Born in Berlin in 1897 to Jewish parents, Blumenfeld began his career working as an apprentice dressmaker to Moses and Schlochauer in 1913. He opened his own company in Amsterdam in 1923, the 'Fox Leather Company', a leather goods store specialising in ladies handbags. After moving to new premises in 1932, Blumenfeld discovered a fully equipped dark room and began to photograph many of his -predominantly female- customers. The company went bankrupt in 1935, just as Blumenfeld's photographic career was beginning to take an upward turn.
Following a move to Paris in 1936, Blumenfeld was commissioned to take the portraits of personalities including George Rouault and Henri Matisse and secured his first advertising work for Monsavon. Blumenfeld quickly captured the attention of photographer Cecil Beaton who helped him secure a contract with French Vogue.
After World War II in 1941, Blumenfeld moved to New York where he was immediately put under contract by Harper's Bazaar and after three years, he began freelance work for American Vogue. Over the next fifteen years, Blumenfeld's work was featured on numerous Vogue covers and in a variety of publications including Seventeen, Glamour and House & Garden. During this period, he also worked a photographer for the Oval Room of the Dayton Department Store in Minneapolis and produced advertising campaign for cosmetics clients such as Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden and L'Oreal.
In the late 50s, he also began to create motion pictures, hoping to use them commercially and began work on his biography and his book 'My One Hundred Best Photos' which, despite being a renowned fashion photographer, only included four of his fashion images. Following Blumenfeld's death in 1969, numerous books on his work have been published, namely 'The Naked and the Veiled' by his son, Yorick Blumenfeld, and his photographs have been exhibited at international galleries including the Pompidou Gallery in Paris, The Barbican in London and The Hague Museum of Photography in the Netherlands.
In the 1960s, he worked on his autobiography which found no publisher because it was considered to be too ironic towards society, and was published only after his death.
Erwin Blumenfeld is considered to be one of the early pioneers of fashion photography alongside George Hoyningen-Heune, Cecil Beaton, and Horst P. Horst. It was not only his employment of experimental techniques in the darkroom, Dada and Surrealist influences, and groundbreaking street work, but Blumenfeld’s unique and masterful combination of elegance and eroticism that transformed fashion into high art and paved the way for Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, and other photographers who enjoyed such prominence and recognition in the history of art.
In addition to holding the record for the most covers of Vogue, Blumenfeld’s works were abundantly reproduced within the pages of Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Life and Vogue during the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Many of the images from these shoots will be featured in this exhibition and have since become icons of the history of fashion photography. Some have never been seen before. But all of the prints showcase not only Blumenfeld’s innovation as a photographer of fashion but also his spectacular skill as a printmaker. In his retrospective examination of Blumenfeld’s work, William Ewing writes, “His highly original and visionary work was a seamless blend of the negative and positive: taking the picture in the studio and making it in the darkroom.”
In the studio, Blumenfeld often employed mirrors, glass, and backgrounds reproduced from paintings, images of cathedrals, or mosaics of magazine covers. He often used veils, which could distort or elongate the figure, confident that a woman partially concealed was more erotically charged that one seen fully nude. He also believed the printing of the image was as every bit as important as the process of capturing it, and like Man Ray, he was tirelessly inventive in the darkroom, deploying a variety of optical and chemical tricks, including multiple exposures, solarization and bleaching.
Source: Edwynn Houk Gallery