WEEKLY DISCUSSION 2.0 #7 - Werner Mantz

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by Norma Desmond, Sep 24, 2015.

  1. Kölnische Zeitung, Cologne, 1928, Werner Mantz
    This is the Cologne Newpaper exhibition building built for an International Press Fair which took place in Cologne in 1928.
    The architects are Wilhelm Riphahn und Caspar Maria Grod.
    Mantz had much experience as a photographer of architecture. He especially focused on lighting and seems both to have captured detail and the authenticity of the original architectural works while infusing them with interpretive power. He thus combined functionalism with aesthetics and responded strongly to elements of design and craft. Most interesting is how his role as promoter of various architects and architecture helped inform his aesthetic and vice versa.
    On a personal note, I probably discovered this photo back in the early 80s, not knowing anything about Mantz or his relationship to architecture or his place in German aesthetics. Since the moment I saw it it's been a favorite of mine, in part because of its directness and symmetry, which more often can come across as static or uninteresting, which in this case seem so right and powerful. It seems a very confident approach to photographing this building. The perspective, time of day, and lighting seem to add to what I call the interpretive aspect of the photo. It is both graphic and atmospheric, which I find to be a moving combination.
    I include the names of the architects because the building itself is so much a part of this photo and so the architects, I think, should be credited. At the same time, I think Mantz brings it to us in much more than a forensic way. While maintaining respect for the original vision of the architects, he imparts to it a uniquely photographic presence and mood.
  2. I had the same problem that Phil had in separating the sky from the building. They have a similar tonality and texture, and the sky looks like concrete. I found another view of the same building, also by Mantz, probably taken on the same night: http://images.metmuseum.org/CRDImages/ph/web-large/DP106521.jpg. The separation of sky and building is more obvious in that oblique view. It also gives us an asymmetrical look at the building - a view in which it's easier to see depth, but also a view that lacks the abstractness, impact, and mood of the frontal view. (Fred, I don't understand what you mean by forensic - could you elaborate?)

    The form of the building seems to me like an abstraction of the presses that are used in newspaper production. I see the balconies as rollers with the shadows beneath them looking like paper with words on it. At other times, I see the building more like the prow of a ship steaming toward the viewer, or a head-on view of a military tank with treads on each side. I agree with Phil when he mentions Rorschach.

    The concrete, steel, and glass, along with the angularity, give the building a modern and Cubist look. A couple of weeks ago we were discussing Constructivism. I'm not a student of architecture, but when I looked online at images of Constructivist architecture I could see some similarities in materials and angles and the Cubist look. I wonder how much influence there was between Riphahn and Constructivist architects.
  3. What an interesting study. My first reaction was " Metropolis" silent film. German expressionism school, but this was a real building. At night it took a futuristic form. The trees or landscaping almost appear like an architectural model. The photographer knew his business, taking an industrial factory with lead typesetting and heavy presses and ink and turning it a fairy tale building worthy of some Tommorowland Expo. I do not know if this is Bauhaus, but it could be. A worthy place for a political press of the Weimar Republic. Real estate photographers pay attention. And learn your craft well..

    My followup thought. Allied bombers blew hell out of Cologne. I hope all modernist architectural building was not uprooted along with museum art. I think also that maybe that the next German regime did not so much approve of this not- so- temple- like building, with no columns and no 'tschotskes', or frills and fluff, if you will.. No gargoyles either. Where are the gargoyles? Seriously Fred, good pick, an interesting photo of an interesting building. With strong light effects. An amusement park level of light. Luna Park celebrated in a 1928 German style.

    Mark, that second image you found is even more striking. And beautiful even by today's standards of design and photography. Sky background is so well formed and fits perfectly behind the structure. Agree?
  4. Mark, forensic photography would strive to be non-interpretive, a more strictly representational approach to the subject, almost as if one were to use a xerox machine. So, what I was saying is that Mantz does not do that, even while being very true to the feel of the architecture. He interprets it, and does so with honor and respect to the original.
    Yes, thinking of the sky as more concrete actually had me fooled for years! The flatness achieved in this photo is remarkable.
  5. Thank you, Gerry, for pointing me to this photo.
    In fact, these days I am writing an article about another Cologne photographer, August Sander. Glad to see another one.
    As the others said, I like the frontality and symmetry. The building itself is interesting as well, in its play of glass and full parts, having glass parts only in the upper part and as lights. As such, it is quite closed and different from what we see today as an office building (all glass).
    I also find the sky striking, it seems that the photo was taken early evening when the sky must have been still blue.
    kind regards
  6. Great choice for this week's discussion, Fred. A beautiful vision of the art deco building of the Kölnische Zeitung building, shot in 1928.
    I totally agree with you on your introductory comments concerning the personal interpretation of the vision, but somehow I would prefer the shot of the same building which Mark provided a link to. This latter view is taken from an angle and not frontal as the one you chose, and gives the viewer the opportunity also to admire the full force of Riphahn/Grop architectural creation and still maintains the very personal touchand vision of Mantz.
    However, without surprising anybody, I believe, that what we are viewing is not only (sic) an esthetically interpretation of very gifted photographer, but also a political statement. "1928", is not any year in the calendar. It is the time where the political confrontation between the liberal/communist/radical leftwing parliamentarian political traditions and the Weimar democracy in Germany confronting Hitlers growing political power. Mantz, like other Hitler opponents looked towards the four big newspapers in the country at that time, Kölnische Zeitung among them, to confront Hitlers ideology. The vision of Mantz of this newspaper futuristic building is a vision of that hope of a force of resistance against the dark forces. History shows that the newspapers did not take up the challenge and Mantz crossed the border for the city of Maastricht (the Netherlands) where he settled four years later.
    For those of you who master the language of Goethe
    I would suggest to read this: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%B6lnische_Zeitung"
  7. Taking off from Anders ' reflection of how subject matter and photograpers of that period slipped out of favor by the dominant iron handed powrs and even became off limits or worse. At odds with the thought police...the brown shirts with the arm bands and their enablers .

    I may be wrong in generalizing on the press here and in Europe, we might have found greater readership and impact in middle Europe and UK then than in US where the big Hearst syndicate had almost all the writing photo and journalist jobs and connections to sources wrapped up( except I think for the periodical that employed Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell, and I forget the magazine name. Went out of circulation by the late '20s. The expose press that kept the powerful feet to fire. And helped after the Triangle Fire to get public outrage nd official action in NY codes ) Maybe a bit more politically prominent in promoting reform and resistance. More than now does not say much of course. Unfair?, perhaps. How many subscribers does Mother Jones get.

    Oh yes photography. We or rather I am / are of late getting acquainted/ re acquainted with our wonderful early image makers, US and overseas- a member just highlighted the sublime work of Julia M. Cameron in her divine portraits. Which still compel and instruct and draw admiration.

    And more. We get to look at twenties and thirties photo artists. Whose work was shut off or they were ostracized ( (Thought Police were busy. 'Degenerate Kunst/ Art came along soon. )

    Maria, good you came. I immediately thought of your special interest in this subject matter and that of Germany. Glad you joined the discussion. Now we have another name to add, August Sander. . His " Soldat" was already familiar, face of the aryan warrior. Sandrs biographer writes that he was not Aryan enough in general choice of his models for the Reich, Sas he gave his 1930s plus attention to landscape and architecture. I found one of his structural steel images I saw before,. has a strong almost animalistic appearance from that angle, overwhelming anyone on the catwalk.. ( Good photographic eye empowers whatever he shoots people or a construction crane or hoist.). Another structural object by Sanders, in links, one of his quite large output, huge output..

  8. Without derailing this discussion and risk to go off-topic, if I dared using the term, Mantz did indeed leave Germany a few years after the Photo of this week's discussion was shot (1928), and the German press (the four major nation wide papers), did in fact not, by and large, fulfil their role as defenders of the free press and democracy.
    However, the German press had a long history of free speech and fulfilling the role of a critical voice to those in power. The Kolnische Zeitung (the link to the article does function - Google the title of the paper ! Sorry!) had played a major role in that sense since its creation in 1802 as a democratic/liberal newspaper, something like the even more open-mouthed "Rheinische Zeitung", the one where a certain Karl Marx was editor during a period. Mantz was therefore surely right in looking towards the press for some "light" during the announced times of threatening darkness.
  9. From a technical viewpoint it looks like the negative was brushed with developer during processing; a fairly common procedure for plates in those days. It's this, I believe, that has formed the streakiness and false texture in the sky, lending it a "concrete" appearance.
    Therefore I don't think we should credit the photographer too much with this serendipitous outcome, since it's highly unlikely that the effect was pre-visualised or sought after. Especially since in real life there would have been a distinct separation of colour between the sky and the building. The tonal similarity in the B&W rendering too I think is down to pure chance. All we can credit the photographer with is a well-judged exposure and maybe a half-decent print.
    The building itself looks as if it was - maybe still is - quite stunning. The fairly straightforward picture of it I'm not so taken with. Symmetry practically composes itself.
  10. To me the frontal view has an appealing abstract quality, a massiveness, and forcefulness that the oblique view does not. The side view is more ordinary, more descriptive of the architecture, more forensic (thank you Fred for the explanation). I'll disagree with Gerry and Anders - the symmetrical view holds my attention much more than the other.

    I found another frontal, symmetrical photo of the building, this one in daylight, and also taken by Mantz. http://www.stadt-koeln.de/leben-in-koeln/kultur/rheinisches-bildarchiv/das-besondere-bild. It may have been taken during the same period as the night photos. The flags on the sides of the building are becalmed, and it's cloudy, so the weather conditions appear to be the same. Perhaps Mantz showed up during the day to scout and take some daylight photos, then stuck around for nightfall.

    From the bit of description at the above web site, Mantz waited for the right weather and lighting conditions to make the photo, which sounds like he knew what he was after and knew how to get it. To say the outcome was serendipitous gives Mantz inadequate credit.

    Joe suggests that the negative looks like it was brushed with developer. I only see the "brush" texture in the sky, so to me it looks like clouds that moved during the exposure. The clouds could have been moving despite calm conditions on the ground.

    There is another web site http://www.academia.edu/1906708/The_PRESSA_-_International_Press_Exhibition_Cologne_1928_and_the_public_discourse_on_the_role_of_the_press_in_peace-building_and_international_relations that talks about the PRESSA exhibition in 1928. If you scroll down about halfway there is a photo of the "pavilion of the German-Jewish press". It is strikingly similar to Riphahn's Cologne Newspaper building. I'm curious to know if there is a connection.

    Also, a couple of the posters at the above web site, and here https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/e6/87/a3/e687a37fe6db096eb34a3540cf4c7956.jpg have a Constructivist look.
  11. One thing the architects had going for them, and the photographer as well is location. I am reading this sructure as a showpiece at an exhibition. So it stands out and is not a part of a Harlem renewal project or a waterfront jungle in a crowded Brooklyn area. That does not diminish its value, just gives it a centrality not often found. It would be like the Woolworth Tower photogaphed before the other high rises. It has power today because of its siting as well as the bold design. Mantz did a great job capturing that. The frontal view is fine. The side view gives it more scale is all. I saw the streaked sky but it did not register much. Maybe it looked kind of stormy. The lighted sign on top adds something as well. Good scale for the letters.
  12. I found only skimpy biographies of Mantz in English, Anders. This one says he had a Jewish background which only means he had Jewish forebears as close as two generations. He was lucky to have established in both Cologne and Maastrich, although Maastrich was not so much a safe haven for Jews. But better than Cologne. I see nothing outrageously anti aryan in his photo output. So mabye it was a business decision. I do not know much about Maastrich but sounds like the climate was better for someone with tainted Jewish background. So many good minds in the arts and sciences were set aside and now are getting attention they deserve. A long productive life. no doubt a canny business man as well as a skilled commercial photo artist.

  13. Thanks Gerry, good article. I did not know of Mantz series of photos from the Limbourg coal mines which all closed some 50 years ago.
    Your article made me look for other information on Mantz during his Maastrich years and I fell on this marvelous shot : School Interior: View from Stairway and Hall, 1932
    In his view of a new school hallway, Werner Mantz turns the scene into a sculptural relief of unearthly subtlety. Straightedged structural elements, shadows, and patches of sunlight take on second lives as pure form, intricately subdividing the picture plane into faceted tonal fields. Geometric, diagrammatic compositions such as Mantz’s effectively lift their subjects out of experiential time the familiar temporal mode of the photograph and into a utopian realm of ageless form.​
    By the way Gerry, Maastricht is well worth a travel, wherever you come from. A beautiful small university towns, one of Europe's oldest town dating back to the Roman empire. It is the place of the annual European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) which might be the most prestigious art fair in the world (next one in March 2016), together with the one in Basel (Art Basel).
  14. I think one of the reasons Mantz deserves so much credit is for making it look so easy and so right, so effortless, while giving this building such a powerful presence and atmospheric manifestation. In giving us such a flattened rendering of a 3-dimensional structure, he gives it a unique photographic presence. So much of his other work tends to highlight the three-dimensionality of his subjects yet by approaching this building head on at the time of day he did, he gives us something much more profound. One thing I notice when looking at the other pics of this building ist the center wall between the balconies. The entire triangular protruding corner is lost to shadow and perspective as well as the already-mentioned loss of depth to the sky. He seemed to want a more graphic sense to prevail here, simple yet making note of the important details that would make a photo of this building work so well. What seems easy to the eye isn't always easy to produce. When I look at a more "forensic" PHOTO of the building, what Mantz brought to the table becomes a little more evident.
  15. Not my sort of photograph...but it does have a degree of impact on the viewer.
  16. "so effortless, while giving this building such a powerful presence and atmospheric manifestation. In giving us such a flattened rendering of a 3-dimensional structure, he gives it a unique photographic presence"
    Really. Its a masterpiece...just thought it was a nice photo, manipulated, in the darkroom...hello real world.
  17. The illuminated frontal view is to me a matter of the effect of lighting. Take the Empire State by day, then decorate it at night and it comes to life. A different fantasy life. Without destroying the sense of stucture. In the case of this Zeitung building I think we need both. Representational for its inherent value, without being too pedestrian since it involves some staging and time of day and angular choice I mean. ( I usually don't reach that conclusion though I agree the night shot is more interesting, and more daring and more seductive in a way ). My thought seems to go like this- it looks great in daylight as we see the details of its form and build and design. And at night when it is transformed into something else, more playful and with a touch of mystery too. " Think Piet Mondriaan with a large camera..

    Disney Electrical Parade anyone? " (If you have ever visited the Anaheim theme park by day and then by night with the kids.. Populist art,true, but great fun. )
  18. Gerry, definitely don't catch the Disney drift. To me it's a lot more sublime than Disney. The building and the way it's photographed have an almost mathematically-sensual elegance. The light strikes me more for its soft glow than its buzz . . . and a different photographer might have gone for the buzz . . . which they so often do. Disney comes closer to saturated neon.
  19. No. I must disagree. Disney was an artist of higher caliber than we give credit. Got to look deeper into his early constructs in animation and his brilliant theme park plan.. It is laced with great popular art with a nod to the modernist school in his early animations.

    And as to his Electrical Parade, which I point out as the transformation of place and structures via lighting, is worth a visit. Go see. Exhilarating, "Son and Lumiere" can also be sublime..Right, Anders any thoughts on that analogy. So, not an argument or invidious comparison making desired, just a point of view something to share and ruminate upon.
  20. Maria Bostenaru mentions some of the singularities of the exhibition building which was different. Today it is hard to get the same idea of design boldness. Perhaps in some of Gehry's daring works. And as Maria says above, most modern buildings are more sheets of unbroken glass panes and indistinguishable. At night they reflect whatever is around, or nothing at all. I do not know how else I would have approached below view of the Amfac Tower, which is impressive but not noteworthy. Except for its plaza below which is noteworthy, but would have to be seen from on high. The newspaper building is a pure factory which was transformed into something of art. And Mantz 's job was to capture that. And our fancy, whether at night for a stroll or by day. So I guess I look at what you call a forensic photo and think,well that could have been juiced up easily in the developer, and is kind of interesting as well, alongside the sparkling night view. Your kilometers may vary,which is just dandy as always:).
  21. I'm not sure if this is what you're saying, Gerry, but I don't see this photo as being juiced up. I see it as being pretty
    naturalistic and I still give the photographer a lot of credit for how it looks and why it's such a good photo. he could easily
    have juiced up this photo with a more odd or offbeat perspective. But he chose a symmetrical and frontal approach along with a
    quiet and even to some extent obscuring exposure. I think that combination of perspective and exposure as well as
    choosing dusk rather than day or night is where his art comes in.
  22. As a matter fact, I think shooting at night instead of dusk could have given Mantz's photo a more juiced or Disneyesque
    feel. The dusk light is what helps keep it subtle, soft and what makes so many of us at first see the building and the sky
    as continuous, the building more slowly revealing itself as we look.
  23. I was not clear, Fred. I was trying, in my loose words, to comment that although I do prefer the dusk/ night frontal view I also like ,in its own way, the daytime shot you linked to. Thinking or projecting back in time, like an exhibition attendee looking at the building. And the other day shots are nice as well which increase my admiration for Mantz. Just saying that the photo print you linked was sort of a bland print that could have been given more contrast. Mantz could have made his angle more imposing even. . A more dazzling perspective or viewpoint could have been found by Mantz for even a bare documentar record shot ,I am sure. He did a bunch. Dusk frontal is more art.. That's about it.. We agree. At night or dusk it is indeed sublime if one goes for the subject matter..

    Again, more effective, with the lights. Definitely. Even enchanting in its way. For a building.
  24. Gerry, sorry if I misled you. The daytime (sepia-toned) photo I linked to is not Mantz, or at least I have no reason to believe it is. Just something I found in a search.
    And I've been to the Disney Night Parade a couple of times.
  25. Disney, of all references !
    Mantz, the poor guy, is turning in his grave
  26. Disney is low culture or pop culture. Just my kind of beer and bratwurst artistry I have to admit. Fantasia animated classics film of 1940 had ostriches dancing ballet...and earned scorn for that, (We here love it!.)

    Per recent American Masters TV special about Walt. He was passionately involved in design of the city of the future called EPCOT, near Orlando FL. I do not know how EPCOT worked out , but it looked to have some brash futuristic designs.

    Now Anders, I sincerely hope our good late Weima,r anti -establishment creative photographer is not turning in his grave :).. Really. We will in amends make him here a good eulogy.. Just kidding as I expect you are.. The Disney studio by the way after Walt made the company product different, less high minded if you accept the artistry of animators. I still think "Pinocchio" ...too long to illustrate, but Leonard Maltin could.. was and is a pop culture masterpiece.

    I will not say sorry that I have drifted well off the photo of discussion topic because we are all loosening our ties lately.. Letting things flow where they may loosely unmoderated or moderated loosely. Casual Conversation, with no toxic talk....

    Ok. Back to the photo of Fred's..Mark Zell's link above to the Pressa exhibiion in Cologne and the expo structures is worth some time to appraise and I am going back to that informative historical link with lots of photos. Fairs are landmarks for all. I missed the 1939 Worlds Fair but I was in a baby carriage. Some fair architecture survives. Golden Gate expo for instance, Any other examples out there?
  27. I knew nothing of Mantz before this OP and was struck by his exposure and tonality where building and sky are one. It adds an enigmatic tone to the image which, after Ander's information, may well have been intended by Mantz if he was looking to the German press to inform the public of the post WW1 dynamic in Germany, impoverished by the peace talks of Paris in 1919 and the demands upon the loser, and the distinctions between the parties vying for power. Does the incredible symmetry of building architecture and landscape speak to the desire for some utopia? It is very symmetric (apart from the structure look at the form and placement of trees), more so than much of the work of the contemporary Bauhaus before the Nazis closed it down in 1933. The symmetry I find hard to assimilate, beauty is rawer and less contrived than that for me - It is simply too much and uncharacteristic of a real world, crooked teeth, grey hair and all. Yes, much Rennaisance style also embraced symmetry as well, but there was always something in the mix (building, textures, surroundings) that provided relief from that.
    Is it a utopia that Mantz wished to describe, or a desire as Anders suggests to show a press of balanced perspectives, or is it an enigma where building and sky are one and thus transformed and / or made non-existant, or just a less than conventional image of then modern architecture? If simply the latter, I would find it hard to see it with symbolic or interpretive values.
    Do we know what the photographer thought (personal statements, interviews, critiques)?
  28. Gerry, HERE'S an example of art deco architecture that probably has more of a Disney feel to it and certainly is presented in this photograph much more to make me think of Disney.
    Fairs are landmarks for all. I missed the 1939 Worlds Fair but I was in a baby carriage. Some fair architecture survives. Golden Gate expo for instance, Any other examples out there?​
    One of the highlights of my childhood was the '64-'65 World's Fair (which was a couple of miles from where I lived in Queens, about 5 stops on the Flushing Line El).

    Still standing are the UNISPHERE, designed by Gilmore Clark and photographed by Nancie Johnson and the NEW YORK STATE PAVILION, designed by Philip Johnson and Lev Zetlin, stock photo.
    And, one of my favorite pics of my mom, at the '39 World's Fair:
  29. I searched briefly for information on the fate of the Kolnische Zeitung building, and didn't find anything. I suspect that it was intended to serve during the exposition and may have been temporary. From what I can tell, the PRESSA exhibition grounds are still used for trade fairs and conventions, and the tower that dominated the site in 1928 still stands.

    Some structures from past World Fairs or other expositions are still standing. I've been to the Eiffel Tower, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute in Chicago, and the Flight Cage in St. Louis.
  30. Mark is probably right that the building may have only been temporary. Such is the case for most at EXPO 67, the world fair in Montreal. The French pavillion is still there as a casino and not far from the Formula 1 race track and the dome of American Buckminster Fuller still stands high in the skyline. I cannot remember whether Habitat, the intriguing multiple housing structure of architect Moishe Safdie (former professor at McGill) was associated with EXPO 67 or with the summer olympics in 1978, but it has lasted well, due no doubt to continuing habitation.
  31. We now have national heritage designation which means, I suppose, the buildings have to be maintained and up to code or as close as possible. So the Kolnische Zeiting had presses and the like and was taken down. Interesting. Repurposing a news publishing building must be difficult. And this was not a favored publication in coming years.
  32. Mark, if your German literacy permits you, you can find information on the history of Rhein Park and the initiative of the Der Deutsche Werkbund (German Association of Craftmen) of creating an exposition (1907), which was opened 16 May 1914. A special exposition on the press (internationale Ausstellung des gesamten Pressewesens) which included the Kolnische Zeitung building and another for the Workers Press (Haus der Arbeiterpresse) was opened in 1928. Most of the buildings were put down by the end of the exposition and others by the end of the 1930s.
  33. Anders, many thanks for the link.

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