Rose Mandel (1910-2002)
The expansive archive of Rose Mandel’s modernist photographs, a variety of dreamlike, symbolistic and abstract expressionistic images, is charged with subtle meanings. Whether one looks at her documentary studies of San Francisco, close up moody portraits, or pensive landscapes, there is always a presence of a deeper emotional state. The surrealistic experience of Holocaust, war, and isolation she observed never left her visual vocabulary, forming a document of human history that transcends the frame of a specific time.
Born in Poland (1910), Rose studied to become a child psychologist, but due to the Second World War, she and her husband fled to California in 1942. Being “possessed of a strong sense of individuality, deep convictions, and a singular desire for success in her surroundings,” as described by Julian Cox, she soon became involved with photography. Enrolling in California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) on Edward Weston’s advice, studying with Ansel Adams and Minor White, she had a particular fondness for scenes that look somehow abandoned – by the living, or life itself. Drawing inspiration from women Surrealists, Rose’s work often depicted hints of domestic life and a family; however, she distorted this to reflect her own childlessness.
As a master of in-and-out-of-focus technique, she developed a unique vision of the natural world; close-ups of thorns and water revealed the unique poetry she later developed in the darkroom. Well connected to San Francisco’s art world and becoming a senior photographer in the UC Berkeley art department later in life, Rose exhibited her work on several occasions. The exhibition Errand of the Eye, running at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in 1954, was well received by critics. Still, regardless of various appraisals, she rarely promoted her work. Consequently, her legacy remains known only to a few.
Her work can be found Princeton University Art Museum.
By Petra Godesa