sees even more
A photographer between art and commerce
Department of History of Art
Birgit Hammers M.A.
The research project focuses on the life and work of the avant-garde photographer Sasha Stone. He published several advertisements under the heading “Sasha Stone sieht noch mehr” in the journal ‘Gebrauchsgraphik’ 1, as an advertisement for his photography studio in Berlin. At this time his career had reached its peak. He and his partner Cami Stone were among the leading functional photographers of the Weimar Republic, published much in books, periodicals and magazines and were present at important exhibitions such as the Stuttgart ‘Film and Photo’ in 1929. In the same year, Stone was counted among the eight most important photographers of his time by the Ullstein Magazine ‘Uhu’. Besides him, the list mentions Abbé, Emile Otto Hoppé, André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy, Martin Munkacsy, Albert Renger-Patzsch and Erich Salomon. With respect to their distinctive styles it said: „Anyone who knows anything about photography will know at first glance whether it is a ‚Hoppé’ or a ‚Renger-Patzsch’, a ‚Munkacsy’ or a ‚Stone.“ But in 1940, at the age of only 44, Sasha Stone died when fleeing from the Nazis and with his death the works of the Atelier Stone fell into oblivion as well.
Up to now, a detailed consideration of the life and work of this most enterprising photographer – amongst others, he lived in New York, Paris, Berlin and Brussels - is wanting. Therefore, it was the aim of the research project to examine the photographic OEuvre of Sasha Stone in all its facets, in order to be able to determine its position within the development and history of reception of early 20th century avant-garde photography. Relying on the principles of an art history based on historical-critical arguments, the artist’s work was not approached in reference to pre-defined aesthetic norms. In the context of this research project, it was rather assumed that the work is direct expression of the artist himself – that is, his intentions can be read off it.
This examination was based on the rather sparse inheritance of Sasha Stone, the very extensive inheritance of Cami stone, believed to have been lost until 2009, and the collection of passed down photographs from the Atelier Stone, the number of which could be considerably increased in the course of research, either in the form of original prints or contemporary publications.
A completely new perspective onto the life and work of the two photographers resulted from the stocktaking and analysis of these documents. While most of the interest of the researchers has been directed at Sasha up to now, some important series, especially the urban and portrait photography, must be credited to Cami. Especially during the 30s, her influence on the work they created together was far greater than previously assumed. A new weighting in terms of the thematic focuses within the OEuvre was also discerned. In addition to urban photography, portrait, advertising and reportage, the Stones, especially Sasha, were extensively engaged in architectural photography. However, only a few of the passed down architectural shots can be positively accredited to the Atelier Stone, which can probably be explained in connection with the publication practice of the times. It was quite common in magazines as well as in books not to name the photographer, especially in those that explicitly dealt with architecture. Often, only the architect was named in the caption because it was simply not about the image but about the architecture. The photo was merely a means to an end rather than an independent work of art. It also happened that photographers sold the copyrights to photo agencies, which were then named instead. Thus, it is quite conceivable that even more undetected Stones are hidden in the architectural publications of the 20s. One possibility to identify these ‘unclaimed’ photographs is by way of stylistic comparison. However, especially in the field of architectural photography of the 20s, stylistic comparisons often prove to be problematic. In addition to the aim of taking a picture which is as neutral and objective as possible, also the client’s specifications in many cases influence the execution by the photographer. In addition, each building prescribes its own angles of vision and perspectives. Altogether, it can be assumed that Stone was not hired personally by the architects.
Like most other architecture photographers, he probably got his jobs either directly from the publishers or from the building companies or suppliers. Sometimes, the owner of the building might have acted as the orderer. In most cases, the photographers took additional pictures in order to have a selection ready which could be offered to, amongst others, the architects. Sasha and Cami Stone made shots of a number of buildings by well-known architects, for example by Bruno and Max Taut, Erich Mendelsohn, Alfred Grenander or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mies van der Rohe, for example, owes him the famous series of the German Pavilion for the World Exhibition at Barcelona in 1929, which could only by positively accredited in the course of this project. Bruno Taut, on the other hand, used one of Stone’s pictures for the dust jacket of his work ‘Die neue Baukunst in Europa und Amerika’.
But the Stones were also among the most sought-after photographers of their time when it comes to the areas of dance, theater, film and nude photography. Being a trained engineer, especially Sasha experimented with the different technical possibilities offered by the medium of photography. The scope of his works ranges from very clear, strict shots in the sense of the ‘New Objectivity’ to distorted perspectives as they were typical for the ‘New Vision’, to surrealistic-like photographies and photomontages. It is just this diversity of subject and technique which is characteristic of the Atelier Stone.
Normally, photographers specialized in one or two areas at most. In his time, Stone competed on a par with artists who are recognized as pioneers of modern photography today, like Albert Renger-Patzsch or László Moholy-Nagy.
Parallels can be found especially with regard to Moholy and his idea of photography as an art. Other photographers whose work has common points with that of the Atelier Stone were, for example, Germaine Krull, Lotte Jacobi or the architecture photographer Arthur Köster. Without a doubt, Sasha Stone thus acted as both a pioneer and - with his many publications - a multiplier for avant-garde photography in Germany in the 1920s.