Sep 10 – Nov 2, 2013
Josef Breitenbach created a unique visual vocabulary by incorporating both traditional and experimental processes within a variety of genres throughout his career. Raised with a profound respect for the history of art and culture, he worked with a conscious understanding and appreciation for many different styles of artistic expression, including Modernism, Surrealism and even Pictorialism. Breitenbach explored form and abstraction as well as the sensual and psychological side of his subjects. His photographs exist as aesthetic objects that are also artifacts of a highly innovative period of our history.
Breitenbach was most interested in using photography and color for their transformative and expressive potential. He was not bound by the traditional notions of what a photograph should be. He employed a variety of techniques, sometimes combining them; they included: camera-less photography, montage, toning, bleaching and hand-coloring.
Josef Breitenbach was born in Munich to a wine merchant family in 1896. He studied philosophy and art history at Ludwig-Maximilian University and was a left wing political activist early in his career. Breitenbach was self-taught and made his first pictures in 1927 while traveling for the wine business. He opened his first photography studio in 1930 in Munich where he ran a successful business photographing prominent actors, cabaret performers, writers and political figures. When Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, Breitenbach fled to Paris.
Soon after his arrival, Breitenbach was included in the 1933 Salon interantional de la photographie at the Société française de la photographie in Paris. In 1934 Galerie de La Pléiade gave Breitenbach his first one-person exhibition. He continued making portraits, photographing artistic luminaries, including Bertolt Brecht, Max Ernst, James Joyce, Aristide Maillol and Wassily Kandinsky. Max Ernst introduced him to the Surrealist milieu, but Breitenbach rejected much of the dogma. Nevertheless, his work was included in important Surrealist photography exhibitions alongside photographs by Man Ray, Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eli Lotar and Roger Parry.
Breitenbach was interned in 1939, escaped via Marseille in 1941, and arrived in New York City in 1942. He came to the attention of Walker Evans, who published his work in Fortune. In the summer of 1944, at the invitation of Josef Albers, Breitenbach taught photography at Black Mountain College. In 1946 he became a United States citizen and joined the faculty at Cooper Union and later The New School. Breitenbach continued to create distinctive and innovative work, including a striking group of camera-less photographs. These works hover in the liminal space between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.
Josef Breitenbach monographs include: Josef Breitenbach: Manifesto (Nazraeli Press, 2008); Breitenbach (Galerie Camera Work, 2004); Josef Breitenbach: James Joyce 9 Portraits (Jurys Doyle, 2004); Josef Breitenbach: Munich, Paris, New York(Stephen Daiter Gallery, 2003); Josef Breitenbach (Les Editions de l'Amateur, 2001); Im Auge des Exils, Josef Breitenbach und die Freie Deutsche Kulture in Paris 1933-1941 (Aufbau-Verlag, 2001); Josef Breitenbach: Aktphotographien (Galerie Bodo Niemann, 1998); Josef Breitenbach, Photographien (Schirmer/Mosel, 1996); and Josef Breitenbach, Photographer (Temple Rock Company 1986).
His work is represented in many institutional collections, including: Art Institute of Chicago; Art Museum, Mills College, Oakland; Australia National Gallery, Canberra; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; The Brooklyn Museum, New York; Canadian Center for Architecture, Montreal; Center for Creative Photography, Tucson; Detroit Institute of Arts; Field Museum, Chicago; High Museum, Atlanta; International Center of Photography, New York; J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles; Library of Congress, Washington; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie; Mead Art Museum, Amherst; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Münchner Stadtmuseum, Munich; Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur Saône, France; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Portrait Gallery, Washington; New York Public Library; Neue Galerie, New York; New Orleans Museum of Art; New York Public Library; Rodin Museum, Paris; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Staaltliche Galerie Moritzburg, Halle; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
The Josef Breitenbach Archive is located at the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson.