ReviewBlumenfeld Studio: New York, 1941–1960
Somerset House Until 1st September 2013

So back in ‘Dear old Blighty’ after my North American trip, I find myself absorbed in trying to secure new work. The pocket book is dry of money, I have to ask ‘Will I ever be able to do anything fun ever again?’ Thankfully Somerset House has another free exhibition on.

Fashion photography itself is not the type of work I do, but after the Somerset House exhibitions “Landmark: Fields of Photography” and “Henri Cartier Bresson – A Question of Colour”, I decided this exhibition was more than a little worthy of a visit. Blumenfeld worked in a fascinating era of rapid change, not just in fashion, but from the end of the art deco period, through post war austerity, (and the end of the european empires,) then to consumerism and atomic age of the 1950’s and finally the social change and economic growth of the early 1960’s, these changes are also echoed though his life.

Born to Jewish parents in Berlin in 1897 and at 10 years old he was given his first camera. He was friends with George Grosz was also influenced by the Dadaist movement in Berlin resulting in his experimentation with collage. He continued experimenting with photography and after moving to Holland became interested in french art and Man-Ray which influenced him further to experiment both in and out of the dark room, there are some examples of this in the exhibition. He married and moved, by 1936 he was living in Paris with his wife, after the Nazi invasion he somehow got to the US in 1941. From here, i’m going to refer to the Vogue website in reference to his work:

After the war Blumenfeld’s career flourished, with his work adorning the covers of Look, Life, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. He became the highest paid freelance photographer in New York, but still preferred to be identified as an amateur so that he might choose those subjects which most attracted him – landscapes, sculpture, architecture and, above all, women.

His reputation for being uncompromisingly creative is evident throughout the exhibition. But Blumenfelds work combines a ‘class’ chic with with a light and playful touch.

Naturally I recommend the show. There is a good deal of both early figure work and commissioned (Fashion features and magazine covers) work in this large exhibition – give yourself at least an hour. Indeed, some of the shots on view are alternates to the ones featured on magazines, and a couple of the works look like unfinished or raw ideas. However to see the large prints of the images that he rejected or weren’t selected is interesting as it gives a glimpse into his working methods.

After the exhibition I had a brief look at titles like Vogue, Cosmopolitan and new breed magazines such as the Gentlewoman and Oh Comely, the newer magazines seem much more tight, less playful with a brittle rigidness, seems a shame to me. But you may have your own opinions on that.

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