The photographer to Charles Niedringhaus, 1941
To Lawrence Glasson
By descent to the present owner
This unique photogram was originally given by László Moholy-Nagy to his student and friend, Charles Niedringhaus, in 1941. Niedringhaus (1915 - 2002) studied under Moholy-Nagy at the School Design in Chicago, where he was one of five members of the School's first graduating class in 1942, along with Nathan Lerner, Myron A. Kozman, Juliet Kepes, and Grace Seelig. Sybil Moholy-Nagy, in her book, Moholy-Nagy: A Biography (New York, 1950), describes the School of Design during this period as a hotbed of creativity, and outlines the considerable accomplishments of its students, noting that 'Charles Niedringhaus and Jack Waldheim developed a new line of plywood furniture. Within two years [of the school's inception] the students of the School of Design filed seventeen applications for patents' (p. 175). Niedringhaus went on to become a designer for Knoll Associates, the innovative furniture manufacturer, in 1946, ultimately becoming an executive with Knoll International and heading its New York office. At Knoll, Niedringhaus frequently acted as a liaison between designers, such as Isamu Noguchi and Harry Bertoia, and the company's production managers. Upon Niedringhaus's death, this photogram passed to his friend, the artist and teacher Lawrence Glasson. Niedringhaus's and Glasson's modern design collection was sold in 2002 at Rago Modern Auctions, Lambertville, New Jersey.
In the spring of 1937, at the recommendation of Walter Gropius, Moholy-Nagy was invited by an American trade organization, the Association of Arts and Industries, to open an industrial design school in Chicago. Moholy-Nagy accepted, and in the fall of 1937, The New Bauhaus opened in the old Marshall Field mansion on Chicago's south side. When support for the school faltered after its first year, Moholy-Nagy put together a new group of backers and re-opened the school, in new premises, as the School of Design, under which name it operated from 1939 to 1944. It was thereafter known as the Institute of Design. Charles Niedringhaus's classmate and fellow first graduate, Myron Kozman, described the rigorous but open-ended curriculum of the school in this way:
'The New Bauhaus specialized in nothing. It addressed everything: the applied arts, the fine arts, and all academic subjects. It verified the belief that everything is related. A materials experiment might result in a poem. A discussion of economics could be come a photograph. It was truly a whole-life experience' (quoted in Banning + Associates, The New Bauhaus School of Design in Chicago: Photographs 1937-1944, New York, 1933)
The school's unique approach arose from Moholy-Nagy's own teaching methods, in which complex concepts were worked out by the student through practical exercises. For Moholy-Nagy, the photogram process, in which objects are placed directly onto a sheet of photographic paper and exposed to light, offered the student an opportunity to grasp the fundamental principles of photography. As a didactic exercise, the photogram gave the photographer an understanding of the nature of light, its action upon photo-sensitive materials, and the ways in which it could be manipulated. As such, the photogram was at the core of the photography curriculum at the School of Design.
Moholy-Nagy initially began his own experiments with the photogram in the early 1920s. Early on, he demonstrated the flexibility of the process as a tool for both graphic design and personal expression. He returned to the form repeatedly throughout his career, creating a body of work that is notable for its variety and evolving creativity. The photogram offered here, made in 1939, is a fine - and notably large - example of his work with the process. In it, he has manipulated the light with characteristic imagination, fixing his exposing light source at an oblique angle, rather than straight overhead. This deft handling of the light has resulted in the subtle, middle-gray shapes that sweep across the image. This photogram's graceful yet economic composition also illustrates Moholy-Nagy's finely-tuned sense of design.
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