An Art of Observation
Photography is an art of observation. Pictures linger in our minds for generations, giving us a record of the past while asking us to think of the power of photography. The Photojournalist by Andreas Feininger is one of these monumental photographs.
The Early Years
Renowned photographer Andreas Feininger didn’t set out to become one of the masters of 20th-century photography. However, he did grow up in an influential environment of art and design. Born in Paris in 1906 (died in 1999,) Feininger’s family moved to Berlin in 1908 and then to Weimar in 1919. His father, celebrated Expressionist painter Lyonel Feininger, was an art educator at the iconic Bauhaus art school. After studying at the Bauhaus himself, Andreas Feininger pursued architectural studies in the 1920s.
It’s at this time his interest in photography began. He used a camera as a “mechanical sketchbook” to aid his architectural designs and received guidance from the pioneering artist and photographer László Moholy-Nagy. Feininger would become a technical expert in photography. He would develop a sophisticated sense of composition while creating photography emphasizing the power that content carries in an image. He established his fundamental principles for photography, creating a bold and personal aesthetic in black and white photography.
“The basic principle of his photographic work is especially evident in the example of picture composition, which he himself describes as “clarity, simplicity, and structure.” But he simultaneously demands that the picture must say something to the observer. To him, technical perfection is never an end in itself.” Reinhold Mißelbeck, 20th Century Photography.
From Germany to New York
After that, Feininger would work in Germany as an architect and photographer for four years. That is, until the ugly specter of the Nazi party began to surface and made his living situation unsustainable. Feininger moved to Paris in 1932 and found work in the studio of seminal Modernist architect Le Corbusier. After working for Le Corbusier for a year in Paris, Feininger moved to Sweden and established his own architectural photography company in Stockholm. Consequently, Feininger began selling his first photographs in 1932.
By the end of the 30s, Feininger moved to New York. He devoted his career to photography, and in 1943 became a Life magazine photographer. For the following two decades from his arrival to New York, Feininger completed over 400 assignments for the storied publication and published over 30 books. Feininger’s body of work became crucial to the burgeoning practice of contemporary photojournalism. He became one of its most influential figures while contributing to photography as an art form.
“The job of the good photographer is to use the superiority of the camera to his advantage and avoid the interiority. And for instance, some instances where the camera is superior to the eye is due to the fact that the focal length of the lens of the eye is fixed. In other words, we see everything always in the same scale, no matter what we do. Well, if we use a camera, we can put on lenses with long, short, medium focal length and get any degree of scale or magnification that we want.” – Andreas Feininger.
“The intensity of his “seeing” is almost palpable, the lens and viewfinder of his Leica become extensions of his eyes and mind. The grip that holds the camera is firm yet sensitive, the grip of a pro. Exaggerated perspective – distortion – was used here deliberately to symbolize nearness and evoke a feeling of immediacy.” – Andreas Feininger, The Creative Photographer.