Who was Elfriede Stegemeyer?


Elfriede Stegemeyer is a German photographer you’ve probably never heard of. Why? Because her work was destroyed during the allied bombing raids of Berlin.

Stegemeyer was a modernist photographer in 1930s Germany. She studied experimental photography at the Kunstgewerbeschule Köln (School of Applied Arts Cologne), travelled to Paris with the abstract painter Otto Coenen and teamed up with Raoul Hausmann, leading figure of Berlin Dada and former partner of Hannah Höch. She was well connected. Stegemeyer was part of that generation of excellent young women, such as Grete Stern and Ellen Auerbach, who only now populate the histories of photography.

You can see from these examples that her work reflected the key experimental approaches of Neue Sehen (New Vision) photography: unusual camera angles, abstracted compositions of everyday subjects, darkroom experiments, an aesthetic of boldness and simplicity.

It’s our loss that not only was most of her work destroyed by the Allied blitzkrieg, but after the war she abandoned photography and took up painting.


Elfriede Stegemeyer, self-portrait, 1933


 Elfriede Stegemeyer, Glass of Water on corrugated cardboard, 1934


Elfriede Stegemeyer, Untitled (Electrical Lines), ca. 1938



Bauhaus posters

I’m working on an exhibition of Bauhaus posters that I’ve collected in trips to Germany. These are not the vintage posters from the 1920s but new designs from the last fifteen years, mostly for exhibitions of historical Bauhaus work.  The red poster above advertises work by the former student Elfriede Stegemeyer. The Bauhaus is alive and well in Germany with two museums and the two original buildings at Weimar and Dessau still standing and still thriving design institutes.

The posters are interesting for the way their layouts reflects the Constructivist principles of the original period, but refracted through the changing taste of the intervening years. The Stegemeyer poster, for example, looks sufficiently period to pass at first glance but would never, ever be composed symmetrically in the era of New Typography in the twenties.

The photo shows the corridor at my work, the visual art department at NMIT where I’ve hung a selection. Soon I’ll have a full show at Grenadi School of Design.