Aenne Biermann

Herbert Biermann


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In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Aenne Biermann 1893–1933
Original title
Ohne Titel (Herbert Biermann)
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image: 168 × 122 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2013


Herbert Biermann 1928 is one of a group of vintage black and white photographs in Tate’s collection by the German photographer Aenne Biermann; it was printed by the artist at the time of production. It is a portrait of Biermann’s husband Herbert Biermann. Biermann had an ongoing interest in portraiture throughout her career and often photographed her children and members of her family, as well as making several self-portraits (see, for example Untitled (Self Portrait) c.1931 [Tate P80258] and My Child 1931 [Tate P80369]). The portrait of Herbert was presumably taken in Biermann’s studio; it has a very deliberate composition, taken close-up and with his gaze angled down towards the floor. The image is enhanced by the presence of a small glass which Herbert holds up to his mouth, facing the light source, and which casts a shadow on his chin. The use of strong directional lighting demonstrates Biermann’s technical mastery both in the studio and the darkroom.

Throughout her seven-year career (cut short due to her early death in 1933), Biermann produced a large portfolio of work. Having started out photographing her young children in the early 1920s, by 1926 her interest had developed into a serious photographic practice. In 1928 Biermann met the geologist Rudolf Hundt who subsequently asked her to work on several commissions photographing rocks and minerals. According to her own account, it was these early commissions that marked the beginning of her ‘serious’ photographic work. Biermann gained public recognition in late 1928 when the German art historian Franz Roh published an article referring to her plant photographs in the academic journal Das Kunstblatt. Following this, her work was shown in many of the major international photographic exhibitions of the late 1920s and early 1930s, such as the important touring exhibition Fotografie der Gegenwart (Contemporary Photography exhibition) organised by the Folkwang Museum, Essen in 1929. The following year Roh published a monograph on her work entitled 60 Fotografien (1930), as part of the Fototek series.

Biermann became one of the major proponents of the ‘New Objectivity’ (Neue Sachlichkeit) in German modernist photography, initially influenced by and then working alongside photographers such as Albert Renger-Patsch (1897–1966) and August Sander (1876–1964). Her work typified the movement’s interest in embracing the mechanical ability of the camera to capture the real world in a clear, objective manner. Her subject matter included portraiture, plants, flowers and inanimate everyday objects.

Further reading
Ute Eskildsen, Aenne Biermann: Photographs 1925–33, London 1988.

Shoair Mavlian
July 2013

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