Galerie Berinson and the Emergence of Modern Photography


Discovering Berlin’s Galerie Berinson was a moment of exhilaration.  It made me feel so much better about my obsession with ‘German’ avant-garde photography.

avantgarde photography berlin 1930

Bahnhof Zoo 1930 György Kepes


That’s actually a loose term, as so many of the photographers came from some other place than Germany but were drawn to Berlin in the 1920s,  one of the world’s most cosmopolitan and open-minded cities. Galerie Berinson’s owner, Hendrik A. Berinson, has been collecting and exhibiting photos since 1986 and, really, there’s no one better to have onside to help on a journey of discovery of the era’s immense cultural icons and luminaries.


bauhaus architecture

Streetview of the Bauhaus Masters’ homes, Lucia Moholy 1926

To understand why Germany matters so much in the development of avant-garde photography just look at the cultural climate, the zeitgeist. Or perhaps the Berlin gestalt to adopt the name of the then-popular school of psychology, the whole was so much more than the sum of the parts. In the hands of experimenters aided by new technology, photography was advancing beyond static, traditionally posed studio images.

Photographers like Martin Munkácsi arrived from Hungary and captured the essence of a population with a voracious appetite for magazines and news media. His street, fashion and sports photography inform our image of interwar years Berlin, freed from the grip of Germany’s imperial and imperious rulers, a crucible of creativity in painting and the arts, Futurism, Surrealism and Dadaism and political extremes


schocken department store

Kaufhaus Schocken Catalogue image Albert Renger Patzsch


In the 1920s Germany published more illustrated magazines than any other country. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art,

  ‘In Berlin alone, there were forty-five morning and fourteen evening newspapers. In addition, hundreds of newspapers and magazines catered to special interests.’

By the mid-1920s Germany had become a testbed for new ideas and home to the world’s finest lens manufacturers and lighting technicians. Zeiss was ‘at the leading edge of photographic lens innovations’,  optic design and the designing of precision measuring instruments. The work of these photographers who broke every rule and ignored every boundary had a long reach and revolutionised the development of modern photography.


galerie berenson bauhaus

Bauhaus weaving workshop, Lotte Stam Beese 1928


Whilst not considered a study subject in its own right at the Bauhaus, Hungarian-born Lásló Moholy Nagy, was already writing extensively about it and published Malerei, Photographie, Film in 1925. Bauhaus student and masters’ son, Lux Feininger was never without a camera in hand, regardless that he was at the school to study painting.


surrealist photography

‘Self with navel monocle’ Hans Arp 1922


Berlin expanded its city limits in 1920 through the Groß-Berlin-Gesetz, the Greater Berlin Act, creating a city with more than two million residents, a magnet for young photographers. Annelise Kretschmer, Ilse Bing and Gerda Taro were typical of a class of newly emancipated German women unconstrained by the social rules and regulations that smothered their mother’s lives.


Ilse Bing female photographers

Ilse Bing self-portrait with Leica Camera 1931


The Weimar renaissance was a game-changer for them and they channelled their creative energy into experimental photography, producing images that define a short-lived era before dreadful calamity overtook Germany and the world. It wasn’t just photos that were cutting edge, expressing the mood of a growing cosmopolitan left-leaning middle class, the creative energy influenced film, art and music.
a proletarian tells

Cover for ‘Ludwig Tureck. Ein Prolet erzählt’ 1930 designed by Otto Coenen


With an acute sense of self-awareness of their role in the shaping of the genre, two landmark exhibitions were staged, Fotografie der Gegenwart organised by Kurt Wilhelm Kastner, travelled in Germany and arrived at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1929 and Fifo Film and Foto was in Stuttgart in 1929 and travelled as far as Japan. David Campney, curator, writer, and Managing Director of Programs at the International Center of Photography, New York explains,
FiFo … put aside anxieties about the status of photography as Art, capital A, to look instead at its comprehensive redefinition of modern vision and its diverse roles in society. Photography had become central to science, architecture, fashion, advertising, reportage, tourism, and more. Yes, it could be framed on walls, but it could also be used in the streets on posters and billboards, in books, journals, and magazines. And, of course, photography was a fundamental ingredient of filmmaking.
modernist architecture Wroclaw

Hostel for Single People, Breslau architect Hans Scharoun, Photo Heinrich Klette


This brings us back to Galerie Berinson’s role in introducing those photos to a new generation. The photos are fresh and vital and invariably leave the viewer with more questions than answers. After all, is it possible to look at photography from the Weimar era without adding on the layer of knowledge that we simply cannot unknow?


Visiting Galerie Berinson

Address Schlüterstraße 28 D-10629 Berlin
Galerie website 
On Instagram @berinsongalerie 
All images the copyright of Galerie Berinson

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