“Let us … leave art to the artists, and let us try to use the medium of photography to create photographs that can endure because of their photographic qualities.” – Albert Renger – Patzsch
Albert Renger – Patzsch was a German photographer whose cool, detached images formed the photographic component of the Neue Sachlichkeit associated with the New Objectivity.
Born in Würzburg and began experimenting with photography by age twelve. After serving in the military in World War I, he studied chemistry at Dresden Technical College.
His Objectivity (or the Truth Claim) is an important idea in photography. Photographs appear to depict reality. This is because they capture reflected light from objects in the real world using a chemical process. This is sometimes referred to as photography’s indexicality. The photograph could be thought of as a trace or effect of the thing photographed. The object is “imprinted” by light and the chemical (or electronic) process on the image, creating a visual likeness that possesses a degree of accuracy and “truthfulness”. This direct physical connection between object and image is unlike painting, drawing, or sculpture.
In the early 1920s, he worked as a press photographer for the Chicago Tribune before becoming a freelancer and, in 1925, publishing a book, The choir stalls of Cappenberg. He then became the director of the picture archive at the Folkwang publishing house in Hagen.
In 1925, Renger-Patzsch began to pursue photography as a full-time career as a freelance documentary and press photographer. He rejected both Pictorialism, which was in imitation of painting, and the experimentation of photographers who relied on startling techniques.
In his photographs, he recorded the exact, detailed appearance of objects, reflecting his early pursuit of science. He felt that the underlying structure of his subjects did not require any enhancement by the photographer. In his book Die Welt ist schön (1928; “The World Is Beautiful”), he showed images from both nature and industry, all treated in his clear, transparent style. Such images were closely related to the paintings of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement of painters, who created detached and literal renderings of reality that were so extreme that they produced an eerie effect.
His best-known book called Die Welt ist schön (The World is Beautiful), is a collection of one hundred of his photographs in which natural forms, industrial subjects and mass-produced objects are presented with the clarity of scientific illustrations. The book’s title was chosen by his publisher; Renger-Patzsch’s preferred title for the collection was Die Dinge (“Things”).
In its sharply focused and matter-of-fact style his work exemplifies the esthetic of The New Objectivity that flourished in the arts in Germany during the Weimar Republic.
Like Edward Weston in the United States, Renger-Patzsch believed that the value of photography was in its ability to reproduce the texture of reality, and to represent the essence of an object. He wrote: “The secret of a good photograph—which, like a work of art, can have aesthetic qualities is its realism … Let us therefore leave art to artists and endeavour to create, with the means peculiar to photography and without borrowing from art, photographs which will last because of their photographic qualities.”
In the early 1930s, Renger – Patzsch taught photography. From the 1940s until his death, he focused on his own projects, working as a freelance photographer and publishing his photographs. His later subjects included natural landscapes, industrial landscapes (Eisen und Stahl, 1930), trees (Bäume, 1962), and stones (Gestein, 1966).