Erwin Blumenfeld (1897–1969) was one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. Born in Berlin, Blumenfeld’s peripatetic career took him first to Amsterdam and then to Paris. In Paris, Blumenfeld began working in fashion photography at Vogue. During this time, he was also producing anti-Nazi photomontage, avant-garde drawings and artistic photographs. After two years in a French concentration camp, he escaped to the United States and established himself as an eminent fashion photographer. Even in this commercial sphere, Blumenfeld’s work was minimalist and edgy, demonstrating his lifelong interest in experimentation.

This impressive book allows us to see the full range of Blumenfeld’s innovations, reuniting all the media used by the artist throughout his long career: drawing, photography, photomontage, and collage. His experimental work, including a series of conceptual self-portraits, appears alongside celebrity portraits and his better-known fashion photographs. 

For many artists who work across mediums and in both the commercial and artistic worlds, one strand of their work is primary and everything else is ancillary. For Blumenfeld, a political photomontage of Hitler stands next to a fashion photograph unabashedly, as his distinctive genius was expressed equally (if differently) in each. 

These days, as ever, artists find themselves forced to work in different spheres to support their artistic vision. Blumenfeld viewed that not as an irksome obligation or necessary evil, but rather as a daily opportunity for creative expression and experimentation. He couldn’t help himself; he was an artist every moment of his life.

—Alexander Strecker

The exhibition is open through January 26, 2104 at Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Erwin Blumenfeld edited by Ute Eskildsen
Publisher: Editions Hazan
Paperback: 240 pages