A special exhibition of the work of George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968) will be presented at the exhibition space of Grisebach during Berlin Photo Week, celebrating a pioneering photographer who epitomised the connections between art, fashion and cinema.
Often known simply as Huene, he worked primarily in Paris, New York and Hollywood and first gained international fame in the fields of sophisticated fashion and portrait photography. His carefully-lit studio compositions infused with elements of modernism, neoclassicism and surrealism made Huene one of the leading photographers at Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines from 1926 to 1935, and later at the rival magazine Harper’s Bazaar. Revered by his contemporaries, he also inspired subsequent generations of photographers and filmmakers around the world. In the words of Richard Avedon, Huene was “a genius, the master of us all”.
This exhibition is a collaboration among the George Hoyningen-Huene Estate Archives, Benjamin Jäger, art director of BERLIN PHOTO WEEK, and Grisebach. Approximately 50 photographs from Huene’s extraordinary career will be displayed at the exhibition space of Grisebach, next to the Grisebach Villa. The show will explore not only his elegant couture fashion shoots, but also his glamorous portraits of the stars of stage and screen, and travel photographs from his journeys through Europe and Africa. Rarely seen prints from the Archives will be displayed alongside exquisite large-scale platinum palladium prints. Several of the photographs are being publicly exhibited for the first time.
Paris was the most powerful hub of creativity in the arts in the 1920s and 1930s, and Huene became a principal chronicler within the intertwined worlds of art, fashion, design, film and high society. He befriended and collaborated with the stars of the artistic milieu, including Man Ray and Salvador Dalí. The opening section of the exhibition explores Huene’s contribution to fashion magazines, where he worked with the top models of the time such as Lisa Fonssagrives and Toto Koopman. Two of his favourites were the German model Agneta Fischer and the American Lee Miller, both of whom later became photographers themselves. Huene saw every model as an individual, commenting “models are women and not alabaster personalities”. He brought grace and naturalness to his photoshoots of exclusive couture creations by designers such as Balenciaga, Chanel, Lanvin, Schiaparelli and Vionnet, and he became a specialist in chic studies of beachwear.
The second section showcases Huene’s portraiture. The film industry had fascinated Huene since his youth and he continued to photograph celebrities when he left Vogue for Harper’s Bazaar in 1935. Dozens of actors and performers sat for him and he approached each sitting anew, striving to record the unique characteristics of Hollywood idols including Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong in the 1930s, Rita Hayworth and Katharine Hepburn in the 1940s, Greta Garbo in the 1950s, and Ava Gardner in the 1960s.
When Huene became restless in the confines of the studio, he embarked on a series of ambitious travels with his camera, resulting in five books: African Mirage, the Record of a Journey (1938, including his insightful diary text); Hellas (1943); Egypt (1943); Mexican Heritage (1946); and Baalbek/Palmyra (1946). The third section of the exhibition features Huene’s stunning landscape images and candid portraits of the people he encountered across the globe.
The final part of the exhibition comprises platinum palladium prints, which are prized for their permanence and rich tonal spectrum. Employing metals more precious than gold, the platinum palladium process was used to great artistic effect by masters such as Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen around 1900. In the 1960s, Irving Penn started experimenting with platinum palladium and others followed, including fellow photographer Horst P. Horst. In 1968 Huene had bequeathed his archive to Horst, and in the 1980s Horst began to make platinum palladium prints from Huene’s negatives for museums and collectors to purchase. These prints have a lush, matt surface and their tones range from velvety blacks to a myriad of greys and delicate whites. The exhibition features 15 of the prints made under Horst’s instruction, including iconic images such as Divers (1930). In 2020, the Estate Archives launched a new limited-edition series of platinum palladium prints, and several of these spectacular large prints will be exhibited for the first time in Berlin.
During his lifetime, Huene was included in ground-breaking German exhibitions such as Film und Foto der 20er Jahre (1929) and Photokina (1963). More recently, his pictures have featured in major exhibitions on the history of fashion photography, but he has never been the subject of a solo exhibition in Germany. Huene’s name remains well-known among photography connoisseurs and his work can be found in many world-class collections, including the Getty Museum, Los Angeles; MoMA, New York; the Pompidou Centre, Paris; V&A, London; and F.C. Gundlach Collection, Hamburg. Highly dedicated to his craft, Huene never viewed magazine photography as inferior to fine art and he advised his colleagues to produce pictures “with the idea that someday they’ll be included in a collection of the world’s great photographic art.”
In many ways, Huene lived before his time – he championed strong, modern women and made no secret of being gay. He died in 1968 and by bequeathing his life’s work to his close friend Horst, Huene ensured that his archive would be carefully maintained. When Horst himself died in 1999, his adopted son became custodian. The task has been boldly taken on 20 years later by the art collectors Tommy and Åsa Rönngren. Today the Rönngrens are cataloguing and digitising the diverse contents of the archive and developing projects to introduce Huene’s extraordinary talent to a new generation of photography enthusiasts. They say of the forthcoming exhibition in Berlin:
“It is our mission to share George Hoyningen-Huene’s beautiful photographs with new audiences around the world and we are delighted that this exhibition will be part of the vibrant programme at BERLIN PHOTO WEEK in 2021. The elegant spaces at Grisebach are an ideal setting for an exhibition of Hoyningen-Huene’s timeless pictures. He was an arbiter of taste and a constant innovator, and his work continues to inspire contemporary photographers and collectors alike.”
Exhibition curated by Susanna Brown.
A Timeless Allure: The Photographic Art of George Hoyningen-Huene
from 28 August to 25 September, 2021
The George Hoyningen-Huene Estate Archives
Tommy and Åsa Rönngren are the custodians and executors of the George Hoyningen-Huene Estate Archives, based in Stockholm, Sweden. The couple share a life-long interest in art, design and architecture. Their family collection is constantly expanding and incorporates photographs, paintings and sculptures. They established the George Hoyningen-Huene Estate Archives in 2020 to preserve the renowned photographer’s legacy, share his work with a wide audience, and inspire contemporary photographers and creatives around the world. As well as managing the Estate Archives, Tommy and Åsa are partners at Fotografiska – the Museum of Photography. Fotografiska was launched in Stockholm in 2010 and has since expanded to New York, Tallinn and Berlin, with a mission to present the work of leading photographers, offer inclusive spaces for exhibition and discussion, and inspire a more conscious world.