Blumenfeld Studio, New York 1941 – 1960

To coincide with The Photographer’s Year 2013 exhibition I attended, I decided to head over to Somerset House; on the opposite bank of the River Thames to the National Theatre, as an exhibition had caught my eye, one I thought may be appropriate and tie in with my next module.

I had never heard of Erwin Blumenfeld, and when reading Nina Caplan’s review of the exhibition in the online version of Time Out London, I just had to go and see what the fuss was about:

“… He worked for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar at a time when those magazines prized daring and originality, so he could place his models behind opaque glass or beneath rippling water, obscure them with hats or picture them from behind – and give them four hands, or cat’s ears, or multi-coloured Venetian blends where their clothes should be …”

Housed in the East Wing Galleries, the exhibition was quiet large and covered many of the rooms in this section of the house.  Aside from the photographs, the exhibition also carried a mixture of large display cabinets, containing original copies of magazines and photographs of Blumenfeld’s work, with their reproduced, digital counterpart on the wall above.  It was a good space, which was very light and airy, with plenty of room between images for movement, and again, as this exhibition was nearing an end, there were not too many people in attendance.

As with the previous exhibition, I was a little miffed, as there was no accompanying literature to this body of work, unless of course you brought an overpriced book from the shop at the end of your ‘tour’; the only information available was a ‘What’s On’ leaflet for the House in general – a copy of which can be found in my sketchbook.

Expecting to see some really ‘out there’ wacky photographs on display, I was a little disappointed with the images chosen for this exhibition, but pondering this after over coffee, I can see that Blumenfeld’s work would have been thought ahead of its time.  Up until his appearance on the photography scene, fashion photography shots would have been safe images, as back in the 1940’s and 50’s, obscure images, often with hidden stories to tell would have been classed as very risqué.  However, as the big fashion houses looked for originality and daring in their photo-shoots, Blumenfeld found his niche and with determination and hard work, turned the industry on its head.

Do not get me wrong, not all of the photos were different and some were really quiet exquisite, especially some of the portrait work and the high-fashion images he took in the 1940’s, a selection of my favourites can be seen below.

When comparing these images to some of the work produced by fashion houses and the entertainment industry as a whole today, there is no doubt that Blumenfeld’s originality in manipulating photographs is tame in comparison, in fact it is quiet astonishing that the results we can now obtain by making a few keystrokes in digital imaging software was managed back then without any digital assistance at all.   Back then it was obvious where the changes had been made, so society accepted these images and began to expect bigger and better things from future publications of their favourite magazines, but today it is not always as easy to see where changes have been made, and the public feel as though they are being cheated into thinking everything they see is real.

This was another interesting exhibition, I really enjoyed the portraiture include in the work as well as the daring portrayed by Blumenfeld in those earlier years.  I think I actually gained more from the ‘safe’ images, as the composition, lighting and beauty of these shots is something I can learn from and build upon during future modules in my course.

It would be really great if these exhibition spaces thought a little more about their audience; yes lots of people visit galleries to look at works of art and everyone who visits is looking for something different to the person they stand next too, but it would be nice if cheap (or even free) information is on hand to the viewer.  I have experienced this a few times now, not everyone can afford to buy a £20+ glossy book to coincide with their gallery visit, and to be honest, not everyone wants the reminder, but it would be nice for a small catalogue of information to be available to those interested – it would also make documenting exhibition experiences so much easier …

Reference:

Blumenfeld, E.  (n.d.) n.k. [Photograph].  Available at: http://trendland.com/erwin-blumenfeld-photography/ [Accessed 5 September 2013].

Blumenfeld, E.  (1945) Support for the Red Cross for the cover of American Vogue, March 1945 [Photograph].  Available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/art/blumenfeld-studio-new-york-1941-1960 [Accessed 5 September 2013].

Blumenfeld, E.  (n.d.) Self-portrait [Photograph].  Available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/art/blumenfeld-studio-new-york-1941-1960 [Accessed 5 September 2013].

Blumenfeld, E.  (1949) Evelyn Tripp in a Dior Sargent Dress [photograph].  Available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/art/blumenfeld-studio-new-york-1941-1960 [Accessed 5 September 2013].

Blumenfeld, E.  (1955) Grace Kelly, 1955, for Cosmopolitan [Photograph].  Available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/art/blumenfeld-studio-new-york-1941-1960 [Accessed 5 September 2013].

Blumenfeld, E.  (1951) Lillian Macusson for the cover of American Vogue, January 1951 [Photograph].  Available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/art/blumenfeld-studio-new-york-1941-1960 [Accessed 5 September 2013].

Caplan, N.  (2013) Blumenfeld Studio: New York, 1941-1960 [online].  Time Out London.  Available from: http://www.timeout.com/london/art/blumenfeld-studio-new-york-1941-1960 [Accessed 5 September 2013].

Bibliography:

Caplan, N.  (2013) Blumenfeld Studio: New York, 1941-1960 [online].  Time Out London. Available from: http://www.timeout.com/london/art/blumenfeld-studio-new-york-1941-1960 [Accessed 5 September 2013].

Goldberg, V.  (1999) Finding a Camera and a New Career [online article].  Available at: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/Holocaust/blumenfeld.html [Accessed 5 September 2013].

Blumenfeld, E.  (n.d.) Collection of Images [online image].  Modernism.  Available from: http://www.modernisminc.com/artists/Erwin_BLUMENFELD/thumbnails/ [Accessed 5 September 2013].

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