from dada to vogue: before erwin blumenfeld became the highest paid fashion photographer in the world

With an new exhibition exploring his early work, we take a look at the beginnings of a career that went from outlying surrealism to becoming American fashion royalty, creating the most covers for Vogue in the history of photography.

by Matthew Whitehouse and i-D Staff
05 October 2016, 10:30pm

Tara Twain, Amsterdam, 1935, Silver Gelatin Print, Courtesy of Osborne Samuel

Although the career of Erwin Blumenfeld is well known - for a time, during the Vogue years of the late 1940s, he was the highest paid fashion photographer in the world - his formative years as an artist in the 1920s and 30s have, until now, been largely underserved.

Described by gallerist Peter Osborne, as a "true surrealist, both in composition and technique," the German-born photographer's often controversial early works addressed the social upheaval of the time - no more explicit than in his series of double exposures reflecting Adolf Hitler's "mental life as a gruesome maimed skull" - while his Dada embracing experiments in collage and photomontage set the tone for a career that would take him from Berlin to Amsterdam to Paris, before winding up as American fashion royalty: creating the most covers for Vogue in the history of photography.

Cross, New-York, 1967, Silver Gelatin Print, Osborne Samuel

It's these early works that make up a new exhibition at London's Osbourne Samuel gallery, open today until 29 October. Featuring a mix of original black and white silver gelatin prints, collages and drawings - some of which have never been exhibited in the UK before - what they present is an insight into the development of unique photographic voice: glamorous portraits of doe eyed women mixing with a sense of surrealist detachment (and often in the same image).

While feted by contemporary fashion photographers such as Nick Knight and Rankin - who has described "his amazing ability to create imagery that, I look at it now, all these years later, and go 'I wish I'd taken that'" - it is worth pointing out that when, before his death, Blumenfeld laid out his "One Hundred Best Photos," he selected only two fashion images. Placed here, as curator Lou Proud puts it, "into context of a lifetime of unique and ever renewing creativity," this exhibition should go someway to remembering Blumenfeld as the multifaceted artist he always was: a body of work as beautiful today as it was 70 years ago.

Nude, Amsterdam, 1935, Silver Gelatin Print, Courtesy Osborne Samuel

Two Models from Dayton Company, New York, 1961, Silver Gelatin Print, Courtesy Osborne Samuel

Fishnet Stocking Nude, New York, 1944-5, Silver Gelatin Print, Courtesy of Osborne Samuel

Double Exposure, 1932, Silver Gelatin Print, Courtesy of Osborne Samuel

Erwin Blumenfeld: From Dada to Vogue takes place at London's Osbourne Samuel gallery, between 5 - 29 October. 


Text Matthew Whitehouse
Photograpy Erwin Blumenfeld

Erwin Blumenfeld
london exhibitions
erwin blumenfeld: from dada to vogue
osborne samuel gallery