Renger-Patzsch was appointed Head of the Photographic Archive at the publisher Folkwang-Verlag in 1920, and five years later set himself up as a freelance photographer. He undertook commissions from industry and advertising, in order to fund his own publishing projects. Renger-Patzsch’s work was distinguished by a detached, almost scientific objectivity and precise attention to detail. 

His 1928 book The World is Beautiful, which juxtaposed images of the natural and the industrial to bring out their underlying similarities, established Renger-Patzsch as one of the leading figures in the New Objectivity movement. In 1929, he began a series of studies of the Ruhr Valley, including mines, factories and workers’ accommodation - subjects that few photographers had considered worthy of attention. Renger-Patzsch’s sober style matched his subject matter: the bleak non-places at the edge of the industrial landscape.