Photography at the Bauhaus II
The photographs made by the Bauhäusler are regarded by us today not only as "fun and documentation" the value most frequently given them by their creators; they have become important mosaic stones forming a creative map of the New Vision. Photography at the Bauhaus was a part of daily activity, like that devoted to such problems as the stress capacity of paper, the design of chair out of steel tubing, or the color of an interior space. The question of an ulterior artistic motive was secondary (although seldom ignored!).
Exactly those images - the snapshots and sketches, the unplanned and experimental - are for us today sometimes more interesting than the deliberate composition, the consciously created image. It is just that Iack of restraint, the fresh vigour and joy of experimentation which made possible a lively photography of astonishing breadth. The directness of the amateur, of the fine artist, unspoiled by the rigid rules and technical perfection of the professional photo grapher, actually became the basis for photography at the Bauhaus and for the book that, next to the standard work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Painting, Photoaraphy, Film (1925), became the most influential book from a Bauhausler: Here Comes the New Photoarapher, by Werner Graeff, published in 1929 on the occasion of the "Film and Foto" exhibition in Stuttgart. This publication presented excellent examples of "violations" against the classical photographic rules and became a sort of textbook for the New Vision as variously practiced by those studying at the Bauhaus.
Associated with the New Vision are such catchwords as diagonal composition, angle shot, the extreme view from above or below, isolation, and detail; every kind of combination was investigated: montage, collage, fotoplastik. Words and their conceptual differentiation were first invented, applied, and taught by Moholy-Nagy, Joost Schmidt, and Herbert Bayer. The reflection of cubic spaces on the curved surface of a sphere, represented on the rectangular surface of the photography, the completion of a half-face by use of a mirror, or the reversal of tonal values via negative printing – such transformation of reality levels fascinated many Bauhäusler.
Even though the photography department under Walter Peterhans was first established in 1929 (similarly late was the introduction of an architecture department, officially first established in 1927), this late recognition does not correspond with the high value accorded photography at the Bauhaus. Not only the important and well-known artists such as Moholy-Nagy, Bayer, Peterhans, Lucia Moholy, and Umbo were active in the medium during the Bauhaus years; as well, a very large number of students made use of photography. In retrospect, it is not surprising that at the most significant photography exhibition of the 'twenties, the 1929 International Exhibition of the Deutsche Werkbund in Stuttgart, "Film and Foto," 22 of the exhibiting photographers were at the time either members of the Bauhaus or had been previously connected with institution.
It was much later that international recognition of creative photography at the Bauhaus came about; after the collapse and end of the Nazi regime in Germany, first to gain recognition were painting, architecture, and design. Beginning in the 'seventies, a more intense involvement with photography at the Bauhaus developed through exhibitions, publications, and the building of photographic collections, and surprising discoveries were made: new artists' names and a broad range of applied photography (instruction, experimentation, snapshot, typography, advertising) that demonstrate a rather astonishing quality and originality.
The most important outcome appears to be that, in contrast to the generally widespread rejection of the Bauhaus through indiscriminate simplification (for example, in Tom Wolfe's party bestseller, From Bauhaus to Our House), a fully different aspect of the Bauhaus has become visible: the working method, the lively process of a search for new form, new ways of seeing, and new materials. No principles were followed, but individual pathways were opened and the rules for classical photographic composition were abolished.
The main concern of the Bauhaus was man – the human being stands in the center as concentrate and focal point of all Bauhaus work. This maxim becomes evident as well in the photographs originating from the Bauhaus. After 60 years, we are able to recognize in most of these photographs a new dimension, one that Herbert Bayer described so: "Photography became for us the translation of reality into a legible image." (Text by Wulf Herzogenrath, Cologne 1985)
Photography at the Bauhaus II