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Andreas Feininger

“It’s nothing but a matter of seeing, thinking, and interest. That’s what makes a good photograph. And then rejecting anything that would be bad for the picture. The wrong light, the wrong background, time and so on. Just don’t do it, not matter how beautiful the subject is.” – Andreas Feininger

Unlike Weston and Evans, Feininger discovered the United States not as an American but as a newly arrived émigré. To his eye everything appeared gigantic, the country's wide open spaces magnificent. His photographs of New York, Chicago, the East Coast, Florida and California were those of a perpetually astonished traveler. He recorded the harbors of New York, skyscrapers under construction, branching railroad tracks and elevated trains, the beaches at Coney Island and along the Atlantic coast. For Feininger, the enormous size and age of the redwood trees and bristlecone pines made them Californian monuments, and on the way there he captured the humble sights along Route 66, small towns with their filling stations, motels, and outgrowths of signs. Death Valley, Yellowstone, Pueblo Acoma, the great dams . . . avoiding postcard clichés, Feininger discovered a new world, of lakes freezing over, beaver dams, a cave entrance with hosts of bats flying out of it.

Having studied at the Bauhaus and worked in Le Corbusier's studio, Feininger tended to prefer architecture over people as a subject. It is noteworthy that as well as well-known buildings he photographed modern housing developments (Van Nuys Gardens and Valejo, both in California, 1947), the no-man's land of parking lots (Houston, Texas, 1947), and industrial plants (Standard Oil, Baton Rouge, Louisiana). The Signal Hill oilfields in California provided a contemporary counterpart to the redwoods.

In parallel, Feininger tirelessly investigated nature. Linking up with Man Ray, he experimented with solarization, the photogram, or a combination of these techniques, placing oak leaves, dragonfly wings, and other transparent objects in the enlarger or directly on photopaper, As early as 1939, a selection of these studies appeared under the title New Paths in Photography.

Close-ups of seashells were styled "goddesses of victory," or "ancient Roman architectures." Devilfish bones metamorphosed under the photolamps into monuments whose beauty, Feininger thought, surpassed that of many a modern abstract art work. He focused on beetle tunnels in tree bark, on grasses, on ice crystals on window panes, convinced that design was not only a human activity but occurred in nature as well. Feininger's aesthetic sensibility opened new fields for photography. Using apparatus he developed himself, he took macrophotography to a creative highpoint. He tempered the New Objectivity of the 1920s with imagination, built a bridge between nature and technology, and—very much the Bauhaus teacher—he passed his experiences along to the next generation in textbooks on the grammar and syntax of photography.

Excerpt taken from 50 Photographers You Should Know by Peter Stepan

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