Editor’s Note: For National Photography Month, ASMP is featuring past interviews of the legends and influencers involved in the early years of the American Society of Magazine Photographers (name changed in 1992 to the American Society of Media Photographers to reflect the diversity of member work). Our third featured interview is with photojournalist Andreas Feininger. View timeline of ASMP history.
Andreas Feininger Bio
Andreas Feininger was his own United Nations: born in Paris to an American family of German origin. He spent his childhood years, and received most of his education in Germany where his father, Lyonel (bio), was a renowned artist and teacher at the Bauhaus. Andreas received his university degree in architecture, and was soon in practice in Dessau and Hamburg. He discovered quickly that in using the camera as a sort of sketchbook for his ideas he began to prefer taking photos of the architecture to designing and building the structures themselves. Even after he went to work with Le Corbusier (bio) in Paris, Feininger continued photographing, sold his first photos in 1932, and by 1936, after a move to Sweden, he gave up architecture altogether and concentrated on his camera work. He shot new architecture and old cityscapes, and experimented with the medium, pioneering many of the special effects we take for granted today. With the Nazis on the march, and Europe in disarray, in 1939 Feininger packed up and moved to the United States.
“I’m Not a People Photographer”
After a year’s stint as a photojournalist for Black Star, Feininger attracted the attention of Wilson Hicks, then photo editor (later, executive editor) of Life, who hired him for some freelance work, and later put him on staff. The Feininger-Hicks-Life relationship would last for more than 20 years and nearly 350 assignments. In the process, Feininger wrote scores of books including Feininger on Photography, The World Through My Eyes, Man and Stone, Trees and America. His photography volumes and textbooks have been translated into 13 languages. In later life, Feininger taught about photography at New York University. In 1991, he was presented with the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Lifetime Achievement Award. His work can be found in the permanent collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (where his photos had been part of the legendary Family of Man show and Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Paris’ Bibliotheque Nationale and the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, New York.
As one exhibition catalogue put it, Feininger’s work “combines an architect’s love of precision, space, and technique with an artist’s love of sweeping vistas … full of towering skyscrapers, broad swaths of road, and angles of geometric perfection … masterful in their technical excellence and panoramic grandeur.” The same sensibility and fascination with structure and infrastructure informed his pioneering nature photography, as well.
Andreas Feininger passed in 1999.
The interview with Feininger took place on April 5, 1990, in his Manhattan apartment.
“Support the organization as a photographer.”
ASMP: There is a picture of you at the first cocktail party. What do you remember about why you joined the ASMP and when you joined? Not too many Life photographers did join. You were on the staff of Life, is that true?
Feininger: I joined the staff of Life in 1943.
ASMP: Who introduced you to the ASMP?
Feininger: There was Ewing Krainin. Because I think he was the one who had the idea and got us all together.
ASMP: You joined because …?
Feininger: I thought it was a good idea. Support the organization as a photographer.
ASMP: To protect the magazine photographers.
Feininger: To give them more rights.
ASMP: To give them decent money, and not to have to work on spec.
Feininger: Yes, yes. And to get their names mentioned in connection with their pictures.
Feininger: That was the purpose.
ASMP: The meetings were very obstreperous?
Feininger: Unfortunately, I never had much to say.
ASMP: You must have had a problem, then, with all those crazy photographers.
Feininger: I never had a problem with any photographer. You see, I let them do what they want to do. if they criticize, that’s their problem. I know what I’m doing, so it doesn’t upset me.
Interview and transcript © 1990 by Kay Reese & Mimi Leipzig. ASMP staff edited the transcript for online presentation.