Curated by Hans Bunge
The photographs of the Bauhaus-trained architect, draftsman, and photographer Fritz Schleifer (1903–77), which are being exhibited and published for the first time, are a real discovery in the truest sense of the word! In 2020, Hamburg curator Hans Bunge, while conducting research on Fritz Schleifer, came across a package with 128 vintage prints in the basement of Schleifer’s son.
The discovery of the compendium of coastal lands photographs of North Frisian and Danish seacoasts from the 1930s and ’40s is an absolute stroke of luck, since the majority of Schleifer’s photographic work is no longer preserved. The captivating quality of his photographs is proof enough that architect Fritz Schleifer belongs in the upper echelon of avant-garde photographers of the 1930s and ’40s.
Another stroke of luck was the discovery of Schleifer’s personal journal. Thanks to Hans Bunge’s meticulous transcription work, it was revealed that the found compendium of photographs was in fact a finished photo book project that was supposed to be published in 1939 by the renowned Heinrich Ellermann Verlag; this likely never happened due to the outbreak of World War II.
The Alfred Ehrhardt Stiftung presents in the exhibition a selection of forty-eight vintage prints distinguished by their exceptional image compositions and striking choice of motifs. In these photographs, Schleifer focuses on human-constructed, decidedly atypical and run-of-the-mill subjects such as the Lorenbahn railway to Hallig Oland, dykes, drainage canals, and wagon tracks, but also natural tidal channels and inlets, whose graphical lines are overlaid onto the image structure in a grid-like manner. Notably, his compositions are often based on strong linear elements. Dykes or paths are used as dominant lines, shaping the landscape as if drawn with a bold charcoal pencil. Schleifer is fascinated by human intervention in nature. He depicts a human-influenced landscape wrested from the surf and storm surges. His photographs reveal how humankind is reflected in the landscape. At times its vestiges resemble wounds that have been inflicted on nature and placed centerstage.
His photographs evince the signature of a creative visionary who, following his central credo, seeks to “make notions of geometric variety visible using graphic means.” In analogy to the preliminary course and his architectural designs, his thinking proceeds from flat surfaces into three-dimensional space. The modernist quality of his photography is based on the establishment of principles for constructing space. His aesthetic vision was not satisfied with rendering a particular landscape region in a documentary or atmospheric manner. In Fritz Schleifer’s photographs, beauty lies more in the how the image itself is constructed than in the beauty of the subject.
As a former Bauhaus student, Fritz Schleifer incorporated his preliminary course experiences into his teaching activities at the Landeskunstschule Hamburg starting in 1930, before he was dismissed by the National Socialists in 1933 for his modern views on art, like his colleague Alfred Ehrhardt. His unique photographic vision qualifies him as a representative of the neues sehen (new vision) and avant-garde photography of the 1930s. Following in the footsteps of Albert Renger-Patzsch, Arvid Gutschow, and Alfred Ehrhardt, he focused his visually trained, architectural eye on the graphic structures of these coastal landscapes dominated by the ocean, beaches, and dunes, but as an architect he also incorporated, unlike his predecessors, people and their houses.
A new monograph is being published: Der Verlust der Mitte ist der Gewinn des Randes. Fritz Schleifer – Ein Hamburger Bauhausschüler zwischen Architektur und Kunst, edited by Hans Bunge, with texts by Norbert Baues, Hans Bunge, Martin Engler, Ulrich Höhns, Rüdiger Joppien, Christiane Stahl, 216 pages, with 208 illustrations. Vol. 43 of the Hamburgisches Architekturarchiv publication series, eds. Ullrich Schwarz and Hartmut Frank (Dölling & Galitz Verlag: Munich/Hamburg, 2023).
The book is available in the exhibition for €40,00.