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Erwin Blumenfeld

Country: Germany/United States | Born: 1897 - Died: 1969

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.

Source: Wikipedia


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

From Dada To Vogue
Author: Erwin Blumenfeld
Publisher: Osborne Samuel
Year: 2016 - Pages: 120
The remarkable life and career of pioneering photographer Erwin Blumenfeld has been well documented. A pre-war visit to New York established his reputation, once he returned in 1941 he rapidly became one of the best known and most creative fashion photographers anywhere in the world, creating iconic images using ground breaking techniques and stretching the boundaries of the medium in a way that no other photographer had done before. The story of Blemenfeld the artist in the 1920s and '30s is less well known. Paintings and drawings have survived from his earliest years in Berlin and then in Amsterdam and Paris he experimented both with photography, photomontage and collage. He embraced Dada-ism and in many ways was a true Surrealist both in composition and technique. His images we often controversial as he confronted the profound social upheaval which took place in the aftermath of the First World War. And in Paris in 1940 the outbreak of war again saw him and his family forced to flee, eventually arriving in New York where he continued to innovate and experiment, both in still photography and film.
 
Erwin Blumenfeld: Studio Blumenfeld
Author: Erwin Blumenfeld
Publisher: Steidl
Year: 2013 - Pages: 208
Erwin Blumenfeld was one of the most sought-after and best-paid fashion photographers of his time, shooting for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Life. Influenced by the surrealists and the artistic avant-gardes, he challenged the genre's conventions in his early fashion photographs with fascinating originality and perfection. Although Blumenfeld left to posterity a considerable oeuvre of color photographs, so far only his magazine spreads were really known. For this volume, the original slides were recovered from Blumenfeld's extensive archive and digitally reconstructed. His compositions can thus be seen for the first time in their original form and colorfulness.
 
Erwin Blumenfeld
Author: Erwin Blumenfeld
Publisher: Stern
Year: 2011 - Pages: 96
German-born photographer Erwin Blumenfeld began his career within Dada circles in 1930s Berlin and Paris. Later, he was able to garner success as a famed fashion photographer by working for US magazines as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and pioneered forms of modern advertising in his prints for cosmetics. Blumenfeld's disdain for mainstream conformity was uncompromising and infused his work with an experimental energy. With daring in-camera optical effects and precise control of lighting and processing, he was a technical genius, never leaving any detail to chance. Working mainly in color, his innovative style and legacy continue to shape contemporary photography to this day.
 
Blumenfeld a Fetish for Beauty
Author: William a Ewing
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Year: 1996 - Pages: 256
By the mid-1950s, Erwin Blumenfeld's fame had spread throughout the USA and Europe to make him the world's most highly paid photographer. This study discusses the life and work of this extraordinary man. Highly inventive, he developed his own idiosyncratic language, using solarization and negative printing, double and multiple exposures and a host of hybrid techniques. The work also brings together a retrospective selection of Blumenfeld's diverse achievements including drawings, collages and photographs of all genres.
 
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