The Buhl Collection photogram presents a prime example of Moholy-Nagy’s use of the process to create compositions that are both graphically forceful and remarkably nuanced. At least two separate exposures were used in making this image. For the first exposure, Moholy-Nagy would have placed his hand directly onto the piece of photographic paper and exposed it to light. For the second exposure, the hand was placed on the paper in the opposite orientation, partially overlapping the position of the hand from the first exposure. The merging of the two separate hand images creates a composition that surpasses literal recording. It is a self-portrait whose subject is the hand of its maker.
This photogram rewards close examination, which reveals a myriad of details. The fingertips appear brighter than other areas of the primary hand, indicating that they were held on the paper with a greater degree of pressure. The faint outline of fingernails can be seen, as well. These features create a convincing sense of three-dimensionality. The presence of the straight line, visible in the palm of the primary hand, suggests that Moholy-Nagy may have exposed this image yet a third time, or incorporated another object into the composition.
This photogram comes originally from the collection of the Czech architect Otto Eisler (1893-1968). After completing his studies, Eisler worked in a number of architectural firms, including that of Walter Gropius. During World War II, Eisler was imprisoned at Auschwitz and then Buchenwald. After the war, he returned to his home town of Brno, where he resumed his architectural practice. This photogram was part of a group of photographs from Eisler’s collection, sold by his descendants at Sotheby’s London in 1999, that included work by Moholy-Nagy, Paul Citroen, and others.
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