Germaine Krull (29 November 1897 – 31 July 1985), was a great modernist photographer, activist, inveterate traveller and hotelier Germaine Krull. Germaine was born born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia 29 November 1897. It was then in Germany and is now Poznań, Poland. Her nationality has been categorised as German, Polish, French, and Dutch, but she spent years in Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand, and India. Described as “an especially outspoken example” of a group of early 20th-century female photographers who “could lead lives free from convention”, she is best known for photographically-illustrated books such as her 1928 portfolio Métal.
In her early years, the family moved around Europe frequently; she did not receive a formal education, but instead received homeschooling from her father, an accomplished engineer and a free thinker but a bit of a ne’er-do-well. Her father may have influenced her in at least two ways. First, he let her dress as a boy when she was young, which may have contributed to her ideas about women’s roles later in her life. Second, his views on social justice “also seem to have predisposed her to involvement with radical politics.” Between 1915 and 1917 or 1918 she attended the Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Photographie, a photography school in Munich, Germany, at which Frank Eugene’s teaching of pictorialism in 1907–1913 had been influential.
She opened a studio in Munich in approximately 1918, took portraits of Kurt Eisner and others, and befriended prominent people such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Pollock, and Max Horkheimer. Krull was politically active between 1918 and 1921. In 1919 she switched from the Independent Socialist Party of Bavaria to the Communist Party of Germany, and was arrested and imprisoned for assisting a Bolshevik emissary’s attempted escape to Austria. She was expelled from Bavaria in 1920 for her Communist activities, and traveled to Russia with lover Samuel Levit. After Levit abandoned her in 1921, Krull was imprisoned as an “anti-Bolshevik” and expelled from Russia. She lived in Berlin between 1922 and 1925 where she resumed her photographic career. She and Kurt Hübschmann (later to be known as Kurt Hutton) worked together in a Berlin studio between 1922 and 1924. Among other photographs Krull produced in Berlin were nudes.
Having met Dutch filmmaker and communist Joris Ivens in 1923, she moved to Amsterdam in 1925. After Krull returning to Paris in 1926, Ivens and Krull entered into a marriage of convenience between 1927 and 1943 so that Krull could hold a Dutch passport and could have a “veneer of married respectability without sacrificing her autonomy.” In Paris between 1926 and 1928, Krull became friends with Sonia Delaunay, Robert Delaunay, Eli Lotar, André Malraux, Colette, Jean Cocteau, André Gide and others; her commercial work consisted of fashion photography, nudes, and portraits. During this time, she worked tirelessly as a commercial photographer and also shot 64 black-and-white photographs in Paris, Marseille, and Holland photographs and published them in a book titled Métal (1928): her focus was “the essentially masculine subject of the industrial landscape.” It’s now considered to be one of the most influential of early modernist photo books. These images were created during the same period as Ivens was creating his film De Brug (“The Bridge”) in Rotterdam, and the two artists may have influenced each other.
The portfolio’s subjects range from bridges, buildings (e.g., the Eiffel Tower), and ships to bicycle wheels; it can be read as either a celebration of machines or a criticism of them. Many of the photographs were taken from dramatic angles, and overall the work has been compared to that of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Rodchenko. In 1999–2004 the portfolio was selected as one of the most important photobooks in history.
By 1928 Krull was considered one of the best photographers in Paris, along with André Kertész and Man Ray. Between 1928 and 1933, her photographic work consisted primarily of photojournalism, such as her photographs for Vu, a French magazine. also in the early 1930s, she also made a pioneering study of employment black spots in Britain for Weekly Illustrated (most of her ground-breaking reportage work from this period remains immured in press archives and she has never received the credit which is her due for this work).
Her book Etudes de Nu (“Studies of Nudes”) published in 1930 is still well-known today. Between 1930 and 1935 she contributed photographs for a number of travel and detective fiction books. In 1935–1940, Krull lived in Monte Carlo where she had a photographic studio. Among her subjects during this period were buildings (such as casinos and palaces), automobiles, celebrities, and common people. She may have been a member of the Black Star photojournalism agency which had been founded in 1935, but “no trace of her work appears in the press with that label.
During World War II, Germaine became disenchanted with the Vichy France government and sought to join the Free French Forces in Africa. She assisted the Free French forces, and Brazil. Due to her Dutch passport and her need to obtain proper visas, her journey to Africa included over a year (1941–1942) in Brazil where she photographed the city of Ouro Preto. Between 1942 and 1944 she was in Brazzaville in Republic of the Congo, after which she spent several months in Algiers and then returned to France. After World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia as a war correspondent but by 1946, she became the co-owner of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, which she ran successfully for 20 years: she founded the Bamboo Bar in the hotel, which apparently became one of the best bars in town.
She also published books during this time. In her later life Germaine Krull moved to India and converted to Buddhism. Her last major photo project was her 1968 book ‘Tibetans in India’. Germaine Krull eventually moved back to Germany and died in a nursing home in 1985. She famously said: The camera need not invent, manipulate or fool. It does not paint, nor does it imagine. The photographer is a witness, the witness of his time.
Not only was she a pioneer in her day, I admire how Germaine was able to create work that she wanted and she was proud of despite what the critics said. She contributed a lot to this field not only as a photographer but also as a woman.