All photos by Lotte Jacobi
Lotte Jacobi was renowned not only
for her portraits of influential people, but equally, for her gift of revealing
her subjects' inner being. She always insisted that her style was "the
style of the person I'm photographing." Hence the title of her traveling
exhibit: "Focus on the Soul: The Photographs of Lotte Jacobi." Originally
this exhibit was on view at the Currier Museum of Art in New Hampshire and at
the Jewish Museum in New York City, prior to arriving at its current venue at
the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. (June 18--September
5, 2004). This exhibition features Jacobi's intriguing portraiture, as
well as some of her documentary, abstract and nature images.
Some of Lotte Jacobi's notable subjects: Lotte Lenya
According to Kurt Sundstrom, Associate
Curator of the Currier Museum, and the person who organized this exhibit, Johanna
Alexandra "Lotte" Jacobi was a fourth-generation photographer in
her family. "Her great-grandfather Samuel went to France in the early
1840s and bought a license to practice photography from Louis Daguerre (the
French inventor of photography)," he explains. Jacobi's grandfather
and father continued the business, and operated several photo studios throughout
Photography as an Art Form
Lotte Jacobi was born in Thorn, West Prussia, in 1896, and showed a great interest
in the arts, even as a child. "She took pictures early on, and later pursued
acting and dancing. But she realized that her talents lay elsewhere,"
says Sundstrom. Jacobi began photography with a pinhole camera at 11 years old,
which was replaced by an Ernemann 9x12cm plate camera when she was 13. She later
used a Leica, which gave her "greater mobility."
While attending a university in Munich in 1925--divorced and a single mother--Jacobi
became interested in the current "modernist" artistic photographic
techniques. Her influences were German photographers Helmar Lerski and Hugo
Erfurth. She really admired Alfred Stieglitz's photography after seeing
it in his magazine, Camera Work. In 1927, she took over the family studio in
Incorporating her early love of
the theater and dancing, Jacobi photographed many live dance and theatre performances
in Berlin. She was allowed backstage, where she took pictures and sold many
of them to magazines, such as the portrait of Lotte Lenya, photographed in 1928.
Lenya was married to Kurt Weill, author of "Three Penny Opera."
In 1929, she photographed Niura Norskaya for "Head of a dancer."
As Sundstrom observes, "Jacobi was interested in shapes."
She photographed actor Peter Lorre in 1930 before he came to America, at a time
when he "finally acquiesced to having his picture taken." This image,
according to Sundstrom, represented a new movement where the photographer would
shoot an extreme closeup of the subject, thus producing a very "humanized"
image. Lorre, as with many of Jacobi's subjects, became a close friend
Marc Chagall with his daughter, Ida.