Pressmeddelande   •   Aug 28, 2007 13:04 CEST

Photographic Portrait of Stockholm Captures Unique Vision of the City, Establishes Important Themes and Techniques of Feininger’s Later Career

Andreas Feininger: Stockholm 1933-39

September 15–November 7, 2007, at Scandinavia House

Press Preview: Friday, September 14, 12:00–2:00 p.m.

R.S.V.P. to Joan Jastrebski, (212) 847-9717 or joan@amscan.org.

Public Preview & Reception: Friday, September 14, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

New York, August 24, 2007—Scandinavia House presents an exhibition featuring 51 photographs of Stockholm, Sweden by the German-American photographer Andreas Feininger (1906-1999) taken between 1933 and 1939. Best known today for his stunning urban panoramas of Manhattan and the extreme close-ups of natural objects he took during his 20 years as a staff photographer for Life Magazine, Feininger began his career in Stockholm in the 1930s. Trained at the Bauhaus school in Weimar, Germany, he moved to Paris and then Stockholm when the Nazis came to power and quickly established himself as one of Sweden’s foremost architectural photographers. The Stockholm photographs reflect his architectural training as well as Bauhaus theories of photography considered provocative by the Swedish establishment in the 1930s. During Feininger’s years in Sweden he developed the techniques and themes he was to explore throughout his long career, honing his photographic vision in a city he considered superior to other European and American capitals from a photographer’s point of view. His carefully-composed, sharply-focused street scenes and harbor panoramas—often taken with a super-telephoto camera of his own design—demonstrate the great technical skill that astonished American audiences in later decades.

Organized by the Stockholm City Museum (Stockholms stadsmuseum), the exhibition features new prints of originals that have been part of the museum’s permanent collection since 1990.

Born in Paris to American parents of German origin (his father was the artist Lyonel Feininger), Andreas Feininger studied cabinetmaking at the Bauhaus school and graduated from the Anhaltische Bauschule zu Zerbst with a degree in architecture in 1928. Denied a working permit in Germany when the Nazis came to power because of his American citizenship, Feininger moved to Paris and briefly worked for the architect Le Corbusier. He was again unable to obtain working papers and moved on to Stockholm, where as a foreigner he also had difficulty finding employment. Inspired by a challenge from an architect acquaintance whose buildings Feininger believed had been poorly photographed, he started his own business and soon found success as an architectural photographer.

Living in Stockholm affected his experience of architecture. “I no longer saw buildings merely as isolated structures,” he wrote in Andreas Feininger: Photographer (1986), “but as elements of a larger unit—a street, a town, a metropolis. Combine this with my fondness for pictorial statements and it is easy to understand that I couldn’t resist the temptation to document Stockholm in photographic form.”

Feininger had studied photography briefly at the Bauhaus and had already published and exhibited his amateur work in Germany, but it was during his six years in Stockholm that he developed—through methodical and systematic experimentation—the style and techniques for which he was to become known internationally. It was here that he first became interested in themes that continued to occupy him during his two decades with Life Magazine and in his later years, including the urban landscape and natural objects. Influenced by leading Bauhaus figures like László Moholy-Nagy and the ideas of the New Objectivity movement, Feininger experimented on his own with techniques such as solarization, reticulation, negative prints, and bas-relief printing. More technically adventurous than Swedish photographers at the time, he shot with infrared films and used teleoptics that compressed his subjects, producing images that defied the predominant view that photographs should reproduce reality as naturally as possible. In his Stockholm photographs, the sharp contrast, hard edges, unusual angles, and reflected light reflect his architectural background and the influence of Bauhaus ideas. While Swedish architects had embraced modernist ideas, that country’s photographers were more conservative and, for the most part, continued to work within the established conventions of salon photography and pictorialism.

During this fruitful period he published several books of images and commentary, won a number of awards, and showed his photographs in a large exhibition organized by Liljevalchs Konsthall in 1939 called Det Nya Ögat (The New Vision), which commemorated 100 years of photography. His often spectacular photos of projects by Sweden’s leading architects were published in Idun, the Swedish Craft Association’s Form, and architectural magazines such as Byggmästaren. He developed and printed his photographs in his bathroom and built his own enlarger when he couldn’t afford to buy one.

“Of all the many beautiful cities I was privileged to know—Paris, London, Hamburg, Rome, Venice, Florence, San Francisco, Amsterdam, New York—from a photographer’s viewpoint, the most enchanting is Stockholm,” wrote Feininger in his memoirs. His fascination with his adopted city is evident in the richly textured images of water and sky, sailboats, docks, harbor scenes from Stadsgården and Slussen, and the steamers he thought of as emblematic of the city. He was particularly charmed by the colorful harbor life, the stretches of water that separated the neighborhoods, and the waterside streets offering panoramic views of the city.

“Stockholm is never dull,” wrote Feininger in his 1936 book Stockholm. “One encounters surprises everywhere—a beautiful view of the distant landscape, a romantic corner, or a little stretch of water reflecting the surrounding buildings, and added to all these charms there is the unique richness of colour which is Stockholm’s own, from the glittering mother-of-pearl of an early spring morning to the grandiose splendour of a summer sunset. It can with truth be said that Stockholm is not only an unusual, but also an unusually beautiful town.”

Among the most striking images are photographs of the harbor taken with a super-telephoto camera Feininger built in 1934 to capture the effect of luxury liners against the background of the city. “Had I been living in any other place,” wrote Feininger in his 1978 book Andreas Feininger: Experimental Photography, “I might not have gotten around to extreme telephotography until I came to New York, the superhuman aspects of which can likewise be captured effectively only by telephotography.” The “monumentality” and “truthfulness” of the telephoto perspective allowed him to capture all of the elements of wide vistas in crisp focus and without the distortion imposed by perspective.

The majority of the images in this exhibition were first published by Bonniers in the 1936 book Stockholm, a photographic portrait of the city that included Feininger’s commentary and maps of the different neighborhoods. Avoiding museums, stations, and other public buildings whose “international character” might prevent them from representing the specificity and originality of the town, Feininger aimed to capture the unique character of Stockholm by showing subjects that he found most typical of the city in the context of their spatial, social, and temporal surroundings.

As World War II engulfed Europe, the book Stockholm fell victim to historical events and is difficult to find today. A large part of the edition was supposedly recalled when the war started because of an aerial picture of the city—the only one in the book Feininger had not shot himself. Also, Jewish publishers and those who published with them were in special danger of being targeted by the Nazi press. As rumors of a German attack on Sweden circulated, Bonniers (the largest Swedish publisher) may have quietly recalled the book. Much of the documentation proving the wartime fate of Feininger’s book is, however, mysteriously missing. In 1989 a request from Stockholm City Museum led to the rediscovery of the 104 original prints for the book in the Bonniers company’s archives. Feininger was contacted, and the prints were donated by him to the Stockholm City Museum the following year.

When the Swedish government prohibited foreigners from using cameras and cars after the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939, Feininger was unable to support his family and emigrated with his wife and son to the U.S. He worked as a freelancer with the Black Star photo agency and photographed factories making bombs, guns, and airplanes for the U.S. Office for War Information. In 1943 he began a highly successful 20-year career as a staff photographer at Life Magazine. The author of more than 40 books on photographic theory and technique, Feininger inspired generations of photographers and was awarded the American Society of Media Photographers’ highest distinction, the Robert Leavitt Award (1966), and the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Lifetime Achievement Award (1991). His work was included in the exhibition Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art (1955), and his one-person shows include The Anatomy of Nature at the American Museum of Natural History (1957), The World Through My Eyes at the Smithsonian Institution (1963), and a traveling exhibition organized by International Center of Photography in 1976. Today, Feininger's photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.

Fall programs at Scandinavia House are supported by a generous grant from the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation. Additional support for the exhibition is provided by Christina Lang Assael, the Consulate General of Sweden in New York, and other donors.

Gallery hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 12:00–6:00 p.m.

Gallery admission: $3, $2 students and seniors 65+

For information about group tours, call (212) 879-9779.

Scandinavia House: The Nordic Center in America

58 Park Avenue between 37th and 38th Streets

New York, NY 10016

General Information: (212) 879-9779 or www.scandinaviahouse.org

Press Contact: Joan Jastrebski, (212) 847-9717 or joan@amscan.org