108 years ago, on 29 September 1906, in the Neukölln neighborhood of Berlin, the photographer Herbert Sonnenfeld caught his first glimpse of the light of the world.
His photographs constitute one of the largest and most important portfolios in the Jewish Museum Berlin’s photographic archive. The Sonnenfeld collection consists of some 3000 negatives taken between 1933 and 1938. Along with Abraham Pisarek and Arno Kikoler, Sonnenfeld is one of the few Jewish photographers to document Jewish life in and around Berlin in the 1930s, passing down to us today an unparalleled photographic witness to that period.
Herbert Sonnenfeld, photograph by Leni Sonnenfeld, Berlin ca. 1935
© Jewish Museum Berlin, purchased with funds from the Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin
Herbert Sonnenfeld first worked as an insurance employee before being laid off as a result of the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitic measures. He came to photography circuitously and was an autodidact. Following a trip to Palestine in 1933, his wife Leni approached various Jewish newspapers and offered them her husband’s pictures. They were enthusiastic, promptly bought up the prints, and asked for more. Thus began Sonnenfeld’s career as a press photographer.
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Theresia Ziehe, curator of the exhibition “In an Instant. Photographs by Fred Stein,” explains in the following video clip why she especially likes Fred Stein’s photograph “Newspaper Hat” (New York, 1946):
My Week of Intensive Research into Fred Stein’s Archives
Contact sheet Brooklyn Bridge
© Estate of Fred Stein, photo: Theresia Ziehe
In June of 2012 I had the opportunity to delve into the estate of Fred Stein. During the preparation for our then-upcoming exhibition “In an Instant,” I travelled to the little town of Stanfordville, NY to visit Peter Stein, the photographer’s son and archive administrator. For a week, I studied the voluminous and multi-faceted material stored in various rooms of the private residence. It was an unforgettable immersion into the life and work of Fred Stein.
Hundreds of negatives, kept in fireproof cabinets, make up the core of the collection. Their differing formats point to the two cameras Stein photographed with: coiled strips of Leica negatives and individually packaged 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches negatives in pergamin sheets from the Rolleiflex. The cameras themselves unfortunately didn’t survive. Among these negatives, you can see Stein’s first shots of Dresden shortly before he emigrated to Paris in 1933. → continue reading