Otto Steinert Lamps of the Place de la Concorde III 1952

Otto Steinert
Lamps of the Place de la Concorde III 1952
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
180 x 267 mm
© Estate Otto Steinert, Museum Folkwang, Essen

German photographer Otto Steinert experimented with form and technique to explore photography as a mode of personal expression.

Steinert was a teacher, curator, and collector as well as a practising photographer. In the 1950s he organised a series of touring group exhibitions entitled Subjective Photography. He wanted to examine the more personal approach to photography that, he believed, had become more prominent since the Second World War. ‘Subjective Photography’, he wrote, ‘means humanised, individualised photography and implies the handling of a camera in order to win from the single object the views expressive of its character.’

Earlier movements had begun to establish photography as an art form. Steinert placed a new emphasis on the photographer’s own creativity. He outlined how a series of creative decisions – from choice of equipment, to perspective, to printing techniques – could allow the subject to assume a new meaning or significance.

Coming from a background in medicine, Steinert lacked formal training in photography and his approach was unbound by convention. This display of works from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s demonstrates the range of experimental techniques that he used to explore the potential of the medium beyond straightforward representation. These include use of contrast and toning to emphasise contour and texture, movement of the camera with long exposure times to record trails of light, and arrangement of graphic shapes directly onto photographic paper.           

Otto Steinert (1915-1978) was born in Saarbrücken, Germany. He lived and worked in Saarbrücken and Essen

Curated by Emma Lewis