Sunday, November 2, 2008

Breitenbach at Gitterman Gallery

(Sorry for the repeat post. I got a spam comment. The only way to delete it is to delete the post. For all you RSS folks, there is no new info on this posting. I'll put more security in place so this doesn't happen again.)

The term "early color" seems to need a revision in the lexicon of serious photography. We've become accustomed to naming William Eggleston, Joel Sternfeld, and Stephen Shore as the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria landing on the shores of color photography. But there were plenty of earlier pioneers already inhabiting this territory. One does not even need to look to Europe to remember that the FSA photographers all used early Ektachrome slides in their work from the late 30's and early 40's. (Check out "Bound For Glory" to see this work). Additionally, Martin Paar's advocacy for early European color photographers like Keld Helmer-Petersen in the late 40's further explodes this idea.

Add to this list the work of Josef Breitenbach. An illuminating and beautiful show at the Gitterman Gallery nimbly advances this argument. I quote from the gallery's press release:

This exhibition will highlight Josef Breitenbach’s avant-garde work from the 1930s and 40s. His use of vibrant color as an expressive tool sets him apart from his contemporaries and earns him a place in the history of art of this period. Breitenbach colored elements of his photographs using complex processes of bleaching, toning and pigment printing. He shared a similar visual vocabulary with the Surrealists, employing techniques such as montage, solarization, the photogram and superimpression. Throughout this period, Breitenbach’s artistic expression was consistently conscious and deliberate. When Hitler became chancellor in 1933, Breitenbach fled to Paris, where he came into contact with the Surrealist movement. Though he did not identify himself as a Surrealist, Breitenbach’s photography was exhibited alongside the work of Man Ray, Kertesz, Brassai and Henri Cartier- Bresson. Breitenbach was interned in September 1939; ultimately, he escaped via Barcelona and arrived in New York City in 1942. He taught photography in New York and traveled extensively throughout Asia. For reasons unknown, he hid his prewar work, which remained undiscovered until it surfaced during a routine appraisal of his estate in 1984.

For Ever and Ever, 1938
Vintage toned gelatin silver print
13 1/2 x 10 5/8 inches

Sculpture Academy, Paris, 1935
Vintage toned gelatin silver print
15 5/8 x 11 11/16 inches
Private Collection

I suspect the story of his escape from a concentration camp alone is worthy of a movie about his life, but photography lovers will have to settle for his rich photographs full of emotion and allegory. Take a look.

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