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Erwin Blumenfeld: The Man Who Shot Beautiful Women?


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Le magazine Dear Remy Blumenfeld: what triggered your decision of writing and producing this documentary —a premiere, as far as we know— about your grandfather ? Why now ?
Remy Blumenfeld This is the first full-length film about Erwin Blumenfeld, which seems extraordinary, but it’s true. I’ve been producing television programmes for 20 years. I’ve made films about lots of different subjects from Francis Bacon to The power of Love. I guess I always assumed someone else would make a film about my grandfather before I had the chance, but no one did. So, it seemed both like an opportunity and an obligation, which I was happy to take on.

Le mag The narrator in your film says that “To this day, much of his [Blumenfeld’s] Work has never been seen by the public… At the peak of his career, he shot hundreds of covers for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.” Your film begins with the question “What happened to Erwin Blumenfeld?” After making this documentary, could you explain why some facets of his work have remained relatively little-known until today?
Remy Blumenfeld Why is Erwin Blumenfeld’s work not better known? Why has he not achieved the place in photographic history which many believe he deserves? Was it because he dared to be both an artist and a commercial photographer at a time when magazine work was sneered upon? Was it because he was a difficult personality who didn’t court the museum directors and opinion formers of his day? Or simply because he died before there was a market in photography and so, unlike Avedon or Penn, Blumenfeld didn’t curate his photographic legacy, leaving behind signed and numbered editions of beautiful prints? Was it because the person who Blumenfeld trusted to curate his work passed that responsibility on to Blumenfeld’s three children, which meant that for the longest time, Blumenfeld has not had an active champion?
It seems clear that today the tide has turned and many of the factors that have until now conspired against Erwin Blumenfeld are today finally working in his favour. Quite apart from the fact that his mistress, children and grandchildren are now co-operating more than ever before, in 2013 we are intrigued by difficult complex characters, we recognise that every disparate part of Blumenfeld’s work, the collages, the writing, the art photography, the portraits and the fashion photography are all an expression of an extraordinary artistic odyssey.

Le mag The Jeu de Paume is going to show Erwin Blumenfeld’s photographs, drawings and photomontages. The exhibition highlights and brings together different creative phases (and the different media used by Blumenfeld) of a complex career that goes along the major events of twentieth century. His overwhelming desire to write and publish an autobiography, which is very personal and intimate, certainly met the frustration felt in his work as a fashion photographer and his desire to be understood as an artist. Did you feel that Erwin Blumenfeld had to be re-assessed by curators, historians and more generally by all the photography and art lovers?
Remy Blumenfeld Blumenfeld saw himself first and foremost as an artist at a time when photography was not yet considered as an art form. The fact that he became famous as a commercial photographer did not help his reputation as an artist, neither during his lifetime nor in the decades after his death when photography was still trying to establish itself. In the end, it is largely thanks to the timeless beauty of Blumenfeld’s work, which still looks futuristic today, as well as the fact that so many prints survive, that means Blumenfeld is able to be re-assesed by a new generation of curators. Writing in the Financial Times, Francis Hodgson, who is undoubtedly one of the foremost writers about photography today, said recently that Blumenfeld was « a more brilliant experimenter in photography than Man Ray and outdid Irving Penn as a pioneer in fashion. » Hodgson goes on to say, “It is an accident that he is no longer very well known, not a true reflection of his level. A number of Blumenfeld’s inventions have become standard tropes not only in fashion, but also in picture-making generally.”

Le mag Your film is entitled Erwin Blumenfeld: The Man Who Shot Beautiful Women. Why did you chose to put forward this aspect of his art? Isn’t there any counterpart to this devotion to Beauty?
Remy Blumenfeld We called the film The Man Who Shot Beautiful Women, because in many parts of the world Blumenfeld’s name, as you’ve suggested, is not well known outside of photographic or fashion circles. But, you’re quite right, we could have called the film « The man in the mirror » or « The man who was haunted by ugliness » but the pursuit of beauty, the fetish for beauty as Bill Ewing titled his book, was certainly the most overriding and enduring theme in Blumenfeld’s work.

> In the auditorium of the Jeu de Paume on Tuesday, October 15th at 7:00 p.m., screening of the documentary Erwin Blumenfeld: The Man Who Shot Beautiful Women (BBC, 2013, 60’, in English, no subtitles). With director Nick Watson and producer Remy Blumenfeld.




Credits:

Narrated by Erin O’Connor
Executive Producer Mike Poole
Directed and Edited by Nick Watson
Written and Produced by Remy Blumenfeld
Remy Blumenfeld’s documentary Erwin Blumenfeld: The Man Who Shot Beautiful Women was primarily broadcasted on BBC Four on Tuesday 21 May 2013.

Biography

Remy Blumenfeld is a leading television producer, responsible for creating more than 30 original TV series many of which have been sold around the world. He is the founder of Brighter Picures, one of the UK’s most successful TV production companies which he sold to Endemol. Later at ITV, the UK’s largest commercial network, he built their Studios’ Global Formats division. Throughout his career, Remy also curated and produced one-off documentary films such as THE MAN WHO SHOT BEAUTIFUL WOMEN (BBC4), THE OTHER FRANCIS BACON (Channel4), THE DARK MATTER OF LOVE (BBC4), CAUGHT ON CAMERA (ITV1), LOOKING LIKE DIANA (Channel4) and the UK Gold.
In September 2010 Remy was named by his peers as one of the world’s top 5 « Format Kings. » The Independent newspaper has twice named Remy one of the top 20 most influential gay men or women in the UK and in 2012 the Sydney Herald named him as one of the top 10 Reality Show Villains of all time. He has advised TF1, France’s largest broadcaster on their editorial strategy and has worked with Cap Gemini and the London Business School on creativity and Entrepreneur-ship.

Links

Exhibition “Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969)”
Erwin Blumenfeld Estate
“The extraordinary story of Erwin Blumenfeld” by Tamsin Blanchard on Telegraph.co.uk

Image on the homepage: Screenshot from the film Erwin Blumenfeld: The Man Who Shot Beautiful Women. Erwin Blumenfeld, untitled, 1947 (detail). Cadwallader dress. Model: Leslie Petersen.