The Warburg Institute and Architectural Photography (3)

This is my last post on the topic of architectural photography at the Warburg Institute, having now got hold of a copy of Michael Berkowitz’s excellent and authoritative book on Jews and Photography in Britain, which has a whole chapter on ‘Photographic Practice at the Warburg Institute, 1933-1948’. The key figure, as I had half realised, was Helmut Gernsheim, who is much better known as a historian and collector of photography than he is as a photographer himself. But after training as a photographer in Munich, he left Germany for London where he worked first for the National Gallery – I suspect for Helmut Ruhemann, who was already doing freelance work there as a conservator. Then, after a period of internment, first sharing the same tent as Pevsner at Huyton, then in Australia (Ernst Kitzinger was in the same camp) where he lectured on the history of photography, he was recruited by Rudolf Wittkower to take photographs of English seventeenth-century monuments, including wonderful, very atmospheric photographs of St. Paul’s. But he fell out with the Warburg, as he was to fall out with most people with whom he had professional dealings, presumably because of his excessive desire to be credited for his work, which in many ways he deserved to be, but was obviously against the traditions of studious anonymity in architectural photography. He was the first person to lobby for the establishment of a photographic museum in Britain, which might have been based at Osterley, under the auspices of the V&A. But Leigh Ashton seems to have taken a dislike to him – a great loss to the history of photography in this country because Gernsheim’s collection went instead to Austin, Texas.

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