Online presentation

Look at Me!

The 24 works in “Look at Me! Women’s Portraits from the 1920s” reveal a diversity of practices in portrait photography in Berlin during the period: conventional and modernist portraits shot in commercial studios are on show alongside artistic and experimental photography and collage. This online presentation provides a first glimpse into the exhibition and introduces some selected artists and the people depicted in the photographs.

Cami Stone, Ohne Titel (Carola Neher), 1920–1930

Cami Stone, Ohne Titel (Carola Neher), 1920–1930

© Rechtsnachfolge unbekannt

Steffi Brandl, The Actor Anna May Wong, Berlin 1928

Steffi Brandl (1897–1966) ran a successful photography studio specialising primarily in portraits for publication in the various illustrated magazines of the 1920s. In Vienna, after studying at the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt, she began an apprenticeship in 1921 at the internationally renowned photography studio of Trude Fleischmann. By now she was already developing her own personal style and in May 1926 she opened her first independent studio, the Atelier für photographische Bildnisse on Kurfürstendamm in Berlin.

The portraits that Steffi Brandl made of Anna May Wong testify to the careers of two successful, self-supporting businesswomen: Anna May Wong (1905–1961) ranks as the first female American actor with Asian roots to achieve international fame. Although she made many films in Hollywood, she turned her back on the deeply racist world of cinema in the United States in 1928 and travelled to Berlin. One reason may have been that in Germany there was almost no representation or visibility for Chinese women, in particular actors, in public or media life at that time. Here she was granted what America denied her: recognition and admiration as a great Hollywood star.

More works by Steffi Brandl in the exhibition

Frieda Riess, Rosamond Pinchot, 1920–1930

Anyone who wanted their portrait taken in the 1920s at one of Berlin’s numerous photography studios, most of them run by women, would find it impossible to ignore “the Riess”, as Frieda Riess (1890–1957) was reverently known. From 1913 to 1915 she had trained in photography, as did many other women, at the “Photographische Lehranstalt”, one of the technical schools set up by the Lette Verein in Berlin. In 1917 she already had her own studio on Kurfürstendamm. It was not far from the “Romanisches Café”, notorious as a regular haunt and melting pot for artists and intellectuals of every kind. The café was a never-ending source of inspiration – and above all clientele – for Frieda Riess. Her subtle visual style is masterfully revealed in this portrait of the American actor Rosamond Pinchot (1904–1938), who was discovered by Max Reinhardt at a young age and quickly became known as “the loveliest woman in America”. This rapid but short-lived success also had its darker side, as the almost fragile portrait taken by Frieda Riess already suggests. 

Combi-phot.: Marta Astfalck-Vietz and Heinz Hajek-Halke, Marta Astfalck-Vietz, c. 1927

Marta Astfalck-Vietz (1901–1994) met the photographer Heinz Hajek-Halke (1898–1983) while she was still studying at the School of Decorative Arts in Berlin, before she went on to train as a photographer at the studio run by Lutz Kloss (on Unter den Linden). Their creative partnership continued for many years, with each influencing the other’s work in significant ways. They experimented together with sophisticated new imaging processes and ultimately developed what Heinz Hajek-Halke called the “combi-phot process”, creating new effects with the aid of a complex procedure involving multiple exposure, a sandwich technique (superimposed negatives), chemical delamination and transfer from one glass negative to another. The results were innovative interpretations of psychological themes and socio-political conditions in the 1920s. Loneliness, violence and alcoholism, for example, featured in surreal set pieces and also in the smoky portrait of a woman drowning her sorrows in alcohol (c. 1927) and in “Suicide in Spirit” (c. 1927).

More works by Marta Astfalck-Vietz in the exhibition

Raoul Hausmann, Petite Fleur en Herbe, 1932

Raoul Hausmann (1886–1971) received a classical, academic training as an artist, but from 1912 the future Dadasopher preferred to mix in the experimental, above all Expressionist circles known as “Die Brücke” and “Der Sturm”. In 1918 he and a few colleagues founded the Berlin DADA Club, where he presented his manifestos and phonetic poems at stage events and exhibitions. 

He and Hannah Höch (1889–1978) refined photomontage in 1919 when they were staying on the island of Wollin. This technique, so prominent in the 1920s, lent artistic expression to their social criticism, which could sometimes be highly explicit. In his photomontage “Petite Fleur en Herbe” (1932), Raoul Hausmann integrated one of his own photographs, “Petite Paysanne” (1931), cutting out the face of the young girl with bright, wrinkle-free skin and setting it upside-down within a more magnified image to create a shining aura of flowering grass.

Atelier Gerstenberg (formerly Dührkoop), The Actor Tilla Durieux, 1920–1930

Around 1929, the photographer Gerstenberg took over the Dührkoop studio at Kurfürstendamm 235. It was standard practice at the time for a new owner to acquire rights to the old negatives. Accordingly, this portrait of the Austrian actor Tilla Durieux (1880–1971), a bold profile in a classical seated pose, displays the “Dührkoop” signature on the front and, on the back and in publications of the period, the copyright mark “Atelier Gerstenberg (f. Dührkoop)”. 

No selection of celebrities and famous actors of the Twenties would be complete without Tilla Durieux, whose breakthrough came in 1903 when she played Salome at the Neues Theater in Berlin. Her second husband Ludwig Katzenellenbogen commissioned the artist Lovis Corinth to paint a cycle including scenes from the Odyssey: six of those panels are held by the Berlinische Galerie and can be seen in the presentation from our collection. 

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Look at Me!
Women's Portraits from the 1920s

Discover all works of the exhibition in Collection Online