Greetings Photoion students and photography fans, today we’ve got another instalment of our Masters of Photography series for you.
If you’re new to the series, the Masters of Photography series looks at some of the most influential photographers of the last hundred years and examines their life and work.
Today we’re looking at the work of John Gutmann.
Gutmann was born in Wroclaw, a part of the German Empire in what is now Poland in 1905. His career began as a painter, having earned a degree in art and moved to Berlin in 1927. However, by this time there was very little work available for him in Nazi Germany.
So in 1933, Gutmann purchased a Rolleiflex camera and moved to San Francisco, USA, where he found work as a photographer.
His work was published in such magazines as Time, Life, Look, and The Saturday Evening Post.
Gutmann’s primary style was photojournalism, and he was fascinated by the American lifestyle, and much of his work focused on the way of life in the US, with a particular focus on the Jazz scene.
Gutmann rarely gave explicit meaning to his photos. He said that “ambiguity is an essence of life. In this sense, I am not interested in trying desperately to make art, but I am interested in relating to the marvellous extravagance of life.”
Gutmann’s body of work sticks to this ethos throughout his entire career. Many of his pieces are a snapshot of American life during the time, showing people performing every day or mundane tasks set against an interesting backdrop.
A large body of Gutmann’s work comes from his time spent photographing WWII, where he served the United States Office of War Information as a photographer. He served for the duration of war, focusing on the people of the war, rather than the conflict itself.
Some of Gutmann’s most interesting work comes from the series, Human Spectacle. Made up of images taken around the world, the series looks at human existence and includes a variety of images ranging from fairly mundane images of a woman posing for the camera in “Shrug of the shoulder”, to the more visually impactful images of American G.Is and Chinese soldiers watching pillars of smoke and flame rising from Kunming Air Base.
Gutmann remained active in photography right up until his death, opening exhibitions and releasing new collections of his life’s work.