Profiles in Black & White: Otto Steinert

In Article, Black and White Photography on February 12, 2014 at 8:18 am

            “Photography gives us for the first time a feeling of the structure of things with an intensity which the eye, limited by its accommodation, had hitherto been quite unable to perceive.”

                                                -Otto Steinert

Portrait of Otto Steinert, Lotte Jacobi

Portrait of Otto Steinert, Lotte Jacobi

During the 1920s and 30s, Germany celebrated and experimented within the world of photography with joy and vigor. Institutions such as Bauhaus became recognized and respected worldwide. Unfortunately, many of these artistic endeavors would lose momentum within the chaos of World War II and its aftermath.

Otto Steinert, born in 1915, was one of the photographers who brought his country out of its artistic escrow. Disinterested in the worlds of documentary and fashion, Steinert still sought to elucidate his artistic sentiment within the photo realm. Influenced by predecessors such as Laslo Maholy-Nagy and Man Ray, Steinert would contribute to the formation of Subjective Photography, or Fotoform. In Subjective Photography, as with many other abstract forms, less emphasis is placed upon a single object being the focal point with the photograph. Instead, the final product reflects the artist’s introspective take on the subject. While many of Steinert’s techniques originated from the Bauhaus realm, the final results often had darker and more biting tones. Two effective examples of Steinert’s experimental proliferation are the hallucinatory Call (1950) and Communicating Forms (1955). Both of these examples display Steinert’s frequent usage of image alteration, high contrast, and juxtaposition of shapes competing for the viewers focus.

Call, 1950, Otto Steinert

Call, 1950, Otto Steinert

The success of Steinert’s experimentation lead to international acclaim for his works and an increase in usage of techniques such as camera-less images, negative printing and solarization. Steinert’s love of autodidactic tinkering also gave him an intimate level of understanding photography, allowing him to be quite the effective teacher, first at the Art and Craft School in Saarbrücken and then at the Folkwang School in Essen. While at the Folkwang School, he would also curate the Folkwang’s photograph collection and exhibitions along with writing numerous essays on his medium.

Steinert would pass away in 1978. Many of his assets can be found at the Folkwang Museum. Note: Before committing to photography, Steinert was a medical doctor.

Otto Steinert photographs

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