“It’s important to see things the way they are.”
Almost by accident (my favorite mode of living these days …) I discovered the art of Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897–1966). His photographs immediately struck me as very strong and somber. Renger-Patzsch is often associated with the style of art called Neue Sachlichkeit.
Albert Renger-Patzsch, Shoemaking Irons, Fagus Works, Alfeld, 1928. © Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv
The New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) emerged as a style in Germany in the 1920s, as a challenge to Expressionism. As its name suggests, it offered a return to unsentimental reality and a focus on the objective world, as opposed to the more abstract, romantic, or idealistic tendencies of Expressionism. The New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) — took its name from the exhibition Neue Sachlichkeit held in Mannheim in 1923. The exhibition was part of the phenomenon of the ‘return to order’ following the First World War (when artists rejected the more extreme avant-garde forms of art for more reassuring and traditional approaches); and was described by the organiser G.F. Hartlaub, as ‘new realism bearing a socialist flavour’.
Albert Renger-Patzsch. Beech Wood 1936 – Ann and Jurgen Wilde Collection, Cologne
Mainly known as a style in painting, Neue Sachlichkeit was also an “attitude” seen in photography — a style characterized by a sharply focused, documentary approach to photography which emerged in 1920s Europe. In the decade prior, the soft look of pictorialism was the dominant aesthetic practiced by art photographers seeking to emulate the expressive qualities of painting. German artists Albert Renger-Patzsch, August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, and their counterparts in Europe and the United States moved in the opposite direction and embraced the camera’s mechanical ability to capture the real world in a clear, apparently objective manner. Decades later in Germany, this approach resonated with photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, who became influential artists and teachers highly regarded for their typological studies of various architectural structures.