John Gutmann – The Restless America of the Thirties
John Gutmann, like no other photographer before him, saw the specifically American in its urban life and captured it in images which fascinate with their bold composition, their visual ambiguity and their expression of spontaneous experience. Born in Breslau in 1905 and trained as an artist against a backdrop of German Expressionism, he also developed an autodidactic interest in photography.
In order to escape the Hitler regime, he emigrated to the United States in 1933, to San Fransisco, where he worked as a photographer for German illustrated magazines. With the impartial eye of the stranger he observed what was for him the exotic, indeed bizarre and almost surreal life in the city and coalesced his view into an expression of the “amazing extravagance of life”. His personal style was based on “new photography”, which had been en vogue in Germany before his emigration: dynamic oblique angles, detailed views and apparently random, snap-shot like views of street life, which suggest a continuity of space and time beyond the image frame. Together with his artistic sensibility for the unusual, for the irrational and poetic, he thus created unique photographs of American urban landscape with the automobile as icon, that status symbol of a culture marked by consumption and mobility, at its centre.
The exhibition was curated by Urs Stahel.