” In making portraits, I refuse to photograph myself as do so many photographers.my style is the style of people I photograph ” – Lotte Jacobi
Johanna Alexandra “Lotte” Jacobi was a German-American photographer noted for her portraits of famous figures.
Born in 1896 into a family of photographers, Jacobi studied art history and literature at the Academy of Posen (1912–16) and then attended the Bavarian State Academy of Photography in Munich and the University of Munich. Jacobi entered the family photography business in 1927. During this same period she began her professional work as a photographer, represented by Schostal Photo Agency (Agentur Schostal) and she also produced four films, the most important being Portrait of the Artist, a study of Josef Scharl.
She directed the family’s photography business in Berlin (1927–35), photographing prominent individuals such as Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.
From October 1932 to January 1933, she traveled to the Soviet Union, in particular to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, taking photographs of what she saw. She returned to Berlin in February 1933, one month after Hitler came to power. As persecution against Jews increased, she left Germany with her son, arriving in September 1935 in New York City. Nearly all of her early work was lost when she immigrated. Jacobi and her sister, Ruth Jacobi Roth, opened a studio in Manhattan.
In 1940, Jacobi married Erich Reiss, a distinguished German publisher and writer, a marriage that lasted until his death in 1951. During this time, she continued portrait photography at her studio, while also experimenting with photogenics: a cameraless photography in which she exposed photosensitive paper to light to create abstract images.
She maintained her studio in New York City until 1955. She then left New York with her son and daughter-in-law and moved to Deering, New Hampshire, a move that changed her life. There she opened a new studio, where she both continued her own work and displayed works by other artists. She became interested in politics and was a fervent Democrat, representing New Hampshire at the Democratic National Convention in 1980. She traveled extensively and enjoyed new-found fame in the 1970s and 1980s.
Jacobi’s portraits are noted for their natural, unpretentious, and often casual style. Her sitters included Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Peter Lorre, Marc Chagall, Alfred Stieglitz, Eleanor Roosevelt, J.D. Salinger, Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, and many others. In her later years she created what she called “photogenics,” which were abstract prints created by moving flashlights and candles over light-sensitive paper.
She died on May 6th, 1990 at the age of 93. She bequeathed 47,000 negatives to the Lotte Jacobi Archives established at the University of New Hampshire. This record of 20th century history revealed in the faces of the artists, world leaders, intelligentsia, and ordinary people of America and Europe.