Photography's Contribution To The Bauhaus School Overview

The Bauhaus School was one of the most influential art and design schools in the 20th century. It existed in three cities: Weimar (1919–1925), Dessau (1925–1932) and Berlin (1932–1933) where it eventually closed due to political pressure from the Nazis. Its main goal was to put art in contact with everyday life. The etymological meaning behind the word “Bauhaus” is “building” plus “house” and its intention is believed to be an effort of working to build a new society. The Bauhaus presented a new academic approach by replacing the traditional teacher-student model with the idea of a community or union of artists working together for a unified purpose.

The Bauhaus was the integration of crafts and art; therefore nobody became a true artist if they don’t master the tools and the materials. The spirit of the school behind its preaching was to turn art into beautiful things with a use and a real function on the real world and for everyday situations.

Even though the Bauhaus School had a huge influence in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography, it also affected photography on a smaller scale. These were disciplines with more legacy than photography, but since one of the central thoughts of the Bauhaus was to embrace new technologies, photography was affected too in terms of aesthetics and techniques. This fact was pretty evident in the photography department of the school where celebrated artists like László Moholy-Nagy and Walter Peterhans encouraged students and artists to use their cameras for imagining new worlds.

To understand the evolution of photography during the 20th century, it is important to appreciate the meaning that photography had in the Weimar Republic during the years of the Bauhaus (1919–1933).

Photography was an excellent form of expression for the modernizing society of the twentieth century. Some avant-garde artists embraced the medium as the ideal way to defy visual statements. Photography offers the possibility of an objective visual mode with which to contrast the subjective psychological intensity of expressionism. These two aesthetic postures became known as the “Nueue Optik” (New Vision) and the “Neue Sachlichkeit” (New Objectivity). Even though photography was not part of the Bauhaus until 1929, its inclusion helped the dynamism of the medium. The main catalyst of this event was the arrival of László Moholy-Nagy.

Photography

During the Weimar era photography was initially used as a documentation and publication tool before it was established as an artistic field of experimentation, ranging from the photogram to the photo collage. Photography achieved the official state in 1929, when it was integrated into the advertising workshop. Before this, photography was just a tool used by the school for documenting the objects and products created by the Bauhaus. Photography became a subject of study after ten years of the school’s birth.

László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946)

We can’t talk about the Bauhaus and especially about avant-garde photography without talking about Moholy-Nagy. He was a prolific artist, innovative not only in the photography field but also in sculpture, painting, printing and industrial design. He was the most influential photographer of the German avant-garde despite the fact that he was not German but Hungarian by birth. He believed that photography offered a universal visual language, suited to the advancing needs of modern society.

Moholy-Nagy created several still life compositions that showed the unique possibilities of photography. The images of everyday objects seen through the glass became a recurring theme, along with the frames and the superposition, as they made direct reference to the glass plate negatives used inside the camera. You can see some of his work here.

He acquainted the term “photogram” which produced images by placing objects on photographic paper and exposing them to light. This was pretty similar to the more popular technique used “Rayographs” by Man-Ray.

Walter Peterhans (1897–1960)

He was a German photographer best known for teaching and leading the photography course at the Bauhaus School from 1929 until 1933. He primarily produced still-life images and photographs of objects and portraits as well. He focused a lot of his vision on capturing the materiality (properties and surface) of his subjects.

He made a supreme effort by teaching not just photographic theory and practice, but also into using precise eyes to focus on the shapes and textures of arranged objects. He was known for bringing out the smallest nuances of every object by using meticulous lighting settings which ended up in an almost “magical effect”. He ended the experimental phase of photography at the Bauhaus, with institutionalized teaching taking its place.

Lux Feininger (1910–2011)

He was the son of the painter Lyonel Feininger. Besides having such a cool name that literally is associated to the measurement of light, he was known for his constant companion — the camera. He used to attend school always in search of activities he could use to transform into his own world of vision. His most iconic image is known as “Charleston on the Bauhaus Roof”, which shows a couple of musicians executing an exuberant performance at the roof of the School. His photographs captured the dramatic instant that perfectly expresses the youthful verve and spirited freedom of the student life.

Lucia Moholy (1894–1989)

Her photography centered on the documentation of architecture and products of the Bauhaus. She was the wife of László Moholy-Nagy and together they experimented with different processes in the darkroom such as the photogram. They published together, but unfortunately much of the experimentations that the couple did were solely credited to László.

Other names associated with the Bauhaus or its aesthetic include:

And last but not least, as an extra treat, you should watch the movie “Man with a Movie Camera — 1929” from Russian movie maker Дзига Вертов (Dziga Vertov). His work is not attributed to the School at all, but the aesthetic makes it a must-see. is really a must.

Originally Published at Light Stalking

These 3 Images Are Good Examples Of Some Deep Photographic Principles

If you encounter a monkey in an absurd context,

you automatically have a very real problem in photography.

Garry Winogrand

It’s clear that we live in an image-saturated environment that is expanding day by day. These images highlight the primary role of photography in human communication. Photography invites us to read the images it presents, but this is increasingly difficult to do thanks to the generous number of distractions in our lives. This was something we discussed in "Contemplation. Dramatically Improving Your Photography With Reading". This time we want to share some conclusions after having read some images. The criteria for selecting the images were simple: they all had to illustrate three solid principles of photography, especially in terms of framing, vanishing point and composition. It’s worth mentioning that we aren't presenting detailed breakdowns, as we have done in previous posts.

André Kertész - Meudon - 1928

  • Juxtaposition

Here we have a moment of juxtaposition of the train in the upper distance, symbolizing progress and the power of machines, contrasted with the vulnerability of human nature, personified by the man walking in the opposite direction of the train while carrying something, probably a painting or a mirror. Trains owe their existence to human beings, and they appear connected here by the similar tone of their coverings (i.e., the black clothes, and the black paint).

  • Movement

Every subject in the frame is moving. The two principal characters here are the train itself and the humans, especially the man looking at the camera. All are moving, but the sense of speed is more obvious with the train due to the steam trail left in its wake. The people seem calm, almost static, but moving at a slow pace. The train is a symbol of progress that enabled people to travel faster than ever.

  • Scale

We know that trains are huge, but here it appears tiny compared to the architecture surrounding it. The subject appears large due to the distance; in the end, the human appears larger and more like the protagonist. The train is just a beautiful and poetic background object.

Cameras belong to the world of machines, and the man’s serious look towards the camera could imply displeasure from a possible painter towards photography (but this is just a theory of mine).  Trains have greatly influenced the arts, and we have spoken previously of 20 trains that inspired photography.

Garry Winogrand - New York - 1967

  • Metaphor

The chimpanzees in the photograph dressed like children reflect the other child next to the couple. This is social satire, where Winogrand suggested that there is a sense of bestiality in humans and a sense of humanity in animals. Due to the two-dimensional nature of the picture, the child appears to be looking at one of the chimpanzees, when it is likely he was looking at something else outside the scene.

  • Rule of Odds

It's pleasing to compose with more than one object inside the frame. When a photographer is doing this, he or she must remember that it is more aesthetic to work with simple groups of odds. Groups of 3 or 5 elements are more interesting in compositional terms than those with groups of 2 or 4 elements. The reason for this is that the human mind rushes to separate things symmetrically.

  • Implied Lines

Implied lines are hard to capture because they are technically not there – they are not physical lines like vertical, horizontal, and organic lines. The couple is looking in the same direction, and the chimpanzees are peering exactly in the opposite direction. This creates a tension, but also symbolizes that they are different in nature.

The couple’s serious expression and the way the chimpanzees hold tight to them allow this image to deliver quite a punch. The image shows something that no doubt during that time caused some sort of revolt – an interracial couple – and an elegant, good-looking interracial couple to boot. New York in 1964 was the scene of several violent protests, and in 1965 Malcolm X was assassinated. In the same year that Winogrand took this picture, the US Supreme Court overturned laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The odd thing about this image is that it managed to offend both those who supported discrimination and those who tried to abolish it.

Sally Mann - Candy Cigarette - 1989

Of the three images I discuss here, this one is my favorite; it has been of my favorites for a long time. It is so intriguing that is still impossible for me to write something slightly hermeneutical, and honestly, I like it this way.

  • Bye Bye, Rule of Thirds

This is an extremely vivid example of how the rule of thirds can be broken. Emmett appears diffused in the background, lonely but free. Virginia has a strong pose, like a mother or an older woman, in the right lower corner. And Jessie, holding that "candy cigarette" almost in the center of the frame, breaks all the prejudices of the thirds.

  • Rule of Odds

Here we have three children: Sally Mann's three children. Her children, her whole world as a mother, split in three parts that cannot be separated in her heart and soul.

  • Shallow Depth of Field

The background is shallow due to the wide lens aperture, and the tridimensional nature of the scene is enriched by it. Jessie gets to be the protagonist of the scene, and her strong character is enhanced by her gesture, her pose, and her sharp presence in the picture.

We hope you like these images as much as we do. This way of reading images will help you improve your photographic reading habits. Please share your thoughts, and let us know if you would like more of this kind of stuff.

Originally Published at Light Stalking