Five hundred glass negatives by Lucia Moholy

Mary Jo Bang
Paris Review
09.17.2017

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In 1915, twenty-one-year-old Lucia Schulz wrote in her journal that she could imagine herself using photography as “a passive artist,” recording everything from the best perspective, putting the film through the chemical processes she’d learned, and adding to the image her sense of “how the objects act on me.”

On her twenty-seventh birthday, at the Registry Office in Charlottenburg, a borough of Berlin, she married the Hungarian Constructivist painter Lászlo Moholy-Nagy and became, in the blink of a bureaucratic instant, Lucia Moholy. A few years later, when Moholy-Nagy was recruited to teach as a master at the Bauhaus school, Lucia went with him — she, her camera, her technical skills, and her knowledge of the darkroom.

The Bauhaus, a school established in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius, would eventually become an influential international design movement. The clean sculptural lines of its buildings, the bent steel and leather Bauer chairs, Marianne Brandt’s elegant globe-and-square tea sets would come to represent a break with the preindustrial past. The look itself would become a signifier of urban modernity and of modern life. When Lucia arrived at the Bauhaus, she became, at Gropius’ invitation, the de facto Bauhaus photographer, albeit unpaid. The glass negatives would remain hers, however, presumably to do with as she wished. Continue reading

Bauhaus photography

On the present state of photography

Walter Peterhans
Red 5, special issue on
the Bauhaus
(1930)

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The transformation that is taking place before our eyes in photographic methods and their effects is critical. What does it consist of?

It is striking in the seeming unity and forcefulness of working methods and results. But really it does not exist. The illusion of similarity is based only on a rejection of traditional techniques and pictorial methods and on a turn away from the facile, and thus convincingly boring and accurate likeness of Mr. X. It is based too on a shared avoidance of manual procedures that, after the fact, deny photography’s technical principle — detailed, precise reduction of the image in the film — and in its place substitute mechanical coloring. We fail to recognize the magic of its precision and detailing, thus allowing what we already possessed to disappear — all in an attempt to make it the equal of the graphic arts, which rightly display other qualities arising from their different technical means. Hence we have not even noticed that photography is capable of giving us its own new vision of things and people, a vision of upsetting forcefulness, and that it gives this through its own characteristic selection from among the abundance of existing facts, a selection made possible by the decided individuality of its technique.

Consider a ball on a smooth plane. It presents us with various views according to the illumination and the play of shadows. It is a combination of individual properties that we join out of habit. The combination changes. It is always the ball on the given plane, though our eye does not experience the intense harmony to which it gives rise. This occurs, rather, through understanding, through the concept of the ball; in other words, the combination, for the eye, is fortuitous. With manual procedures it is possible to stress the rudiments of a picture and to allow what is not appropriate to disappear. Through exaggeration, deformation, suppression, and simplification manual procedures effect the selection, the transition from object to picture. This is the process of combination from memories, from fixated portions of various views. The transplantation of this method into photography is called chromolithography and bromoil print. But, whereas there the exploitation of the brush is the technique itself, in the pigment process it interrupts the work of the quantities of light that are active at every point and obliterates the activities appropriate to each of these two different technical methods. Continue reading

Repetition repetition repetition

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Repetition takes place in time and space. But the same may be said of everything aesthetic,[1] architectural or otherwise. Which of these has priority, then? Time or space? Empirically, the recognition of repeated instances is almost always a temporal affair. They take a little while to figure out, in other words. Some disagreement remains as to whether this procedure is more a function of memory or perception, however. In studies of repetition blindness, for example, it is unclear if the failure to recognize recurring items in a sequence owes primarily to one’s inability to notice similarities the second time something appears. Conflicting evidence indicates it could just as easily involve an inability to remember the qualities it displayed the first time around. Psychologists are still split over this question.[2]

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Repetition has been acknowledged as an important aspect of architecture and design for several centuries now, although it was seldom theorized until recently. Despite architecture’s usual preoccupation with problems of space, most repeating patterns or spatial arrangements require time to grasp. That is, unless they’re intuited all at once, in a single glance. One must first be allowed to perambulate the structure, eyes gliding along its surface. Continue reading

Industrialism and the genesis of modern architecture

Modernist Architecture — Positive Bases

The spatiotemporal properties of architecture that were developed by experiments in abstract art reached their highest expression in the work of Lissitzky and Moholy-Nagy.  Stepping back from our analysis of this development, however, we may witness a crucial conjuncture between the realm of abstract art and the other major positive basis for the existence of modernist architecture — industrialism (and more specifically, the machine). This conjuncture occurred on two levels. At one level, leading avant-garde artists and architects began to draw inspiration from the monumental improvements in both factory production and machine technologies, seeing in these an ideal of economy and efficiency.  On another level, however, the research into the abstract time of capitalism undertaken by the Futurists through their representation of kinetic dynamism and motion was advanced in a more systematic and precise form by the advocates of Taylorism, whose time-and-motion studies of labor established the foundation for scientific management in industry. Taylorism, as a science of the mechanics of movement and a means for the optimization of productivity, exerted huge influence over the modernists in architecture.  Moreover, the broader cult of the machine and of the engineer in particular provided the avant-garde with a positive image for the spirit of their age. The traditionalists, who remained lost studying the annals of architectural history and reproducing its forms, were thus blind to the most obvious feature of the modern epoch — industrialization. Continue reading

Lev Rudnev’s “City of the Future” (1925), before his turn to Stalinist neo-Classicism

Modernist architecture archive

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IMAGE: Lev Rudnev’s City of the future (1925),
before his turn to Stalinist neoclassicism

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An update on the Modernist Architecture Archive/Database I discussed a couple posts ago.  I’ve begun work on it, and have uploaded almost half of the documents I intend to include.  Only a few of the Russian ones are up yet, but I’m hoping to post them over the next couple days.  There are many more on the way.

Anyway, anyone interested in taking a look at this archive (arranged as a continuous text) can access it here.

However, this might not be the most convenient way to browse through it all.  For a more manageable overall view of each of the individual articles (detailing the author, title, and year of publication), click here.