Lotte Jacobi (1896-1990)
Lotte began taking pictures as a young child, using a home-made pinhole camera. She came from a long line of left-wing Jewish photographers and attended the Bavarian State Academy of Photography and the University of Munich before joining her father’s studio with her sister Ruth in Berlin in 1927. She photographed in the theatre, using a low-light Ermanox camera as well as photographing artists such as Kathe Kollwitz, and becoming known for her intimate, dramatic often experimental portraits in the ‘New Vision’ style. Lotte travelled to Moscow in 1932/33 and documented the city as well as more remote areas such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Her powerful photograph, Shadow of the Tower of the Dead, Bukhara was taken on that trip.
In 1935, she rejected the Nazis’ offer to grant her honorary Aryan status and fled with her sister, first to London and then to the United States, leaving much of her work behind. Lotte and Ruth opened a portraiture studio in New York and quickly established themselves, photographing many prominent emigres, such as Albert Einstein and Marc Chagall, in intimate portraits with their daughters, as well as leading figures of the day such as Robert Frost and Eleanor Roosevelt. She took hundreds of portraits of her friend Einstein as well as capturing rare publicity photos of author JD Salinger and singer Billie Holliday with her band.
Her first solo American exhibition was held in 1937, and she was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1942 exhibition ‘Twentieth Century Portraits.’ Lotte said of portraiture: ‘I just try and get people to talk, to relax, to be themselves. I don’t like a passive, bored subject. I do portraits because I like people, and I want to bring out their personalities. Many photographers today, I think, are bringing out the worst part of people. I try and bring out the best.’
In the 1950s, she began to make abstract images and landscapes. In 1955, she moved to rural Deering, New Hampshire, with her son and his wife, where she ran a studio displaying the work of other photographers until 1970. She bequeathed much of the Lotte Jacobi Archives to the University of New Hampshire and a large repository of her works is also held by the Currier Art Museum. Lotte’s work was featured in the recent Elective Infinities exhibition at The Hidden Museum, Berlin. Her photograms follow the tradition of Anna Atkins and can be seen to have inspired the contemporary abstract work of artists such as Shelia Pinkel.
By Paula Vellet