Monday, 7 May 2012

'I'd had enough of photography'

Earlier this year Dutch publisher Parvenu released an English catalogue of the work of Marianne Breslauer. Originally published in 2009 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the German photographer's birth, Marianne Breslauer - Photographs focuses on nine years of serene work from 1927 to 1936.

At the age of 20, Breslauer went to Paris to study photography under Man Ray who decides she has nothing to learn from him but extends her the use of his studio. In photographing the banks of the Seine and the Jardin du Luxembourg, she inevitably invokes Jacques Henri Lartigue (there's also something of his albums here), Ilse Bing, ubiquitous Atget and, of course, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Her work tends to series: best of all is a set taken at an art auction, Vente S&S, attended by Pablo Picasso and Ambroise Vollard, among others. The spirit of two shots of Berlin's Lützowbrücke (1930) is revisited from 1932-36 when Breslauer photographs the same Amsterdam canal: two shots have the same laundry hanging on the same boat with the same car parked alongside (there's even a reverse shot from the canal side, though this time it's a different boat decorated with different laundry).

Circus, Berlin 1931 is a series of six pictures of the same androgynous child; a year later, writer and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach is similarly androgynous in two striking portraits. The portraits become increasingly mature, from the cover shot (Ruth von Morgen, Berlin 1934, pictured) to delicate images of Oskar Kokoschka and Albert Barnes, but the key to her oeuvre must be the self-portraits.

In an essay, Marion Beckers and Elisabeth Moortgat make a great deal of a 1929 image the photographer took of herself, looking askance, hair pulled over one eye. In 1933 she is naked in a dressing gown and again not looking at the viewer but into her camera, which looks out at us (and at her). She is the only nude in the book in a manner reminiscent of another young prodigy, Francesca Woodman - in such short careers, the catalogue of both inevitably leans on student work.

The changing situation in Europe notwithstanding, Breslauer seems to have felt she had exhausted all she could achieve as a photographer and laid down her camera some time around 1937. 'If I had worked longer in this area, I would have gone into film,' she said. 'I'd had enough of photography.' The final snaps here date from 1938, and there's Breslauer, again in her housecoat, partially exposed, but bearing her camera.

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