Photographer and filmmaker Hans Namuth specialized in portraiture. In 1950, he famously portrayed Jackson Pollock painting, with brush and bucket in hand, stepping into the canvas laid out on the floor. These photographs were influential in shaping Pollock’s public identity and providing a greater understanding of his artistic process. Namuth spent the next forty years photographing artists in their working environments. Collectively, his portraits create a testament to America’s active art world in the second half of the twentieth century.
Born in Germany, Hans Namuth fled to Paris in 1933, after his interrogation and detainment by the Nazi party. In Paris, he worked as a freelance photographer for a number of agencies, and in 1936, he traveled to Barcelona, arriving as the Spanish Civil War began. His documentation of the war was published in the French photography magazine, Vu. In 1941, Namuth immigrated to the United States, gaining citizenship in 1943. From 1943-1945 he worked for the United States Army, assisting with military intelligence. After the war, Namuth settled in New York with his wife and his newborn daughter. To further his photographic career, Namuth studied at the New School for Social Research. During this time, he also worked in Guatemala, returning there frequently to photograph the inhabitants of Todos Santos.
In 1950, Namuth established a New York studio and began taking photographic portraits of prominent American artists and writers. His reputation spread with the publication of his Pollock portraits in Portfolio and Art News in 1951. By 1958, his project Photographs of Seventeen American Painters was exhibited at Stable Gallery in New York, and represented the United States at the World’s Fair in Brussels. His subjects are Abstract Expressionist, Minimalist, and Pop artists including Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, John Cage, Josef Albers, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Rauschenberg, Romare Bearden, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Louise Bourgeois, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein, among others. Often Namuth made friends with his subjects, interjecting himself into their social setting. He is noted for facilitating a relaxed atmosphere and encouraging comfortable composure in his subjects, resulting in a sincere depiction of the artist at work. He continued to photograph artists until the late 1980s.