Grete Stern

1930 / 1932–1933 Bauhaus student

Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Jorge Mara - La Ruche
Self-portrait / Photo: Grete Stern, 1935

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Grete Stern came to the Bauhaus in Dessau as a result of the appointment of Walter Peterhans to the Bauhaus (1929) one year after him. Following her apprenticeship as a graphic artist and typographer at the Weissenhof College of Applied Arts in Stuttgart (1924–1927), she had seen an exhibition of pictures by Paul Outerbridge and Edward Weston – world-famous photographers with a modern outlook even then. For Stern, the question ‘Where can I learn how to do that?’ quickly followed. Her brother knew the Berlin press photographer and former Bauhaus student Umbo (Otto Umbehr), who in turn sent her to Walter Peterhans; Stern then started to take private lessons in photography from him. In 1928, she was joined by another student, Ellen Rosenberg (whose later married name was Auerbach). After their apprenticeships, Stern and Rosenberg founded the photo and advertising studio ‘ringl+pit’ together, purchasing Peterhans’s entire darkroom equipment and installing it in Stern’s apartment for the purpose. Up to 1933, when Stern emigrated to London, they worked as a successful duo in the advertising business in Berlin and quickly made a name for themselves in the advertising and art scenes with their ironical photomontages, which often questioned traditional images of women.

The most important lesson she drew from Peterhans, as Stern later wrote, was ‘learning photographic vision: where should I take the shot from? Deciding the exposure – what should be in focus and what shouldn’t – which detail do I want?’ The Bauhaus Archive in Berlin still has her notes from the Bauhaus photography class, in which she recorded various theories for calculating the intensity of light and layer constants and mixture ratios for the developing and fixing baths – a mixture of a maths notebook and a chemistry cookbook.

Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Jorge Mara - La Ruche
Portrait of Ellen Auerbach, photo: Grete Stern, around 1930

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After Stern had established herself as portrait photographer in London she emigrated with her first husband, the photographer Horacio Coppola, to his home country Argentina. They had been offered to exhibit their photographs at the editorial office of the then popular magazine "Sur" by chief editor and friend to Coppola, Victoria Ocampo, which proposed an irrestibile opportunity for the two Bauhaus trained photographers. This exhibition is today known as the first public exhibition of modern photography in Argentina; it was extremely successful.  

For the magazine 'Idilio' Grete Stern produced a series of photomontages entiteld 'Sueños' (Dreams) as illustrations for psychoanalytical texts widely read by a female audience. Stern's photomontages were still much influenced by the work she had done with Ellen Auerbauch in their Berlin-based studio 'ringl+pit': Ironic representations of female roles are still the central topic of her work.

Grete Stern became, like Horacio Coppola, one of the most popular and influencial Argentine photographers. In the 1960s she photographically documented as the first photographer ever the ways of life, faces and socio-cultural problems of the Native Americans in Gran Chaco. Her photographs testify an 'extraordinary intensity of Grete Stern's identification with her (...) vis-à-vis.' She died on 24 December, 1999.

[AG 2015]

Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Galería Jorge Mara - La Ruche
Portrait of Walter Peterhans / Photo: Grete Stern, 1927
  1. Literature:
  2. Faillace, Magdalena & Richard Haas (2010): Grete Stern. de la Bauhaus al Gran Chaco / vom Bauhaus zum Gran Chaco. Fotorreportaje de aborígenes del norte argentino (1958–1964) / Fotoreportagen im Norden Argentiniens (1958–64), Buenos Aires.
  3. Priamo, Luis & Silvia Coppola (1995): grete stern. Obra fotgráfica en la Argentina, Buenos Aires.
  4. Wingler, Hans-Maria: Über Grete Stern, 4-seitiges Typoskript, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin. Stern, Grete (1989): Grete Stern – Fotografische Ausbildung und Tätigkeit, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin.
  5. Stern, Grete (1930): Aufzeichnungen aus dem Unterricht bei Walter Peterhans, Dessau um 1930, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin.
  6. Valdivieso, Mercedes (2012): Von Berlin nach Amerika. Die Fotografinnen Grete Stern und Ellen Auerbach im Exil, in: Hansen-Schaberg, Inge et al. (Hrsg.): Entfernt: Frauen des Bauhauses während der NS-Zeit – Verfolgung und Exil, Bd. 5 der Serie „Frauen und Exil“, München, S. 212–229.
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