In one of my many notebooks (now fortunately reduced to one with the magnanimous purchase of my first Moleskin from New York’s MOMA – worthy of a boast), I have mysteriously scrawled in the name “Erwin Blumenfeld”. It turns out that this was a good post to self, as Blumenfeld’s work has the effect of lifting my self-deprecating state of mind and inspiring me.
Erwin Blumenfeld is a photographer, appraisingly regarded as one of the best in the 20th Century. Born in Berlin in 1897, he moved almost by accident to photography from owning a leather goods store, to discovering a dark room in his new work premises – lucky him; and photographing his customers – lucky them. A move to Paris followed (post leather good bankruptcy – a blessing in disguise) where Blumenfeld soon became a master of photography, making elegant images and developing complex techniques using solarization and printing using mirrors. In Paris his work began to take on a fashion focus as he shot for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as producing personal work, including nudes and images of architecture.
His later photographic style in New York in the 1940s was marked by an extravagant artificiality and heady eroticism. Some of his favourite techniques included solarization, screens, wet silk, and elaborately contrived shadows and angles – all resulting in some iconic covers for the American glossies, a bit of kerching (he was the most highly paid and respected fashion photographer at the time) and my respect and camera-armed envy centuries later. Plus he paid homage to the beauty of an upturned flick of eye-liner or the power of a dash of red lippy, his taste continuing to sway the fashion trends of today. In particular, I like how he illustrates the concept of “less is more” (the veils and distortion both mesmerise and intrigue me), and also demonstrates the sensuality of the silhouette and figure through an effective use of monochrome. Thus flashbulbs out, I give to you a few of my favourite images.