Berlinische Galerie - Museum für moderne und zeitgenössische Kunst in Berlin

Berlinische Galerie, Foto: © Noshe

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Umbo. Fotograf. Werke 1926 – 1956
  • Umbo. Fotograf. Werke 1926 – 1956

  • 21.02.2020 - 20.07.2020

  • Umbo. The name was a sensation in the avant-garde photography of the 1920s. He stood for everything new: a new type of portrait, a new image for women, a new take on street life, new photojournalism. His pictures were experimental, imaginative and above all just like the photographer himself: unconventional. From the early Bauhaus in Weimar, where the foundations for Umbo’s work were laid, he was drawn in the mid-1920s to Berlin. Here he found the road to photography thanks to his Bauhaus friend Paul Citroen. Almost overnight Umbo became a household name as one of the most sought-after photographers of the avant-garde. When the Nazis came to power in 1933 he lost the creative habitat that had inspired his outstanding output in the 1920s. In 1945, with his archives ravaged by war, Umbo was literally left standing amid the ruins of his photographic oeuvre. He moved to Hanover and tried to relaunch his professional career, with limited success until the beginning of the 1950s. Not until the 1970s, when photography was admitted to museums as an art form, was his work rediscovered. In 1979, shortly before he died, a first little solo exhibition opened in the “Spectrum Photogalerie” at Hanover Art Museum.
    With a selection of about 200 works and many documents, this exhibition also celebrates the purchase of Umbo’s artistic estate, made possible in 2016 thanks to funding from numerous benefactors and in partnership with Bauhaus Dessau Foundation and the Sprengel Museum Hannover.
    An exhibition by the Sprengel Museum Hannover in collaboration with the Berlinische Galerie and the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation.

    Umbo joined the early Bauhaus in Weimar at the beginning of the 1920s. The school, and Johannes Itten’s foundation course in particular, were defining factors in Umbo’s work, although he only remained in Weimar for two years. After he was asked to leave the school, he went to Berlin on a quest to discover his own artistic style. He eventually found it, thanks to his Bauhaus friend Paul Citroen, but in photography and not, as intended, in painting. In a very short time he created a new approach to portraits. With his radical close-ups and strong contrasts between light and dark, he translated not only new ideas from cinematic practice but also Itten’s theory of shapes into the medium of photography. Most of all, he perfected the play of light and shadow in his portraits of women from bohemian Berlin. His striking visual style made them the very personification of New Woman. The writer and actor Ruth Landshoff, for example, posed for Umbo in numerous roles. He also pioneered new methods of press photography. Breaking with the convention for single images, Umbo composed pictorial series as narratives for the photo agency Dephot, which had recently been set up by Simon Guttmann. One example is the transformation of Mr André Wettach into the world-famous Clown Grock, a sequence that tells a story rather like a short film.

    When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Umbo ceased to be a distinctive presence. The intellectual network that had inspired his productivity in the late 1920s all but faded away under the National Socialist dictatorship. Many of his closest friends and clients suffered persecution in one form or another or else were driven into exile. Simon Guttmann, too, left the country. Only Umbo’s photographic experiments with the new “Sky Camera” and the series “Reacting Salts” testify to an enduring creative spark. His photojournalism from this period centres almost solely on the world of theatre, vaudeville, cinema and sport. There are other series too, however: a cruise aboard the “Wilhelm Gustloff” with the “Kraft durch Freude” movement, and training activities with the Nazi girls’ organisation BDM. These were the result of his collaboration with prominent illustrated magazines which, while bringing in a regular income, entangled even an apolitical, tolerant individual like Umbo with the totalitarian regime. In 1943 Umbo’s archives and studio were destroyed by an air raid over Berlin. He lost almost his entire work.

    When the war ended in 1945, Umbo moved to Hanover for family reasons. In those early post-war years he tried to pick up his successful career of the 1920s, but it proved to be an arduous undertaking. At first he worked mostly for Communist and Social Democratic magazines, turning down a number of commissions from major newspapers. Only his friend Simon Guttmann, who had now founded the photo agency Report in London, managed to persuade him to produce several series for the internationally renowned Picture Post. These pieces of photojournalism highlight Umbo’s empathetic response to controversial issues of the day. Nevertheless, the success he had enjoyed in the 1920s evaded him. In the mid-1950s he gave up his work as a photographer. He eked out a meagre living with casual jobs and occasional teaching. Umbo found a new artistic milieu in the Kestner Gesellschaft, an art association based in Hanover, where he remained active in an ancillary capacity until an advanced age. In the mid-1970s, when photography was recognised as an art form, Umbo’s work attracted the interest of galleries, art historians and collectors. In the final years before his death in 1980, Umbo witnessed the rediscovery and recognition of his outstanding early work.


Results:  274

Untitled (Self-Portrait)
  • um 1930
  • Silbergelatinepapier
    Neuvergrößerung Christine Sander 1980
  • 29 x 22 cm (Bildmaß)
Untitled (Nowak after Rescue with Family. Father Nowak and Children)
  • undatiert
  • Silbergelatinepapier
  • 17 x 23 cm (Bildmaß)
Untitled (Ruth's Mother and Hermann? Landshoff)
  • undatiert
  • Silbergelatinepapier
  • 12,2 x 17,3 cm (Bildmaß)
Untitled (Light Pendulum Trace)
  • vermutlich 1947-1950
  • Silbergelatinepapier, Luminografie
  • ca. 24,1 x 17,8 cm (Bildmaß)
Recherche und Übersetzung von Georg Wiesing-Brandes zum Roman "Les Créneaux de Weimar" von Nicolas Baudy
Anklageschrift in der Strafsache gegen van der Lubbe und Genossen in: Braunbuch II. Dimitroff Contra Goering. Enthüllungen über die wahren Brandstifter, Éditions du Carrefour Paris
Brief Reinhard Knapps, Berlin-DDR, an Umbo betreffs der fotografischen Produktion von Flugblättern 6x9 in Umbos Atelier Kaiserdamm
“Actors Heed the Call of the Age”, Reportage by Umbo in: Der Stern. Weekly Film Magazine, no. 40, published by Deutscher Verlag
Fotograf*in unbekannt, Ohne Titel (Umbo und Irmgard Wanders, verh. Umbehr)
  • vermutlich 1943
  • Silbergelatinepapier
  • 11,5 x 8,5 cm (Blattmaß)
„Erziehung zur Harmonie", Reportage Umbos aus dem Sommerlager des BDM-Werkes „Glaube und Schönheit", in: die neue linie, 10. Jg., Nr. 2, Oktober 1938
Note on Obtaining the Special Permit for Cultural Workers
  • 5. September 1947
  • Papier
  • 21 x 15 cm (Blattmaß)
Annelie Heinevetter, Ohne Titel (Umbo an der Kasse der Kestnergesellschaft), Hannover 1967
  • Silbergelatinepapier
  • 17,3 x 12,5 cm (Blattmaß)