Showing posts with label Stern. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stern. Show all posts

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ellen Auerbach (Pit)

Ellen Auerbach (1906-2004) was born in Karlsruhe, Germany, the daughter of Max Rosenberg and Melanie Gutmann. Her father was a successful businessman. Between 1924 and 1927 Rosenberg studied art at the Badische Landeskunstschule in Karlsruhe under Karl Hubbuch, where one of her fellow students was Hanna Nagel. In 1928, Auerbach continued her studies at the Academy of Art (Am Weissenhof) in Stuttgart. An uncle for whom she had done a bust gave her a 9 x12 cm camera and thus she discovered photography. Rosenberg thought that this new medium would be a better way to make a living than creating sculptures.

Grete Stern, Ellen & Walter Auerbach, c.1930

In 1929, Auerbach moved to Berlin to study photography with Walter Peterhans, who had been recommended by a friend for his excellent photographs and jazz record collection. At his studio Rosenberg met Grete Stern (see my article about her), Peterhans's only other private student. Ellen and Grete began a profound friendship that lasted throughout their lives. For Ellen Rosenberg the move to the capital was the beginning of a final rupture from her bourgeois background and from her family's traditional expectations for her. She had only a short period of lessons with Peterhans, because in 1930 he was named Master of Photography at the Bauhaus School for art and design in Dessau. 

Ellen Auerbach, Eckstein with Lipstick, 1930

Using the proceeds from an inheritance Stern bought Peterhans' equipment and with Auerbach established a studio to do advertising, fashion and portrait photography. They called the studio ringl+pit, after their childhood nicknames (ringl for Grete, pit for Ellen). The two young women also lived together in their studio. In the early 1930s, modern advertising was at its beginnings and left ample room for creative exploration. ringl+pit's advertising work represented a departure from current styles by combining objects, mannequins and cut-up figures in a whimsical fashion. 

 ringl+pit, Untitled, c. 1930

Their work explored a new way of portraying women, also in character with the image of the New Woman that was emerging. Stern's specialty was in graphic design, and she was more interested in the formal aspects of photography. Auerbach provided the more subtle and ironic touches that challenged the traditional representations of women in advertising and films.  As Auerbach explained, "We are very different people. She is more serious than I am. I’m a frivolous person. But we had a lot of fun together. She was serious and I frivoled."

ringl+pit, Edwin Denby and Claire Eckstein in Regimentstochter (Gaetano Donizetti), Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, Berlin 1930 

Auerbach and Stern also photographed friends and lovers whom they met through bohemian circles. These included the dancer Claire Eckstein and her friend Edwin Denby (above), the writer Marieluise Fleißer and the set designer, Walter Auerbach. When Hitler rose to power in 1933, Walter Auerbach, who was active in leftist political circles, warned the women of the dangers ahead. Aware of the increasing political repression, they decided to leave Germany. Palestine was the only place Ellen could go to, thanks to a loan from Grete that allowed her to enter as a "capitalist". At the end of 1933 Ellen emigrated to Palestine and Grete left for London.  

Ellen Auerbach, Port of Alexandria, on the way to Palestine, 1933

Walter Auerbach also went to Palestine, and in 1934 they opened Ishon ("apple of my eye") in Tel Aviv, a studio specializing in children’s photography. At the same time Ellen started photographing everyday life in Palestine. This took her out of the studio and into the streets and villages. She was greatly affected by the difficulties in coexistence between Arab and Jews. In 1936, Grete Stern emigrated to Argentina. Auerbach left Palestine and tried to continue with Stern's London studio, but was unable to obtain a work and residency permit. One year later, Ellen married Walter Auerbach in order to emigrate to the United States, thanks to an affidavit they had received through a distant relative. They lived first in Philadelphia, where Auerbach continued to work as a children’s photographer in order to make a living. In 1938 one of her child photographs was selected for the cover of Life Magazine’s second anniversary issue. 

 Ellen Auerbach, Statue of Liberty, New York 1939

Ellen Rosenberg's parents stayed behind in Karlsruhe. In 1941, they were interned at the Gurs concentration camp in France, from where they were freed in 1944 by American troops. At the end of the war they returned to Karlsruhe - an unusual move for Jewish survivors. In 1940, Ellen and Walter Auerbach moved to New York where they were introduced to some avant-garde artists, among them Willem de Kooning, whom Auerbach photographed, and Fairfield Porter, a painter who would become a close friend. Ellen and Walter Auerbach were separated in 1945, but remained friends, and she kept his name. Ellen started visiting Great Spruce Head Island in Maine, the Porter family's summer place, where she continued her art photography, focusing on nature subjects and people on the island.

Ellen Auerbach, Renate Schottelius in New York, 1953
Between 1946 and 1949 Ellen Auerbach worked at the Menninger psychiatric institute in Topeka, Kansas. There she photographed and made two films on young children's behavior. In 1946, she traveled to Argentina to visit her brother and Grete Stern, and to Greece, Germany and Austria. Auerbach continued to travel extensively between the 1940s and 1960s, photographing landscapes and nature, as well as interiors, architecture, street scenes and portraits. 

 Ellen Auerbach, Sulphur Bath, Big Sur 1949

In 1954 she went to Great Spruce Island to visit nature photographer Eliot Porter, whom she had met through his brother Fairfield. He asked her to accompany him on a trip to Mexico to photograph churches. They went there in 1955–1956. When they returned they tried to interest publishers but it was not until thirty years later that their work received recognition. Mexican Churches was only published in 1987 and Mexican Celebration in 1990. After the Mexico trip, Auerbach no longer wanted to photograph and gradually stopped taking pictures. At the age of sixty, she embarked on a new career: until 1984 she worked as an educational therapist with children with learning disabilities at the Educational Institute for Learning and Research in New York.

ringl+pit, Pétrole Hahn [Shampoo Ad], 1931

From the 1980s, the work of ringl+pit and that of Auerbach and Stern was rediscovered as German museums started to look back. Auerbach's hometown Karlsruhe organized a show in 1988 called Emigriert. The Folkwang Museum in Essen mounted a comprehensive ringl+pit exhibition in 1993 and many others followed. For Ellen Auerbach the culmination was a retrospective of her work at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin in 1998.  Ellen Auerbach died in New York on July 30, 2004, at the age of ninety-eight.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Grete Stern (Ringl)

 Ellen Auerbach, Portrait of Grete Stern (Ringl with Glasses), 1929

Grete Stern (1904-1999) was born in Wuppertal. Her German-jewish family was involved in the textile business. From 1923 to 1925 she studied graphic design at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Stuttgart, but - after seeing an exhibition of Edward Weston and Paul Outerbridge - she was inspired to study photography. In 1927 Stern moved to Berlin where she met photographer Umbo (Otto Umbehr) who in turn sent her to take private lessons with Walter Peterhans, a photographer well known for his meticulously produced still lives. 

 Grete Stern, Ellen & Walter Auerbach, c.1930

In 1928 Peterhans also accepted Ellen Auerbach (Pit) as a student. Stern and Auerbach began a profound friendship that lasted throughout their lifetime. Using the proceeds from an inheritance Stern and Auerbach started a photography studio for advertising, fashion and portrait photography. They thought that calling it “Rosenberg (Ellen’s birth name) and Stern” sounded too much “like a Jewish clothes manufacturer” so they called it ringl+pit, after their childhood nicknames (Ringl for Grete, Pit for Ellen). They decided to sign all their work together. In the early 1930s modern advertising was at its beginning and left ample room for ringl+pit's creative exploration. 

ringl+pit, The Corset, 1929

In 1930 Stern followed Peterhans to Dessau to continue her studies at the Bauhaus until March 1933. There she met an Argentine photographer, Horacio Coppola. In 1933 the Bauhaus closed its doors, hounded by the Nazis. Although not an activist, Grete was sympathetic to leftist movements. With antisemitism becoming more and more aggressive, in early 1934 Stern emigrated to London. She opened a photographic and advertisement studio and also continued her work on portraits, photographing her friends from the community of German exiles, including Bertolt Brecht, Helene Weigel and Karl Korsch. Ellen Auerbach had also to leave Germany and after a brief stay in Palestine joined Stern in London. 

 Grete Stern, The Dancer Margareta Guerrero, Argentina 1945

Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola were married in 1935 and traveled to Argentina, Coppola’s native country, where she lived the rest of her life. Two months after arriving in Argentina, Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola presented what the magazine Sur called “the first serious exhibition of photographic art in Buenos Aires”. Between 1937 and 1941 Stern and Coppola operated a photography and advertising studio in Buenos Aires. In 1940 they moved to a Modernist house built in the outskirts of the city which became a meeting place for young artists and writers, both Argentine and Jewish and political exiles from Europe. 

 Grete Stern, Dream No. 38, 1949

In 1948 Stern was offered the unusual assignment of providing photos for a column on the interpretation of dreams in the popular women’s magazine Idilio. The column, entitled “Psychoanalysis Will Help You,” was a response to dreams sent in by readers, mostly working-class women. It was written by renowned sociologist Gino Germani, who later became a professor at Harvard University. The result was a series of about one hundred and fifty photomontages that show Stern’s avant-garde spirit. In these photomontages she portrays women’s oppression and submission in Argentine society with sarcastic and surreal images. 

 Grete Stern, Indios in the Chaco, Argentina 1964

In 1964 Grete Stern traveled through the northeast of Argentina, producing more than eight hundred photos portraying the lives of the aboriginals of the region. It constitutes the most important photo archive on this subject in Argentina. The suicide of her son Andres in 1965 was a profound shock. Her mother had also taken her life, and Grete herself often suffered from depression.  In 1972 Stern traveled to the United States, England, France and Israel and for the first time since leaving in 1933 she Germany. In 1975 the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin organized the first photographic exhibition after the war, which included Stern’s work. In 1979 Gert Sander, August Sander’s grandson, began representing the ringl+pit work.

 Nils Fonstad, Ellen Auerbach and Grete Stern in New York, 1992

Grete Stern continued her studio work doing portraits and landscapes until 1980, when she stopped due to failing eyesight. “Photography has given me great happiness. I learned a lot and was able to say things I wanted to say and show,” said Stern in 1992. Grete Stern died in Buenos Aires on December 24, 1999 at the age of ninety-five. You can see more photos by Grete Stern here. A documentary ''Ringl and Pit,'' completed in 1995 by Juan Mandelbaum, has been quietly attracting attention and praise, largely through an international network of screenings in museums and festivals. You can order the DVD here.