Hippo Manchester
November 17, 2005

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Arts: Die fotografieren

Photographer Lotte Jacobi’s work celebrates the theater and arts scene in pre-war Berlin

By George Pelletier  gpelletier@hippopress.com

The Currier Museum of Art presents a unique glimpse of life in Berlin before World War II with an exhibit of Lotte Jacobi’s work, entitled “A Record Of Friendship,” through January 9, 2006.

Jacobi lived in Berlin and shared a love of theater with her friend Eric Weinmann and the two remained friends throughout their lives. “Berlin was a culturally burgeoning center at the time,” explained Currier associate curator Kurt Sundstrom. “They knew people in the theater and would go all the time together.” Jacobi’s list of friends and associates read like a who’s who of famous names – from actor Peter Lorre to composer Kurt Weill to physicist Albert Einstein. “These people were at the center stage of this cultural revolution and she made money photographing celebrities,” added Sundstrom. Much of her work was sold to newspapers and magazines, especially Das Theater, a popular German publication. But all of this came to an abrupt end after the war began and Hitler came into power.

“A lot of her friends were Jewish and they knew that things were going badly and that their lives were in danger,” said Sundstrom. Jacobi left and traveled through the Soviet Union, and was only the second woman to do so on her own. “She was very interested in politics and remained political right up until the time that she moved to Deering, N.H., later in life.”

After her photo excursion, she briefly returned to Berlin before moving to New York City in 1935. “She established a studio there and continued to build her portfolio,” Sundstrom pointed out.

She also continued her life with the literati, theater people and Einstein, who was now in New York as well. And when Einstein was to be on the cover of Life magazine, it was Jacobi that he insisted upon taking the picture. “It’s now a very famous photo of him, at home, in a leather jacket. Life rejected it because it didn’t make him look like a troubled genius,” said Sundstrom. “She humanized him.”

Much of that human approach is evident in Jacobi’s work. Her subjects also included Eleanor Roosevelt, Marc Chagall and J.D. Salinger. “It’s her photo of Salinger that appears on first edition copies of Catcher in the Rye,” Sundstrom shared.

 What makes this exhibit truly remarkable, however, is the discovery of pre-war pictures, which were thought to be destroyed in the war. “It was her old friend Eric Weinmann who gave me those pictures. I couldn’t believe that they existed.” Ultimately, it’s Jacobi’s humanistic style that has ensured her legacy, because, as she used to say herself, “my style is the style of the person that I’m photographing.”