Saturday's Vintage Negatives ...

As term-time approaches again one of the things I am looking forward to (as well as meeting all our new students!) is getting back into my routine of working with our Collection once more. Most Saturday mornings during university teaching semesters you can find me in the darkroom printing vintage negatives. In November 2015 Dr. Anna-Claudia Guimbous, daughter of the German photographer Erich Retzlaff (1899-1993), donated to the School of Art Collection over 1000 photographic negatives of her father’s work that she had recently discovered stored in her basement - proving once more that there are still exciting discoveries out there to be made for photo-history. An important additional point is that vintage negatives (that is cellulose nitrate film stock made before the introduction of Safety Film in the post-war era) can be become unstable and ultimately highly flammable as they age. Nitrate negatives need to be stored in museum conditions to retard any further decay and to ensure they are preserved for future researchers.

This important addition to our Collection includes portraits and landscapes from the 1930s and 1940s, examples of Retzlaff's innovative colour work, and an extensive number of Retzlaff’s post-war architecture, travel and landscape work. As detailed in this blog, I have been researching the work of Erich Retzlaff for a number of years in particular the work made just prior to and during the Third Reich. It had long been assumed that all of Retzlaff’s important pre-war negatives were destroyed during an Allied bombing raid on Berlin in 1944. Therefore, this re-discovery was truly significant. The negatives include examples of Retzlaff's photographs of German peasants; ethnic Germans from the Balkans and studies of people from the Caucasus (when both were under German influence and occupation during WW2); and a series of pictures of architecture and views of (then Fascist) Rome and Venice in the 1930s/40s. I have been selecting and printing the best of this work to add to the collection (and thus available for teaching and research). Looking at archives of negatives such as these also allows the photo-historian to examine what preceded and followed the image that was ultimately selected for publication or exhibition, the unguarded moment when the sitter smiles, the photographer's shadow enters the frame, etc.

In addition to the Retzlaff collection I've also been working with several hundred vintage negatives by Hans Saebens and I'll post something about those soon...

Cossack, c. 1942

Schwälmer Bäuerin in Abendmahlstracht, c.1935

a selection of the negatives

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