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June 10, 2014

Beautiful Tomboy Styles of the 1930s

These amazing portrait photos were taken by German photographer Marianne Breslauer (1909-2001), who was active between the wars, a period as brief as it was intense.

Born in a well-to-do Jewish family in Berlin, Marianne Breslauer was surrounded by art from early childhood. Her father, Alfred Breslauer, was a renowned architect and member of the Prussian Academy of Arts. Julius Lessing, her maternal grandfather, was a famous art historian and the first director of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin. In 1925, an exhibition of the portrait photographer Frieda Riess awakened her interest in the medium. Two years later, she enrolled in the Lette-Haus, a Berlin arts academy, to train as a portrait photographer.

Her degree in hand, in 1929 Marianne Breslauer headed for Paris, where she made contact with Man Ray. The artist let the young woman use his studio, but encouraged her to follow her own path, without his help. She scoured the city, taking interest in vagrants, acrobats, Parisian parks, the banks of the Seine, as well as in horse races at Longchamp.

Initially, Marianne Breslauer was under the influence of Kertész and Brassaï. But she quickly assimilated the principles of the New Vision, a movement which liberated photography from its subordination to fine arts and made it an autonomous, objective, and positively modern means of expression, with its high- and low-angle shots, slants and tangents, and its exaltation of structure, form, and light. To see more, to see better—this was the new photography’s watchword. Marianne Breslauer’s own approach was discreet, but intense, and technically perfect.

Upon her return to Berlin in 1930, the photographer began contributing to the illustrated press, both in Germany and abroad. She traveled a lot and also branched out into fashion and advertising. She did a portrait after portrait of the rebellious and androgynous “new woman,” her hair cropped short. She photographed her girl-friends, in particular the Swiss writer and adventurer Annemarie Schwarzenbach, with whom she traveled to Spain. The persistence of the model of the 1920s and 1930s tomboy owes much to the empathic, precise, and sensuous gaze of Marianne Breslauer.

Faced with anti-Jewish censorship in the German press, Marianne Breslauer left Berlin in 1936 and settled in Amsterdam. She married the art dealer Walter Feilchenfeldt. In 1939, the couple emigrated to Switzerland, making their home in Zürich. Marianne Breslauer was done with photography. Until her death in 2001, she would devote herself to her Zürich art gallery and to her family. Her activity as a photographer spanned merely a decade. It was enough time, however, to build a strong, personal body of work. And with style!



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