Wonderful photographs

by Chris Bertram on March 13, 2005

This post contains a valuable commercial opportunity for someone, but I’m giving the advice for free. If I were a publisher of art-books, a commissioner of programmes for a channel like BBC4, or the editor of an art magazine or a Sunday supplement, I’d be desperately trying to do something on the photographs of Gustav Szathmary. Szathmary was the lover of the well-known German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, and the Modersohn-Becker Museum in Bremen, Germany currently has an exhibition of his work. (He was a composer and an inventor of photographic equipment too.) I toured the exhibition yesterday with another academic (and anonoblogger) who, like me, was there for the Social Justice Conference at the GSS at the University of Bremen. We were both stunned by the Szathmary’s portraits of his friends. The pictures, from about 1905, are so natural and lively that—allowing for changes in clothing in some cases—they could have been taken at any time up to last week. There’s hardly anything about Szathmary on the internet (8 hits on google and 9 on allthweb) and the only way you can see any of the photos is by downloading the German catalogue (only a small selection, right at the end of this enormous PDF) or by visiting Bremen. There’s also an html-page on Szathmary , linking to the catalogue, but without any of the relevant pictures.

(BTW, if anyone actually is a commissioning editor etc., reads this page, acts on it, and something comes about, I’d appreciate a free copy or an invite to the opening etc.)

Update: See also Gwydion the Magician’s take on Gustav Szathmary and Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler .

UPDATE: See the link from Andrew’s comment below: Szathmary appears to be a spoof character wholly invented by artist Dirk Hennig. Doh!



Vance Maverick 03.13.05 at 11:08 am

Very impressive, maybe particularly the portrait of Rilke, de-Olympianizing him, as it were, without loss of dignity.
The story of his death and exhumation (in the PDF) is also irresistibly lurid, right down to the display of his “undecaying corpse” in an art museum.


Andrew 03.14.05 at 7:42 pm

I think the reason Szathmary’s work is hard to locate is explained by following this link:
Please feel free to delete this comment if you’re already aware of this, and the above post is merely a continuation of Gustav Szathmary’s coming into being. I’m now assuming, of course, the above site is sincere!


Jonathan Lundell 03.15.05 at 2:24 pm

Fascinating. To quote Chris, “The pictures, from about 1905, are so natural and lively that—allowing for changes in clothing in some cases—they could have been taken at any time up to last week.” Uh-huh.
Before seeing the update, I pulled out a book of August Sander’s work, dating (ostensibly) 20 or so years later than Szathmary’s. The contrast is instructive. Sander’s portraits are posed and static, albeit kind and generous, wonderful work. They have none of the casual, candid feel of the “Szathmary” photos.
Was candid photography practical at the turn of the century? Kodak introduced the Brownie and 120 film around 1900, but I imagine that exposure times must have still required fairly static subjects.

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