Roger Ebert

“Why I Love Black and White: There are basic aesthetic issues here. Colors have emotional resonance for us… Black and white movies present the deliberate absence of color. This makes them less realistic than color films (for the real world is in color). They are more dreamlike, more pure, composed of shapes and forms and movements and light and shadow. Color films can simply be illuminated. Black and white films have to be lighted. With color, you can throw light in everywhere, and the colors will help the viewer determine one shape from another, and the foreground from the background. With black and white, everything would tend toward a shapeless blur if it were not for meticulous attention to light and shadow, which can actually create a world in which the lighting indicates a hierarchy of moral values.”

“…and possibly because inside every filmmaker there throbs the desire to make a gothic black-and-white melodrama set in a mysterious and beautiful city…”

Germaine Krull, Selbstporträt mit Ikarette, 1925

Germaine Krull

In her 1925 self portrait, photographer Germaine Krull (1897-1985) keeps her face mostly hidden and in soft focus, while her camera dominates the foreground and a cigarette, held between her fingers, provides remarkable balance. It’s a complex image in which she defines herself through the tool of her art, but reveals a great deal more in the hands, the jewelry, the tailored dress. And the cigarette itself, at that moment of history, asserts an at-the-edge sort of independence. The dangling ash that is about to fall and the shutter that is about to click add a temporal element to the powerful composition, with its crisscrossing diagonals and the bifurcated center of black camera and white flesh. It is a photograph that is arresting today; one can only imagine its power in 1925 to eyes less accustomed to such images.

The woman’s break with her oppressive pre-war image, her new liberties and her new vocational prospects, the shape and scope of which were still extremely unclear, found expression in the multitude of self-portraits taken by female photographers of the 1920s in an attempt at defining and asserting their new identity.

Germaine Krull was the very prototype of the “New Woman”: a young entrepreneuse – she had set up her own portrait studio in Berlin in 1923/24 (together with Gretel and Kurt Hübschmann) – with bobbed haircut, cigarette and bisexual inclinations, she almost ideally conformed to the typical image of the “New Woman” as portrayed week be week – whether admiringly or otherwise – in the art periodicals, women’s magazines and illustrated weeklies of the Weimar Republic.

In 1925, Germaine Krull photographed herself in a mirror with a hand-held camera which half-covered her face. The camera is focused on the foreground of the image, such that the lens and the two hands holding the camera are sharp, while the face behind the camera is blurred. This self-portrait has given rise to many a feminist or professionally critical interpretation, ranging from the female domestication “of the masculinity of technical apparatus” through to the analogy of the camera with a weapon used by the photographer to “reduce the person opposite her […] to an impotent object”. However, if we attempt to interpret the photograph not so much in a figurative sense as in a concrete, phenomenal sense, we arrive at a completely opposite conclusion. By selecting the depth of field in such a way that only the camera and the hands are sharp, Germaine Krull has isolated her act of photographing from her subjectivity and individuality as the photographer. It is the technical apparatus, the camera, which is the focal point of the image and behind which the photographer’s face is blurred beyond recognition. We may assume that this physiognomical retreat behind the camera is less a typical feminine gesture of shyness and reticence than the characteristically ideological approach of a modernist photographer. There is one critical point in Krull’s portrait of herself as a photographer which gives us good reason to make this assumption, namely the fusion of the photographer’s eye with the “oculus artificialis” of the camera. The notion that the camera lens could not only replace the human eye as a means of capturing the world visually but also improve upon its ability to penetrate reality to its invisible depths was paradigmatic of the new, basically positivist photographic aesthetic of the 1920s. It is an aesthetic defined by the Bauhaus theorist László Moholy-Nagy in his manifesto “Painting Photography Film” in 1925 and visualized by countless collages, posters and book covers of the 1920s and 1930s depicting the camera lens as a substitute for the human eye. Germaine Krull’s self-portrait wholly identifies with this new photographic aesthetic, too. Indeed, her influential work “Métal”, a photographic eulogy of modern technology published in 1928, is its embodiment.

From the earlier twenties there are a series of nude studies and explorations of Lesbian sexual images, reflecting the open, experimental spirit of Weimar Germany (one reviewer has likened to as "satires of lesbian pornography"). Krull never worried whether what she was doing was photojournalism or "commercial" photography or art, a parallel to Kurt Weill, the great composer from the same period who was never concerned about whether his work was defined as opera or popular stage music.

Germaine Krull, Nude with Gloves, 1935
Photographer: Eli Lotar

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Germaine Krull, Publicité pour Paul Poiret, 1926

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Les Amies de Chambre c.1924

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Bicycle wheels, Roues de vélo, Circa 1929

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“A work of art can only come from the interior of man. Art is the form of the image formed upon the nerves, heart, brain and eye of man.”

“I was walking along the road with two friends. The sun set. I felt a tinge of melancholy. Suddenly the sky became a bloody red. I stopped, leaned against the railing, dead tired. And I looked at the flaming clouds that hung like blood and a sword over the blue-black fjord and city. My friends walked on. I stood there, trembling with fright. And I felt a loud, unending scream piercing nature.”

“Certainly a chair can be just as interesting as a human being. But first the chair must be perceived by a human being. In one way or another it must have affected him emotionally, and the viewer must be made to feel the same way. You should not paint the chair, but only what someone has felt about it.”

“For as long as I can remember I have suffered from a deep feeling of anxiety which I have tried to express in my art. Without anxiety and illness I should have been like a ship without a rudder.”

“From the moment of my birth, the angels of anxiety, worry, and death stood at my side, followed me out when I played, followed me in the sun of springtime and in the glories of summer. They stood at my side in the evening when I closed my eyes, and intimidated me with death, hell, and eternal damnation. “

“Nature is not all that is visible to the eye…it also includes the inner pictures of the soul.”

“I painted the picture and in the colors the rhythm of the music quivers. I painted the colors I saw.”

“No longer shall I paint interiors with men reading and women knitting. I will paint living people who breathe and feel and suffer and love.”

Edvard Munch