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In Memoriam: A FAMOUS PHOTOGRAPHER:Erwin Blumenfeld


New member
Some Personal Reflections

Part 1:

On a Saturday afternoon with one month remaining in an Australian summer, and while waiting for two friends to arrive for a social visit, my wife and I had the pleasure of watching the doco "The Man Who Shot Beautiful Women." It was a BBC Four film released some nine months before on 19 May 2013.1

The photographer in question was Erwin Blumenfeld. His first double page spread as a professional photographer was in Vogue magazine on 15 May 1944, ten weeks before I was born. The photographs in the spread were of his daughter Lisette shot in 1938. By 1938 Blumenfeld had been interested in photography for over 30 years.

By 1950, the year I entered primary school in Canada, Blumenfeld was reported to be the highest-paid photographer in the world. Of course, in 1950 when I was six, I knew nothing of this man or his photography. Erwin Blumenfeld became famous for the elegantly original images---90 percent elegance and 10 percent eroticism---which he created for the covers of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar in the 1940s and 1950s. He also did advertising work for clients like Helena Rubinstein, Ford Motor Co. and Van Cleef & Arpels.

Part 2:

Until this afternoon he was completely unknown to me. His autobiography, Eye to I: The Autobiography of a Photographer was not available in English until 1999, the year I retired after a student-and-employment life of 50 years. His autobiography is very different from the one I have written about my 70 year life: 1944 to 2014. His book is laced with anger, irony, sex and puns.3 His other book, My One Hundred Best Photos, was published posthumously in 1979 when I was about to be finally stabilized on lithium for my bipolar 1 disorder.

It was Blumenfeld's interest in autobiography, in what was below the surface of his life, and below the surface beauty of lovely women that especially interested me since I have been writing autobiographically, memoiristically, since the early 1980s.

Part 3:

Some of his most famous and early photographs were in the late 1930s before he and his family were interned in a series of French concentration camps. One of the most extraordinary pieces is the 1937 image of a woman whose facial features have all been removed except her eyelashes and closed eyelids. In 1937, the organization I have been associated with now for more than 60 years, began a series of Plans for its expansion and consolidation. These Plans were based on a book entitled Tablets of the Divine Plan written during the Great War and published in 1919.

In the last year of that 'war to end all wars', and in 1919, Blumenfeld was in his early 20s; he lived in Amsterdam and toiled in the ladies' lingerie departments of department stores. His interest in photography had begun a dozen years before, but his famous career was a long way off.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1SBSONE TV, 22/2/'14, 2:50 to 3:55 p.m., 2Wikipedia, 22/2/'14, and 3 Vicki Goldberg, "Photography Review: Finding a Camera & a New Career," 11/'99 in The New York Times.

Part 4:

He saw people as complex
social beings and wanted to
get to the heart of a person
by means of photography.

He had a fear of growing old.
Seems that he took his life at
72, and took a young girl to
help him feel young when he
grew into his 60s. His work
was at the cutting edge of the
field until the 1960s.....If ever
a photographer could produce
a visual haiku, it was a genius
of the camera. He was able to
distill the essence of a women:
the sum of her parts, for him,
were much more alluring than
the whole, in some of his work.1

1 See Andy Port, "Extra Credit: Erwin Blumenfeld’s Dada," Women's Fashion, 16 April 2009. Port writes: 'Blumenfeld was a polymath. He could paint, write and draw; and, in the spirit of his age, he excelled at collage, later photomontage, cutting and pasting as a way to make sense of the world. In a text fragment entitled “Who I Am,” Blumenfeld wrote: “I play the following roles with the art of deceit: human being, Jew, infant whose testicles have been stolen, painter-poet-prince, thinker, stinker."'

Ron Price
22/2/'14 and 23/2/'14.

Doug Kerr

Well-known member
Hi, Ron,

Thank you for that wonderful essay on the life and work of Erwin Blumenfeld and how it has affected you.

Best regards,


Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief

I knew nothing of Erwin Blumenfeld until your post.

Thanks for providing links to the life and thinking of a great photographer who impacted photography for so much of the 20th century. I will now set myself the task of seeing his pictures and experiencing them firsthand, myself.