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AVANT-GARDE PHOTOGRAPHY FROM THE SPRINGEFELD COLLECTION
The brief period in Germany between the maturing of a new photographic vision in the late 1920s and the suppression of cultural innovation from 1933 by the Nazi party was one of the most exciting in the entire history of the photographic medium. The camera -- that mechanistic, seemingly impersonal instrument -- acquired a status as the most appropriate image-making tool of a new society. Photography could powerfully reflect the utopian spirit of a reconstructed technical-industrial age that challenged the conventional hierarchies of art. Here was a medium that allowed a dynamic immediacy, an absolutely direct engagement with the world and the opportunity for rapid dissemination through publication.
The Bauhaus school at Dessau played a key role in promoting the potential of photography within a multi-discipline approach to independent and commercial art practice. Hungarian-born László Moholy-Nagy became a master at the Bauhaus in 1923 and his considerable influence can be seen in the work of a generation of students. His experiments with photography opened up new possibilities of exploiting the magic of photo-chemistry and of light itself while finding extraordinary visual wonderment in everyday subject matter.
Central to the story of the photographic avant-garde in Germany at this time were the publications and the ambitious, highly popular and influential exhibitions that promoted the new vision. Most notable among these was Film und Foto, launched in Stuttgart in 1929 before travelling to various venues throughout Germany. Film und Foto brought together the work of international exponents of the new photography as well as showcasing the strength and diversity of contemporary German practitioners.
The following fourteen works (lots 27-40) encapsulate the spirit, the range, and the international dimension of the new vision, while emphasising the central importance of the German contribution both in terms of great and telling images and through the energetic teaching and promotion of the medium.
These prints are from a group of fifty-four (the balance to be offered by Christie's in November) acquired at auction in Dresden in 1949 by Fritz Springefeld and preserved by him till his death at the age of ninety-one in 2005. Springefeld was born in Leipzig in 1914. He moved to Dresden in 1940, became a POW in Canada from 1941 but eventually returned to Dresden in 1947. He enjoyed a long and successful career as a graphic designer and it was his trained visual sensibility that drew him to these photographs when he viewed them prior to the auction organised by the SVK (Sozialversicherungskasse).
The history of these photographs prior to 1949 is not recorded. It is evident from the labels, stamps and markings on the reverse and from the remnants of various paper tabs that supported the prints within mounts, that many were publicly exhibited in the period 1928-1932. A number of the images can be specifically cross-referenced to Film und Foto. There is considerable circumstantial evidence to suggest that these prints may have constituted a part of the remarkable collection assembled between 1929 and 1932 by Dresden industrialist Kurt Kirchbach and exhibited in Hamburg in 1932. A core group of prints from the collection emerged at auction in 1997 as the Helene Anderson Collection. The consignor had given false information regarding their provenance but diligent research by historian Dr Herbert Molderings discovered their true origins and restored Kirchbach's status as a visionary worthy of a prominent place within the annals of the history of the collecting of photographs.
Molderings was able to establish that the 1997 auction did not comprise the entire Kirchbach Collection and, further, that a proportion had been left behind in Dresden when the majority were removed from East Germany. The Springefeld pictures, bought in Dresden, reflect a particular eye and immediately call to mind the perspective and mix that gave the known Kirchbach pictures such a strong and distinctive identity. The lively range of imagery and of authorship within the present group -- that includes work by high-profile as well as by relatively obscure names -- is so close to what we have seen of the Kirchbach Collection that the two groups would dovetail with convincing logic.
Further research and detailed comparisons with the recorded Kirchbach prints may establish irrefutable links to confirm with certainty that the Springefeld Collection was a part of the Kirchbach Collection. It should be noted for instance that the Florence Henri Self-Portrait that was in the Kirchbach Collection (offered in the present catalogue as lot 26) has on the reverse the remnants of twin mounting tabs identical to those on the reverse of prints by Henri in the Springefeld Collection (lots 27-29). While we must distinguish between circumstantial and absolute evidence in proposing the Kirchbach association, there is no doubt that the Springefeld prints provide an inspired and inspiring expression of avant-garde ideas in photography from around 1930. PG
PROPERTY FROM THE SPRINGEFELD COLLECTION
I use mirrors to introduce the same subject seen from different angles in a single photograph so as to give the same theme a variety of views that complete each other and are able to expound it better by interacting with each other. All this is much harder to explain than to do.