The town of Dresden has a longstanding reputation in the history of photography. More than a century ago, the town had already evolved into an important place of the German and international photographic industry, with pioneers such as Hermann Krone (b.1827 in Breslau, d.1916 in Laubegast), the founder of the “Historic teaching museum for photography” and photo artists like Hugo Erfurth (1874-1948) and Gerhard Richter (as a photographer).
Hugo Erfurth is the photographer most connected with Hellerau. He became famous partly for his portraits of Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz and Oskar Kokoschka, but mostly for his depiction of modern dance. Here he recorded the choreographies of Grete Wiesenthal, Clotilde von Derp and Mary Wigman. This new art form continues in the nude and dance photographs taken by his pupil Nelly (1899-1998, in Dresden from 1920) and in the dance and portrait photographs of Charlotte Rudolph (1896-1983), a close friend of Gret Palucca.
It is not then surprising that the first East German photography exhibition of 1971 took place in Dresden. The 1982 exhibition of the Dresden Kupferstich-Kabinett also provided a comprehensive insight into the history of photography.
The most recent such show was the Dresden exhibition of 2006 “Humans! Photographs from Dresden’s collections”. More than 30 museums, archives, galleries and ateliers had come together to exhibit photos depicting the human subject, taken between 1850 and the present, from Daguerrotype portraits to digitally produced journalism, from medical documentation to artistic experiment, and from snapshots to the printed photo montage.
The Dresden Kupferstich-Kabinett can be considered the most important center for the collection of photographs. In 1899, the privy counsellor Max Lehrs obtained photographs via his position as director of the Kupferstich-Kabinett, as part of an important collection of objects. (Citation from the introduction by Wolfgang Hesse in the exhibition catalogue of “Humans! Photographs from Dresden’s collections. An exhibition of the Kupferstich-Kabinett, Dresden, 2006.)
Hesse’s text has led to the inspiration to ride the wave of the early history of photography in Hellerau by announcing this portrait competition. Similarly, it was Lehr’s aim to add photography to the artistic education of the people within the spirit of reform that reflected the start of the 20th century. Again we are pointed towards Hellerau, and it is only justified that later the Kupferstich-Kabinett received from Gret Palucca the Kandinsky drawings of her dances, and from Charlotte Rudolph their photographic drafts.
Besides the Kupferstich-Kabinett and the Hermann Krone collection of the Technical University at least one more Dresden institution deserves to be mentioned, specifically with regard to the the city’s photographical history: the Deutsche Fotothek which received its collection from the Sächsische Landesbildstelle, founded in 1924. This historical archive “concentrates on photographs as source of information rather than as an art form.” (Catalogue “Humans!”, p.104) But even here a wide spectrum of references can be found, relating to architecture and life in Hellerau, to the spirit of the reform movement, and dance, rhythm and movement as captured by various photographers at different historical periods.
The competition “PORTRAITS – HELLERAU PHOTOGRAPHY AWARD” would like to invite photographers from all over the world to record contemporary “Pictures of People”. Inspired by Dresden’s rich connection with the history of photography, and to complement the numerous exhibitions and photographic projects, we would like to create a new international center of contemporary portrait photography. The Festspielhaus Hellerau invites you to come and take a look for yourself in February 2018.