Andreas Feininger: Old New World

Christina/ July 23, 2022/ Culture

Andreas Feininger is a pioneer of modern photo journalism. That’s what the supporting programme of the exhibition Old New World claims. Upon the sunday guided tour through the show Feininger is even said to be the inventor of skyline photography. Also, he is the son of Lyonel Feininger, the well-known painter. At present an exposition is dedicted to the photographer at the Städtische Museum. It displays about 260 pictures and is divided into four sections: Big city, lifelines, Hamburg and portraits.

Old New World can be visited until August 14th, 2022. We come to see it on this sunday. I am surprised that so many interested people come together despite the perfect weather and the summer holidays. It takes about an hour to guide us through the numerous exhibits of Feininger and his life story.

Feininger is born in 1906 in Paris. He grows up in Germany. At the beginning of Second World War he immigrates to America, his father’s homeland. From now on he focuses on motifs showing big cities, especially New York. Both, the skyline of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge are his favourite themes. He takes shots of these objects in different constellations. One time in the rain, one time in a blizzard. One time with clouds, one time in the fog. Effect, structure and form are especially important. That is Feininger’s self-revelation. And that becomes visible in his pictures.

Photographe of the 1940ies
What catches my eye upon this show? What can be discovered besides the expectable? Two things are thought-provoking in my opinion: On the one hand it is Feininger’s nude photography. On the other hand it is the putting of oneself in the style of photography in the 1940ies. From our today’s perspective Feininger’s pictures of the big city do not seem to be something special. That is not supposed to be a disrespectful comparison. I use it for another reason. The emerge of digital photography meanwhile produced hundreds of thousand picture on New York and its sights. The quality however is debatable. Still it is a fact that the flood of pictures produced by mobiles and its spread over social media is overwhelming. Maybe we are simply deadened.

Therefore I think it could be helpful to regard Feininger’s pictures from the perspective at that time. Furthermore, one has to take the technical output of photo equipment at that time. Another aspect is the fact that Feininger developed his picture by himself and image editing software was still a dream of the future. Feininger is described to us as a perfectionist. As somebody who could wait for hours to catch the right moment. And finally, I think, it takes a good eye to recognize all the details of his pictures.

The blind and the girl
Here comes the second part of my observations. One of Feininger’s pictures bears the title: blind man on the 42nd street. The setting the picture has been taken within is interesting. It is in a nightclub district. Next to him there is advertising for girls. I wonder is that chance? It is quite a heavy contrast to me. On the one hand the temptations of a big city. On the other hand a person who withstands those seductions. Because, the person is not able to see.
In another room with the title „Lifelines“ pictures of natural phenomenas are shown. Among others are closeup views of spider’s web, plants and dragon fly wings and also naked women. Solarized nude is one of those pictures. You can see a strongly overexposed woman’s silhouette. Another one is called „standing nude“.

We remember that Feininger cares about effect, structure and form. An expression of new creative methods oft he 1920ies and 1960ies. I cannot really say why, but the photos do not really match the animal and plant pictures. Maybe I am just awkwardly touched by the fact that once more female bodies have to act as study object.

Old New World
Unfortunately the museum closes at 5 p.m. Therefore we have to interrupt our second round through the show and my reflections have to end here. The exhibition has its charme. The black-and-white photography itself is worth seeing. „An artist should only take pictures of what he likes.“ That’s all there is to it.
Oh stop, one question is left open: What’s behind the exhibition’s title „Old New World? Is it dedicated to the removal from Feininger from the old world to the new world? Or is it the contrast between the pictures from Hamburg and New York? In comparison it stands out how modern the skyline of Manhattan looked with its lofty buildings in the 1940ies.

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