Erwin Blumenfeld

Erwin Blumenfeld‘s work is a constant source of inspiration in my personal work. He is a highly creative and talented photographer. I have seen an exhibition of his work in Paris, during the Paris Photo show, at the Jeu de Paume. I discovered there all the facets of his photographic career and I felt like writing a bit about him. Hope you enjoy !

I do not claim the copyright of the images in this post. These images belong exclusively to Erwin Blumenfeld.

Erwin Blumenfeld was a photographer famous for his fashion photography. His images have been published all around the world. People start today being interested in his personal work, which contains drawings and collages, experiments, portraits and complex self portraits.

Blmenfeld was born in a Jewish family in Berlin in 1897. He started photography when receiving a camera as a gift in 1907. In 1913, his father died and he had to stop studying to help his family. He started an apprenticeship in the women’s garment trade, which is probably going to influence his later pictures. In 1915, he met the artist George Grosz. They will stay friends for life. In 1918, they both took part of the Dada movement. Blemenfeld made collages, drawings and wrote poetry.

In 1918, after the war, he went to Holland to meet his fiancé and tried different way of earning money as an art seller, novel writer and finally opened a leather goods business in Amsterdam in 1922. In 1932, when moving his premises, he discovered an operational darkroom. He started taking pictures of his customers and his friends to make a bit of money. He also kept working on his personal work by taking portraits and nudes of women, experimenting with light, shadows and processes, clearly influenced by Man Ray and other photographers from the Surrealism movement, and started thinking about going to live in Paris.

In 1936, he arrived in Paris with his wife and his two children, and decided to become a professional photographer. He set up a studio and started doing some advertising and photographed Parisian artists. In 1938, he met Cecil Beaton, who helped him to secure a contract with Vogue France. For the 50th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower, he takes his famous photograph of Lisa Fonssagrive wearing a dress by Lucien Lelong.

In 1941, Blumenfeld left Paris for New York to escape the war. There, his career started to take a much bigger extent. When arriving, he worked immediately for Harper’s Bazaar and got his own studio in 1943.  He soon became the most famous fashion photographer of that time. His experiments with lights, shadows, colours and processes, but also his in depth thoughts about psychology in portraiture and his ability to set up scenaris in his pictures were a great advantage. His famous Vogue cover was published in 1950 and is still used today on design products. He photographed actors, singers, aristocrats and launched the career of some famous top models. In 1948, his work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1955, he stopped his contract with Vogue and worked on advertising. He also realised a few short movies and kept working on his personal work.

Blumenfeld died of a heart attack in 1969 in Roma. He is known today mostly for his fashion photography, but his personal work reveals much more of his psychology and his research of his own identity.

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