The second in our series of articles about iconic photographers who, if they were alive and had a Twitter account, you’d want to follow.
The work of Andreas Feininger first caught my eye after a photo-history class in 1988. A couple of years later, ahead of spending 6months in the USA as part of my major project for art college, Feininger’s pictures formed part of my ‘visual planning’, along with – among others – works by Robert Frank, Joel Meyerowitz, Steichen, Stieglitz and Walker Evans.
One of my side interests is architecture and as Feininger trained as an architect there was something of the architect’s eye in his photography. I loved the way he captured light; the photos of the elevated railways in New York, with the sunlight streaming through the tracks to the streets underneath, were particular favourites.
Feininger captured the grandeur of New York, as well as some of it’s quirkier scenes. His America was very different to the one seen by Robert Frank a decade and a half later.
But what really interested me about Feininger was his use of experimental techniques. We now take for granted the use of macro and telephoto lenses but Feininger pioneered a lot of work in these areas. Telephoto lenses for the view cameras he was using in the 1930s and early 1940s were absurdly expensive, so he built his own camera.
For Feininger the telephoto offered a unique perspective and gave him the ability to transmit pictures which reflected more the true scale of objects and of many objects in a landscape.
His later work, photographing shells and small objects in the studio to make them larger than lifesize, was again all about using the camera to enrich the experience for the eye.
There’s a selection of some of my favourite shots below. The Eastman House has a good collection of Feininger’s work, with a few on their website as well.
A short biography of Feininger, from the Wikipedia:
Feininger was born in Paris, France, to an American family of German origin. His father, painter Lyonel Feininger, was born in New York City, in 1871. His great-grandfather emigrated from Durlach, Baden, in Germany, to the United States in 1848.
Feininger grew up and was educated as an architect in Germany, where his father painted and taught at Staatliches Bauhaus. In 1936, he gave up architecture itself, moved to Sweden, and focused on photography. In advance of World War II, in 1939, Feininger immigrated to the U.S. where he established himself as a freelance photographer and in 1943 joined the staff of Life magazine, an association that lasted until 1962.
Feininger became famous for his photographs of New York. Science and nature, as seen in bones, shells, plants and minerals, were other frequent subjects, but rarely did he photograph people or make portraits. Feininger wrote comprehensive manuals about photography, of which the best known is The Complete Photographer. In the introduction to one of Feininger’s books of photographs, Ralph Hattersley described him as “one of the great architects who helped create photography as we know it today.” In 1966, the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) awarded Feininger its highest distinction, the Robert Leavitt Award. In 1991, the International Center of Photography awarded Feininger the Infinity Lifetime Achievement Award.
Today, Feininger’s photographs are in the permanent collections of the Center for Creative Photography, Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, London‘s Victoria and Albert Museum, and the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.