Germaine Krull: Groundbreaking Photographer

The Museum of Modern Art, New York has a new online project entitled Object:Photo.Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949. This new website showcases the Walther Collection - 341 photographs by 148 artists - representing the innovative vision of the 1920s and 1930s, a transformative period of modern photography. 

One of the artists represented in this collection is Germaine Krull (1897-1985). The Walther Collection includes nine rare and important prints that exemplify the photographer’s radical form of experimentation carried on from the mid-1920s onward. Krull employed a variety of techniques to capture the movement and excitement of life in the modern city. Sometimes she created multiple exposures or photomontages.  The most unusual Krull work in the Walther Collection is the multiple exposure Street Fair, Slide (1928). Depicting a roller-coaster ride at a Parisian street fair, the picture was published in the fourth issue (April 11, 1928) of the French, weekly illustrated newspaper Vu, in an article entitled “Fetes foraines” (Street Fair).

In an essay written for the MOMA website by Kim Sichel, entitled “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography”, the story behind this amazing photo is presented.

   “Krull contributed six images to the [Vu] story. In addition to Street Fair, Slide, she provided pictures of the Ferris wheel, the scene outside the “fat lady” show, the crowds, and the merry-go-round. Street Fair, Slide takes up most of the first page of a two-page article. Its caption highlights the fair’s noise and chaos. “The popularization of air travel, full of vertiginous sensations, can be paralleled here by the scenic railway. While waiting, people who cannot afford an airplane ride experience the joy the crazy descents of this favorite brutal attraction.” 
  "To construct the multilayered print, Krull shot several straight photographs of the fair ride….She took the pictures from several different positions while standing at the top of the ride. Krull’s image conveys the dizzying experience of the ride, which brought passengers down a rickety, undulating path, then up an uphill segment.  Krill took one photograph standing at the top right of the rails, another at the track’s top left and a third from yet another vantage point, this time with a more dramatically tilted camera angle. Some elements (a lamppost and carousel in the distance and a tent at the end of the ride) appear three times, while the rails, lined with rows of lightbulbs, crisscross the image. At the center of the composition is what appears to be a double exposure of a boy sitting in the roller coaster cart: in one instance looking forward and in another looking left. (Note: Actually there are two boys one in front of the other in the cart). The composition of Street Fair, Slide is completely disorienting. The rails descend in several different directions, metaphorically derailing the riders and crashing them into the large crowds below. Details are printed in varying densities so that they become ghostlike overviews on top of the spectators." 

  'Krull sandwiched her three negatives together (either taping them or placing them between two pieces of glass) and produced at least two different prints from the combination: the one sold to Vu and the one now in the Walther Collection."

  "Street Fair, Slide stands out as an important and unusual Krull photograph; of the relatively few multiple exposures that Krull made during her career, it is by far the most complex.”

Mitra Abbaspour, Lee Ann Daffier and Maria Morris Hamburg, ends. Object:Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949. An Online Project of the Museum of Modern Art. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

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