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"Photographs by Josef Breitenbach"
2001-03-02 until 2001-06-03
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
UK United Kingdom
This new exhibition of rarely seen portraits offers a fresh insight into the work of the German-American photographer Josef Breitenbach (1896-1984). Breitenbach had a distinguished career in the United States as a teacher and contributor to magazines like Time, Fortune, and Harper's Bazaar, but the powerful body of work he produced before leaving Europe in 1941 remained hidden until his death. This exhibition brings together fifty portraits from this innovative and vital period of Breitenbach's career, and includes memorable images of many of the famous artists and writers who sat for him in the 1930s.
Breitenbach began taking photographs while travelling as a wine merchant with his family's firm in the 1920s. He established a successful portrait studio in his native Munich in 1932, but as a Jew involved in left-wing politics, was forced to flee to Paris when the Nazis came to power in 1933. In France he exhibited regularly with photographers like Man Ray, Georges Brassaď and André Kertész, and his experimentation with printing techniques and colour manipulation brought him into contact with the Surrealists.
Breitenbach’s penetrating photographs of his Parisian circle include definitive portraits of the writers James Joyce and Bertold Brecht. His famous and haunting photograph of Brecht was made in a patch of lamplight outside a theatre in Montparnasse. The exhibition also features portraits of the artists Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky and Aristide Maillol.
After a period of internment in 1940, Breitenbach fled occupied France for the United States, where he quickly established himself as a commercial photographer and teacher. Though he continued to photograph artists like Ernst, Lionel Feininger and Josef Albers, his early work remained unseen until it was rediscovered during a routine appraisal of his estate in 1984. Today, the importance of these remarkably fresh and vital images is increasingly recognised by curators, critics and collectors.
This exhibition has been organised by the Josef Breitenbach Foundation, New York, in collaboration with the Fox Talbot Museum, Chippenham, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and receives its first British showing in Edinburgh.