His father has a breakdown due to tertiary syphilis. His mother is in and out of sanatoriums. There is no more money to allow him to study, he starts to work as an apprentice at a women’s wear manufacturer: Moses and Schlochauer to help support the family. His father dies, and Erwin writes: ”I let the teardrops drip onto the poems I had just written and solemnly swore never to masturbate again and to look after my mother. I have broken both oaths.”
Leaves for Holland. He tries to deal in art with Paul Citroen, but with little success. He enters the garment business, joining the Gerzon Brothers Fashion House.
Participates in the Dada movement with Grosz, Mynona, Mehring and Citroen; paints and writes and does collages under the pseudonym of Jan Bloomfield. Together with Paul Citroen, they are self-proclaimed directors of the “Holland Dadacentrale”.
First exhibits of his photographs in Kunstzaal van Lier (Amsterdam) in 1932 and 1934. His first published photograph appears in Arts et Métiers Graphiques, Paris in 1935: the portrait of Tara Twain, from Hollywood.
No longer receiving supplies from Germany, his shop, the Fox leather Company which was already faring poorly, goes bankrupt.
“And so I became when there was really nothing left for me to do, a photographer. Everyone told me not to do it. Failed painters became window-dressers, failed window-dressers became photographers.”
“I fell in love with Paris when I was a child, sight unseen, as is ever my way, and when I finally got there at the age of forty, I realized that taste is merely foretaste. Taste comes from tasting.”
Encouraged by Genevieve Rouault, the daughter of the painter George Rouault, whom he had photographed in Amsterdam, Erwin moves to Paris as a photographer.
“The metropolis of New York, the only living wonder of the world, is, like the pyramids, not a work of art but a gigantic manifestation of power. It still has one foot in Europe, glancing back over both shoulders on its desperate look-out for new attractions. America only begins where New York ends.”
Blumenfeld starts to immediately to work for Harper’s Bazaar, he shares the studio of photographer Martin Munkacsi.
He acquires his own studio at 222 Central Park South in 1943, success comes soon; he becomes one of the best known and best paid fashion photographers. Works for Harper’s Bazaar and Alexey Brodovitch (until 1943), Look, Life, Vogue and Alexander Liberman, Cosmopolitan, Kaleidoscope, Photography, Picture Post, Pageant… producing over 100 covers for fashion and photography magazines in the following years.
Blumenfeld stops working for Vogue in 1955, he evolves towards advertising, and works for Helena Rubinstein, Elisabeth Arden, L’Oréal, The Dayton Company’s Oval room among many others.
His agent is Kathleen Levy Barnett, later to become his daughter-in-law.
Buys a house in the dunes on Westhampton beach in 1954. It will later disappear in a storm.
Blumenfeld starts to write his autobiography in German : Einbildungsroman. He will be assisted in this task by Marina Schinz who comes to work for him in 1964.
Birth of his 6 grandchildren : Lisette and Paul Georges have two daughters, Paulette and Yvette, Henry and Kathleen Levy have a son Yorick and a daughter Nadia, Yorick and Helaine Becker have two sons, Remy and Jared.
Composes a Photo book to be called: « My One Hundred Best Photos », 100 black and white images in 50 pairs. Finishes his autobiography.
In an article in Popular Photography (September 1958) Blumenfeld states : “Currently, I am absorbed in magazine and advertising illustration, and I remain as true an amateur as I was at ten. The wonder that the camera can really reproduce anything shown to it still astounds me; and I am strongly determined to show the lens a more exciting, dramatic and beautiful way of presenting life.”
Erwin Blumenfeld dies of a heart attack in Rome on July the 4.
All the quotes in italics in the texts are taken from Blumenfeld’s autobiography Einbildungsroman : “Eye to I” (Thames and Hudson 1999, translation by Mike Mitchell and Brian Murdoch).
© 2018 The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld | All copyright to Blumenfeld’s images is shared between Blumenfeld’s two surviving children, Henry and Yorick Blumenfeld and his grand-daughter, Yvette Georges Deeton.