Foto: Modernity in Central Europe 1918-1945 (Group Show) (5 stars)

Foto: Modernity in Central Europe 1918-1945 (Group Show)

Dean Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 31 Aug


The years between the two World Wars marked an incredibly innovative period in the development of Modernist photography. Today the photographic image is so ubiquitous that it barely merits comment, yet the foundations of this phenomenon were laid during this earlier period, as avant-garde artists and designers began to experiment with the form.

Foto brings together inter-war photographic works created within Central Europe. Many great modern photographic innovators originated in this area, and, considering the number of themes and ideas explored by this exhibition, the viewer may be grateful for this geographic limitation.

Foto features an incredible range of artworks, from camera-less photography and experimental darkroom techniques, to developments in photojournalism and landscape photography. There are wonderful images by Karol Hiller and Walter Peterhans that leave you wondering what photographic techniques could possibly have created such strange effects, while less technically experimental images by Lotte Jacobi and László Moholy-Nagy explore multiple concepts of modern life. There’s also an impressive selection of photomontage, much of which may be unfamiliar to those who can tell their Höch from their Heartfield. While both these artists are represented, it is the work of their lesser-known Central European contemporaries that is most exciting and intriguing. Special efforts have been made to promote some less recognised, often female, figures such as ringl+pit and Lucia Moholy.

It is often only possible to experience the vintage photographic print as an object in its own right through exhibitions such as this, and there are some beautiful examples of obsolete techniques such as varnished carbon prints and the bromoil transfer process. Similarly, photomontages such as ‘Metropolis’, Paul Citroen’s mishmashed cityscape, appear completely transformed if only previously seen in reproduction.

Foto brilliantly demonstrates how the new photographic vision extended into all areas of modern life, through advertising, graphic design, fashion and art, often carrying a personal, political, artistic, or simply commercial message. While the avant-garde creative fervour eventually died away, what was left includes examples of the very best in Modernist artistic and photographic practice.

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