Cabinets Full of Photographs, Contact Sheets, and Letters

My Week of Intensive Research into Fred Stein’s Archives

Three pictures with a skyline on a sheet of paper

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


Bees, Candles, Roots, and Remembrance

Interview with Alexis Hyman Wolff

A woman standing in front of a showcase with books.

Alexis Hyman Wolff in her exhibition Zur Zeit at the Museum der Dinge, Berlin, June 2013.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

One of the works in our art vending machine is a candle shaped like a root, made by the artist and curator Alexis Hyman Wolff. In this interview, she offers insight into the development of the work:

Christiane Bauer: Why did you make a candle for the art vending machine?
Alexis Hyman Wolff: Thinking about the small size of the objects and the temporary home they would find in the vending machine, I wanted to reflect on the idea of the souvenir, a central theme in museums. Candles are used for memorial in many cultures.  In Jewish tradition, a yortsayt candle is lit to remember a loved one on the anniversary of their death.

What is special about the material you used?
The candles are made out of beeswax from a beekeeping supplier in Berlin. I understand that beeswax is one of the few materials that burn without producing black smoke, which could explain the belief that burning beeswax candles is good for the air.  According to a European folk custom, when someone dies, a member of the family must go to the hive and “tell the bees,” and also invite them to the funeral. This tradition suggests a link between bees and the spirit world.

How important is the aspect of “remembrance” in your work?  continue reading


The Psychology of Making Portraits

“Hello. My name is Fred Stein, I’m a photographer, left-wing, and I would like to take your picture.”

This is how Fred Stein used to strike up a conversation with people he hoped to portray. Between 1933 and 1967 he managed to make more than 1,200 portraits this way. The words show he had not only the courage to approach people, but also a talent for quickly putting those who had caught his eye at ease.

portrait of Willy Brandt

Willy Brandt, New York 1957
© Estate of Fred Stein

Fred Stein took a passionate interest both in those he portrayed and their work. With André Malraux, Arthur Koestler, Egon Erwin Kisch, and countless other peers he discussed the political landscape in Europe of the 1930 and 40s. Willy Brandt and he became firm friends and remained so all their lives long, and likewise others whose portrait he made. In a letter of 10 May 1983, Brandt recalled:

“I met Fred Stein when we were both refugees and fighting the totalitarian Nazi regime with the rather modest means at our disposal. He was a man ahead of his time, an avant-garde and brilliant photographer, inspired by the commitment to justice and concern for truth so clearly reflected in his photographs.  continue reading