Monday’s Photography Inspiration – Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

“The organisation of light and shadow effects produce a new enrichment of vision.” – László Moholy-Nagy

I haven’t shared any inspiration in a while so I thought that I would with this Hungarian photographer. What really struck me in his work is his abstract and his amazing use of items to create incredible shapes and play with shadows. So let’s start with getting to know him a little better.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian painter and photographer born in 1946.  He was highly influenced by constructivism and was a strong advocate of the integration of technology and industry into the arts. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy possessed one of the liveliest and most versatile minds to come out of the revolution in artistic thinking that occurred in Europe after the First World War.

In addition to being a painter, designer, and photographer, Moholy was perhaps the most persuasive and effective theoretician of the concept of art education that grew out of the Bauhaus, the experimental design school that flowered briefly in Germany during the days of the Weimar Republic. Through his own work, his teaching and writing, and through the influence of his colleagues and followers at the Chicago Institute of Design (which Moholy founded in 1938), his ideas have had a profound effect on the art and art theory of the past generation. In none of the areas of his concern has his influence been greater than in photography.

His key ideas include:

  • He believed that humanity could only defeat the fracturing experience of modernity – only feel whole again – if it harnessed the potential of new technologies. Artists should transform into designers, and through specialisation and experimentation find the means to answer humanity’s needs.
  • His interest in photography encouraged his belief that artists’ understanding of vision had to specialise and modernise. He believed that artists are used to be dependent on the tools of perspective drawing, but with the advent of the camera they had to learn to see again. They had to renounce the classical training of previous centuries, which encouraged them to think about the history of art and to reproduce old formulas and experiment with vision, thus stretching human capacity to new tasks.
  • His interest in qualities of space, time, and light endured throughout his career and transcended the very different media he employed. Whether he was painting or creating “photograms” (photographs made without the use of a camera or negative) or crafting sculptures made of transparent Plexiglass, he was ultimately interested in studying how all these basic elements interact.

Moholy-Nagy’s influence on American art was felt broadly in several disciplines. Along with the other emigres from the Bauhaus, he succeeded in instilling a modern aesthetic into American design. His impact was felt most strongly by his students, but his use of modern materials and technology impressed other young designers, including Charles Eames, who visited the New Bauhaus while studying at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Moholy-Nagy’s influence on photography is felt equally through his writings as through his photographs and photomontages. His first Bauhaus book established photography as a fine art equal to painting. His experiments in light and shadow reinforced photography’s value as a subjective medium, and therefore an artistic medium, rather than simply a means to document reality.

Recent years have brought international attention to Moholy-Nagy’s achievements with several major museums organising retrospectives, including the Tate Modern in London, the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, and the Loyola University Museum of Art in Chicago, that celebrate the impact of his work on American art.

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