Born in Wurzburg, Germany on June 22, 1897, Albert Renger-Patzsch was introduced to photography by his father, and by age 12, he was already an accomplished photographer. After serving in World War I, he entered Dresden Technical College, where he received a degree in chemistry in 1921. Shortly thereafter, he was hired by the Folkwang art publishing company in Hagen as director of its photography archive. Along with fellow photographers Lotte Jacobi and Fred Koch, Mr. Renger-Patzsch compiled an extensive photography collection for the publisher during his tenure. At this time, he began taking botanical photographs in hopes of providing an "eye of an insect" perspective on flowers and plants.
After a brief tenure in the United States as a press photographer for a Chicago newspaper, Mr. Renger-Patzsch became a freelance photographer in 1925. A museum exhibition of his photographs took place two years later. His earliest works were studies in close-ups, with enlargements serving the dual purpose of aesthetics and enhancing perspective. In an untitled photograph, an artist is using a car mirror reflection to take a picture, which was a radical concept for its time. Unlike his contemporaries, Mr. Renger-Patzsch was not pursuing the abstract with his photography, nor was he advocating Pictorialist principles, which were becoming dated by the 1920s. He did not seek to improve the appearance of an image through photographic sleight of hand. Rather, he respected objects as they were and sought to convey the "essence of the object."
Mr. Renger-Patzsch envisioned a photographer more as a documentarian than as a creative artist, a philosophy that lent itself well to the field of industrial photography, where the photographer was merely an objective (and passive) observer. His critically acclaimed Kaffee Hag still life in 1925 reflects the photographer's philosophy of objectivity and restraint, allowing the beautiful simplicity of the images to speak for themselves. Several architectural and industrial photographs followed, which celebrated natural rhythms of metal, glass, and concrete and how their shifting planes and shadowing can influence both space and perspective. His landmark book, Die Welt ist schon (The World is Beautiful), a collection of 100 photographs of objects in their natural states, was published in 1928. A critical masterpiece that elevated Mr. Renger-Patzsch to the height of the German modernist movement in photography referred to as Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity). For this photographer, people were relegated to the periphery in the modern, industrialized world. In addition to his studio work, Mr. Renger-Patzsch also became a photography instructor at Essen's Folkwangschule, a position he held until 1934.
Unfortunately, most of the photographer's extensive archives had been destroyed during World War II, and in 1944, Mr. Renger-Patzsch relocated to Wamel Dorf, which is where he lived for the rest of his life. His postwar photography remained focused on objects, but there was less contrast of light and dark. Apparently, the industrial world was no longer viewed in black and white; the war years had introduced shades of gray. Till the end of his life, Mr. Renger-Patzsch maintained that the line between photography and art should be embraced, not blurred. He remarked, "Let us… leave art to the artists, and let us try to use the medium of photography to create photographs that can endure because of their photographic qualities - without borrowing from art." Albert Renger-Patzsch died in Wamel, Germany on September 27, 1966 at the age of 69. A photographic purist who believed the photographer should not insert himself or his personality into the photograph, Mr. Renger-Patzsch and his 'New Objectivity' set a standard for industrial photography that has continued into the twenty-first century.
2010 Albert Renger-Patzsch by Gerald Boerner (URL: http://www.boerner.net/jboerner/?p=2464).
2011 Albert Renger-Patzsch and Objectivity by Andrew Metcalf (URL: https://formandwords.com/2011/02/18/albert-renger-patzsch-and-objectivity).
2007 Albert Renger-Patzsch - Still Life with Tools (URL: http://updateslive.blogspot.com/2007/06/albert-renger-patzsch-still-life-with.html).
1962 Creative Photography: Aesthetic Trends, 1839-1960 by Helmut Gernsheim (New York: Dover Publications, Inc.), p. 172.
2006 Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 1325-1329.
2017 Kranreihe in einem Deutschen Ostseehafen (URL: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/34946/albert-renger-patzsch-kranreihe-in-einem-deutschen-ostseehafen-german-about-1927).
2012 The Photography of Crisis: The Photo Essays of Weimar Germany by Daniel H. Magilow (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press), pp. 6, 78.
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