"Made in Berlin"

Fritz Brill & Ewald Hoinkis
Vintage Photographs

EXHIBITION Feb 12 — Apr 2, 2005

Kicken Berlin’s upcoming show features FRITZ BRILL (1904–1997) and EWALD HOINKIS (1897–1960). In a 1929 issue of “Photo-Spiegel”, a weekly illustrated supplement to the ‘Berliner Tageblatt’ newspaper, these two photographers were touted as being masters of “freie photographische Gestaltung” (free form photography) in an article devoted to photography as an art form, which was a new concept at the time. Photo-Spiegel also went on to prophesize - illustrated incidentally with a picture by Ewald Hoinkis, that photography would one day become a collectors’ item.
“Free” in this case does not indicate a departure from applied photography, rather it points to the fact that Brill and Hoinkis were using a visual language that had not been seen before. Both used the medium not only to photograph what was visible – an object, or product for example – they also used photography to make their artistic intentions visible. A stance that would advance the tenants of the contemporary avant-garde. The concept that photography could be art was pioneered by photographers such as Brill and Hoinkis. These photographers carried the ideas of ‘Neues Sehen’ (New Vision) into advertising posters and fashion magazines, as for example, when Brill accentuates the fine grain texture of materials by photographing through a magnifying lens or when Hoinkis picks up on trends in the post-war movement of Abstract Expressionism by showing smoke from a burning cigarette rising amorphously into the air in a 1953 advertising photograph for Reemtsma. In spite of their superb photographic achievements, Brill and Hoinkis are unjustly relegated to the second tier in the ranks of the 20th century’s great masters. During their lifetime, however, their work was widely exhibited and received considerable distinction. Hoinkis participated in the celebrated “Film und Foto” (Film and Photo) exhibition 1929 in Stuttgart. At the Neumann-Nierendorf Gallery in Berlin that same year he was shown alongside Man Ray, André Kertesz and Moholy-Nagy in a traveling exhibition with stops in Berlin, London, Vienna and Dresden organized by the Folkwang Museum, who today administer Hoinkis’ estate. The Folkwang Museum also organized the extensive Hoinkis retrospective in 1988, which was later taken over by the Berlinische Galerie, who had already honored Brill with a retrospective in 1982. Brill and Hoinkis lived and worked in pre-war Berlin at the same time. They represent an entire generation of similar-minded photographers: the first to discover the unique form of artistic expression photography had to offer. The depth of work exhibited at Kicken Berlin allows an insight into origins of modern photography in Germany, in which both Brill and Hoinkis played an important role.
Fritz Brill was born in Hanover in 1904. From 1928 to 1930 he studied at Johannes Itten’s school, where he was introduced to photography. The Bauhaus master inspired Brill to contemplate the texture and composition of material substances. He later integrated this interest for materials into his advertising photography. An example of this can be seen in his photograph “Farbe im Walzstuhl” (Color in a Rolling Mill) from 1951. Here Brill fully succeeds in bringing out the sensual appeal of thick streaks of color and in doing so illustrates this sensibility to materials so important to Itten.
In 1931 Brill volunteered as graphic design apprentice under Herbert Bayer (also an earlier Bauhaus master) at the Dorland company. In his work, Brill strove to establish a type of analytical photography. He pursued this ideal literally beyond the surface as seen for example in the microscopic cross-sections that he photographed. Prior to the war, Brill founded the "Physical Chemistry Laboratory for Industrial Microscopy" where, immediately after the war, he concentrated on his own projects for lack of paid assignments. He created still lifes by arranging metal and wood, picking up on Itten’s teachings on the science of materials, savoring the contrasts of rough and smooth, dull and glossy.
Brill later applied, improved and advanced Itten’s materials sensibility in research he carried out at his "Institute for Photographic Analysis". Brill used micro and macro photography as well as ultra high speed photographic (and cinematographic) techniques “to make otherwise invisible technical processes visible through photographic means (Brill)” for example, to visualize the compressive stress generated by rotating gears. Brill’s efforts to advance the premises of the avant-garde through science and technology opened new avenues for photography. In the process, he created pictures showing astounding formal affinity to the abstract tendencies seen in art movements at the time.
Whereas Brill used the camera as an investigative tool, looking beyond the outer surface of materials to their innermost structure, Ewald Hoinkis was inclined to study the appeal of the surface itself and to create attractive arrangements for his fashion and advertising work. His use of light played a central role. Born in 1897, Hoinkis began to photograph at the age of 11 and continued to photograph, self-taught, into the mid-1920’s. His work during that period, seen for example in the images of his hometown Görlitz, was skillfully done with a feel for atmosphere, but it was nevertheless rather traditional. Parallel to his professional development, however, he turned to Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) and in the 1930’s searched for a pictural equivalent to the elegant style found in fashion at that time.
The flattering sheen of studio lights provided the necessary glamour. Hoinkis’ style was closely tied to the spirit of the times. His photograph of legs seen in 1958 compared to one he took in 1927 for a nylon stockings ad (both shown at Kicken Berlin) make this apparent. In the former the calves shimmer in glistening light while in the latter, we see slender legs in hard black and white with pointed-toe shoes. It was taken after the war and is very much in tune with the fashion of the day. Along with his work in fashion, Hoinkis also did reportage and photographed nudes and portraits. We can thank him for the portrait-series of the painter George Grosz from 1928, palette in hand, in front of his famous painting "Pillars of Society". Hoinkis’ complete works act as a cross section of 20th century trends. Until his death in 1960 Hoinkis made lasting contributions to almost every development of photographic genre in 20th century photography. (Ronald Berg)