John GUTMANN (1905-1998)

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John Gutmann was born to prosperous German-Jewish parents, in Breslau, Germany (since 1945, Wrocław, Poland). At age twenty-two, he graduated from the regional Academy of Arts and Crafts, where he studied with leading Expressionist painter Otto Müller. In 1927 Gutmann moved to Berlin, where he taught art to schoolchildren, participated in group exhibitions, and in 1931 had a solo show at the prestigious Gurlitt Gallery. However, his career was interrupted by the rise to power of the National Socialists in early 1933.

Goodbye Berlin, 1933

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

Before departing Germany to flee the Nazis,

he acquired a Rolleiflex camera, hastily shot

three rolls of film, and managed to secure a

contract from the Berlin office of Presse-Photo.

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October, Berlin, 1933
Gelatin Silver Print, printed later
11 x 14 inch paper size
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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Street in Charlottenburg, Berlin, Autumn, 1933

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

While his family made plans to immigrate to New York, Gutmann set out on his own with San Francisco as his destination, and photography as his new profession.

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Omen, 1934

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

Available in 8 x 10 inch or 16 x 20 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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Self Portrait, Looking at North Beach and Bay, San Francisco, 1934

Available as an 8x10 inch modern gelatin silver print.

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

Making the most of a bad situation, he explored a new life as a foreign correspondent who would supply the very modern European illustrated press with views and reports from the American West.

The Fleet is in, San Francisco, 1934

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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The Swimmer. San Francisco, 1934

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

His work was notably modernist, and his Depression-era photographs were later praised by San Francisco Chronicle critic Kenneth Baker for their "distinct angle of vision."

Of his work from the 1930s, Baker wrote :

"The excitement of his witness to the times is felt in almost every image, but it may be most vivid in a 1934 ferryboat view of the Golden Gate, empty of all but the north tower of the bridge."

Looking from Ferry Boat at Golden Gate with on Bridge Tower Completed. San Francisco, 1934

Available as an 11x14 and 8x10 inch

modern gelatin silver print.

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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After arriving in San Francisco, one of the first news stories he documented was the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike.

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Arrest of an Organizer, General Strike, San Francisco, 1934

Available as an 8x10 inch modern gelatin silver print.

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

His work on other stories was later published in popular contemporary newsmagazines such as Time, Look, and The Saturday Evening Post. Some of his photographs of the Golden Gate International Exposition were published in Life in 1939. At the same time, he started teaching at San Francisco State College in 1936 and founded the photography department there in 1946. It was one of the first such programs at an American college.

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Maintenance Worker Moving Down Main Cable of Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, 1947

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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David Bonetti, art critic for the San Francisco Examiner, called Gutmann's output from the 1930s "his best– when, a young Jewish refugee, he experienced America as a bemused stranger in a strange land. Gutmann fell in love with Depression-era America, which he traveled by Greyhound Bus Line. He saw its cars, its rites and festival, its athletes, its women, its vibrant African American communities and its dynamic street life with European eyes."

Mobile, Alabama, 1937

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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In the Background: The Pimp. New Orleans, 1937

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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The Game, New Orleans, 1937

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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“I photographed the popular culture of the United States differently from American photographers. I saw the enormous vitality of the country. I didn't see it as suffering. The urban photographers here took pictures that showed the negative side of the Depression, but my pictures show the almost bizarre, exotic qualities of the country. ... I was seeing America with an outsider's eyes - the automobiles, the speed, the freedom, the graffiti ...”

 

John Gutmann

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"Yes, Columbus Did Discover America!" San Francisco, 1938

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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Chinatown Streetboy Angel, 1934

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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"I am the Magic Hand", San Francisco, 1937

Available as an 11x14 and

8x10 inch modern gelatin silver print.

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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Indian High School Band Travelling through Desert,  Arizona, 1937

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

“I believe that some of my best images have [the] ambiguity which 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 marvelous extravagance of Life.”

John Gutmann

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Waiting, Mobile, Alabama, 1937

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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Jitterbug, New Orleans, 1937

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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Loading, 1939

Vintage Gelatin Silver Print

9 5/8 x 7 3/8 inches (image size) 18 x 14 inches (mount size)

Signed in pencil on the mount, recto.

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on the reverse of the mount.

“Gutmann's images have a dual nature: they are both documents of objective facts and open-ended riddles. The photographs embody an ambiguous and almost surreal quality. Their deliberately enigmatic content, in most cases assisted by a lyrical rather than a descriptive title, is a constant feature in his work. His photographs are conditioned by his ability to sense the apparent strangeness of his subjects and to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.”

 

(the Museum of Modern Art press release for JOHN GUTMANN: BEYOND THE DOCUMENT April 19 - July 17, 1990)

Bare Backs, San Francisco, 1939

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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john gutmann sick mexican indian herb do

Sick Mexican Indian Herb Doctor, Alabama, 1937

Vintage Gelatin Silver Print

8 7/8 x 7 ½ inches (image size) 18 x 14 inches (mount size)

Signed in pencil on the mount recto.

Titled and dated in pencil on the reverse of the mount.

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Broke But Selling Popeye and Mickey Mouse, New York, 1936

Available as an 8x10 inch

modern gelatin silver print.

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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Vanguard, New York City, 1936

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

Illus: John Gutmann: The Photographer at Work, Sally Stein, Center for Creative Photography, 2009, plate 57.

Gutmann taught at SF State until 1973. After his retirement, he began printing images from his archives, and began exhibiting his work in New York at Light Gallery in 1974, then Castelli Graphics in 1976 and in San Francisco at Fraenkel Gallery in 1980.

Sandra S. Phillips curated the exhibition, "Beyond the Document", which moved from SFMOMA to the Museum of Modern Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art starting in 1989.

Memory, 1939

Gelatin Silver Print, printed later

11 x 14 inch paper size

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso.

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Gutmann's photographs can be found in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., Art Institute of ChicagoSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland and many others. He bequeathed his rich archive of nearly 5000 modern photographic prints, negatives, tearsheets, letters, and some drawings and early art prints to the Center for Creative Photography.