Monday, July 11, 2011

Lehnert & Landrock - 1905-1925

Lehnert & Landrock met in Switzerland in 1904. They were both 26 at the time, the former Austrian, the latter German. Both had been dreaming of visiting and working in the "Orient". German travel writers, explorers, archaeologists and anthropologists had done major studies of the Near East, especially in the 19th century, and this may have influenced their decision to settle in Tunis the year of their meeting. After World War I, upon their return to the Mahgreb, they were again in Tunis, and later in Cairo. Indeed, the firm still exists in Cairo today under the same name. A relative of Landrock donated all the known plates to the Musée de l’Élysée in Lausanne.
There have been numerous articles and monographs about their work and increasingly L & L are becoming recognized as one of the best studios working in this area during this period. The photographs were, in fact, taken by Lehnert, while Landrock supplied the business acumen. Lehnert also worked for a brief period (1922-24) in Algiers for Jouvet, although Jouvet’s studio mark does not credit him. Lehnert made a body of independent work, mostly of male and female nudes. They are quite rare, though some have appeared at auctions, most recently in a lot of male erotica including von Gloeden et al. in a Christie’s London sale.
There are several distinguishing features to a Lehnert photograph. Desert scenes are simple, but formally composed (Desert Lookouts, Desert Sentinels) reflecting his early training as a painter and art student. Lone figures, or a group of lone figures are usually dwarfed by sand dunes, forming one of his favorite motifs, the power and influence of the desert and nature over man. There is a large body of female nude work, and of eroticized male adolescent images. Nude with Veil is especially representative of this genre. Such work was exceptional for the other photographers working in North Africa, but for L & L we might call it common. Several important female and male images are posted in the Gallery section, including two rare silver prints (Harem Nudes, Nude with Veil).
The output of the firm was enormous. It included vintage photographs, heliogravures, original photographic postcards, heliogravure postcards, and contributions to innumerable books. See Bibliography below for a list of reference works.

Very beautiful work, at times reminds me of a mix between EJ Bellocq and Edward S Curtis. Without question the models were subjected to the fetishisation (sp?) of Orientalism, although whether it was malicious or curious I do not know. Their more comprehensive exploration of Cairo, and other cities, seem earnest and thoughtful.

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