Erwin Blumenfeld – A Free Soul Who Was In Love with Taking Pictures

“I was an amateur, I am an amateur, and I intend to stay an amateur. To me, an amateur photographer is one who is in love with taking pictures, a free soul who can photograph what he likes and who likes what he photographs.”

Day and night I try, in my studio with its six two-thousand watt suns, balancing between the extremes of the impossible, to shake loose the real from the unreal, to give visions body, to penetrate into unknown transparencies.

Pat Blake for Vogue US, 1954

Erwin Blumenfeld, a German-born American photographer was particularly successful photographer for Harper’s Bazaar, Life magazine and the American VOGUE.

Born in Berlin in January 1897 he moved to Amsterdam as a 21-year old and where he became friends with the artists Paul Citroen and Georg Grosz. In 1933 he made a photomontage featuring Hitler as a skull with a swastika on its forehead later used as Allied propaganda during WW2. Blumenfeld moved to Paris in 1936 and set up as a photographer managing to get freelance work with French Vogue.

Hitler skull 1933

In 1940 Blumenfeld along with his family are interned as ‘undesirable aliens’. In 1941 they managed to obtain visas and sail to the USA in May 1941 on the Mont Viso steamship. Unfortunately they are stopped and detained in Casablanca in Morocco (the movie Casablanca was released the following year) but thanks to the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society they were able to continue their journey via a Portuguese liner to New York where they arrived in August 1941.

“The metropolis of New York, the only living wonder of the world, is, like the pyramids, not a work of art but a gigantic manifestation of power. It still has one foot in Europe, glancing back over both shoulders on its desperate look-out for new attractions. America only begins where New York ends.”

Blumenthal started working at Harper’s Bazaar soon after arriving in New York and soon acquired his own studio at 222 Central Park South in 1943. As the Erwin Blumenfeld website says – ‘success comes soon’ and he became one of America’s most successful and highly paid photographers.

‘Salute to freedom’ advertisement for Bianchini-Férier, Harpers Bazaar, August 1945

‘Girl With a Job’ variant of Harpers Bazaar cover photograph, 1 February 1942

The Picasso Girl, 1942

Photographer Erwin Blumenfeld July 1950 © Gordon Parks

A Shake-up in Young Fashion’ variant of Vogue US cover, 1 August 1953

Variant of photograph published in Vogue US, 1 August 1950 model, Dovima

Natalia Pasco 1930 ca Photo Erwin Blumenfeld

Marguerite von Sivers surle toit du studio 9, rue Delambre Paris, 1937 Photo Erwin Blumenfeld

Pictured in the cat’s eyes- Lilli Palmer and Rex Harrison Photographed by Erwin Blumenfeld, Vogue, November 15, 1950

Rage for Color Look magazine, 15 October, 1958 models Renée Breton, Tess Mall, Dolores Hawkins, Anne St Marie, Bani Yelverton

Do your part for the Red Cross-variant of Vogue US cover 1956

Sophie Malgat poses for Vogue photographer Erwin Blumenfeld wearing a silver lamè Jacques Fath dress made in US by Joseph Halpert, July 1950 © Gordon Parks

Untitled, c 1946 model, Susan Jenks

Variant of Vogue US cover photograph, 1 May 1949 model, Ruth Knowles portrait

Untitled, 1946

Erwin Blumenfeld in Color: His New York Years is at Foam, Amsterdam, until 14 April.