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Matinee: 'Andreas Feininger' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

4 January 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the fourteenth in our series of Saturday matinees today: Andreas Feininger from the BBC series Master Photographers.

This 35-minute interview was made in 1983, about 15 years before Feininger's death early in 1999 at the age of 92. Born in Paris to the painter Lyonel Feininger and Julia Berg, he was studied architecture in Germany before moving to Sweden and taking up photography, with which he became acquainted as a reference aid for his building designs. In 1939, he escaped Europe to work as a freelance photographer in the United States. And in 1943 he joined the staff of Life magazine.

In its Photographer's Spotlight on Feininger, Life magazine praises that period of his career:

Feininger's pictures of New York in the 1940s and '50s helped define, for all time, not merely how a great 20th century city looked, but how it imagined itself and its place in the world.

In the 41-image slide show accompanying that article, you can see The Photojournalist, his 1951 portrait of Dennis Stock in which the viewfinder and lens of a camera held in portrait orientation replace the eyes of the photographer.

Feininger also wrote about photography, most famously in his The Complete Photographer, which educated a generation of budding enthusiasts on the mystery of the art. But that was just one of nearly 40 books he published, including 15 textbooks and his 1966 autobiography.

In the movie, Feininger talks about building his own camera in Sweden to take telephoto images of ships three miles away, which got him into trouble in 1934. Telephoto lenses were not available commercially at the time.

He continued his interest in what he calls in the movie "the unnatural perspective" of telephoto images in New York, taking images as far away as seven miles. "Unnatural," he explains, in the sense of the view a normal lens captures, which exaggerates the size of nearby objects. Telephoto shots do not distort, he says.

"Light is everything," he says, like an architect, "particularly in black and white photography." He talks about the position of the sun and even the use of reflections in composition.

He also briefly discusses the difference in perspective between the eye's rectilinear perspective and the camera, noting "with the camera we have two additional perspectives: cylindrical and spherical."

As he covers these aspects of the art, he shows us his own work, discussing it not just like the man who took the photo, but the educator who wrote the book on the subject as well.

It's really the best of both worlds.

The American Society of Media Photographers interviewed Feininger in 1990. And George Eastman House has a selection of 130 of his images online.

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