret scene, and for glimpses inside the courtyards and kitchen-living rooms of overpopulated tenement blocks. UMBO: This is the doubting young artist who, thanks to the encouragement of his Bauhaus teacher Johannes Itten and artist friend Paul Citroen, becomes famous as a photographer practically overnight – yet always remains bohemian, an eternal “Wandervogel”.
UMBO who, so the story goes, survived National Socialism despite being “anti”, whose Berlin studio and archive were fully destroyed by bombing in 1943 and whose attempts to revive his earlier status as an avantgarde photographer in the post-war period of the Federal German Economic Miracle in Hannover proved fruitless; whose expressive early work that matured into New Objectivity was rediscovered in the 1970s; and who in 1979, shortly before his death, experienced his first solo exhibition in a museum: in the ‘Spectrum Photogalerie im Kunstmuseum Hannover mit Sammlung Sprengel’. This exhibition, which presents a selection of roughly 200 works and numerous documents, therefore draws essentially on UMBO’s estate. The basis is formed by over 600 photographs and extensive source material, supplemented by early acquisitions by the partner institutions Berlinische Galerie and Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, together with works obtained by the Sprengel Museum Hannover from Simon Guttmann’s Report post-war archive in London. Safeguarded for decades by his daughter Phyllis Umbehr and Rudolf Kicken (Galerie Kicken), UMBO’s estate was jointly acquired in 2016 by Bauhaus Dessau, Berlinische Galerie and Sprengel Museum Hannover, thanks to the efforts of numerous partners. This catalogue is accompanying the exhibition UMBO. Photographer.