The term Neue Sachlichkeit was introduced in 1925 an exhibition of realist painting in Mannheim in 1925. Realist should not be confused with realistic and the artists had various styles and various approaches in examining life in the Weimar Republic. The art historian Franz Roh called this new tendency of the 1920s “magic realism,” and the Director of the Kunsthalle, Gustav Hartlaug named it “New Objectivity,’ the name that eventually stuck. Albert Renger-Patzsch () has long been considered the photographic representative of New Objectivity. Unlike the painters who were grouped under this rubric, Renger-Patzsch did not add political perspective and social commentary to his work. His camera was matter of fact and the contribution of his book, The World is Beautiful, is the neutrality of its gaze. For this photographer, the world—that means everything—is beautiful or worthy of being photographed. He was particularly famous for his recording of factories, from the functional buildings built according to the needs of the machines inside, to the machines themselves, often examined in their strange decontextualized parts. 

The world of Renger-Patzsch was one full of objects, some from nature and others made by human being, but all reduced to a subject of examination coolly without emotion or hierarchy. In calling attention to the overlooked, he demanded that the reader take notice of objects or structures traditionally not considered “beautiful.” In equating elements in nature with the nature of the machine, Renger-Patzsch redefined “beauty” calling attention to the One of the defining techniques of the New Objectivity photography was the close-up which defamiliarizes the ordinary, such as the unblinking eye of a snake, surrounded by shimmering scales rendering it uncanny. In the same way, when he investigated the workings of a machine, he composed, he framed, he arranged, like an artist, and the unfamiliar cacophony of unidentifiable parts of unfathomable function of this mechanical apparatus from the new modern world echoed the structures of a painting by Mondrian.

Compared to the painters within New Objectivity, the photographers were fascinated with cataloguing. They seemed to want to record the world through documenting what was present in the 1920s. Albert Renger-Patzsch appeared to be interested in naturalizing the unnatural and in abstracting the natural, but, like Erich Mendeshon, he was not systematic in his methods. But there were photographers, who practiced the New Objectivity through establishing exhaustive and extensive taxonomies—groupings of things and people. Both Karl Blossfeldt and August Sander had one thing in common, they studied nature, and, if one wanted to add another similarity, it could be said that both photographers isolated their subjects, removing them from their normal surroundings. 

The creation of a taxonomy, it is necessary to decontextualize to show similarities within a group to establish a “type” or the typical example of a genre or kind. Carlos Linneaus was the founder to the scientific tool, for which photography, because of its supposed ability to document truthfully, would play an important role. At its most innocent, taxonomy was a means of organization and presenting, a part or parts that could stand for a whole. Despite the beauty of the photographs in Artforms in Nature, the book was one of examples. Karl Blossfelt () was a sculptor and art teacher and the purpose of was very straightforward: it was a textbook intended for artists or designers or architects to use as a source book. Although Blossfelt photographed enlarged elements of nature, plants, for example that were too delicate for the naked eye to study in detail, his enterprise was not only scientific in approach but also an invitation to use nature as inspiration for design and motifs. And here is that paradox of putting this book under the umbrella of New Objectivity, compared to Renger-Patzsch there is nothing modern in this work and the photographs are New Vision only in that the technique of the close-up is exploited for maximum visibility. 

While Renger-Patzsch could utilize radical or conventional perspectives or close-ups in his anthology of his world, basing his choice to support his main proposition that everything was beautiful, Eric Mendelshon () had no choice but to point his camera upward. In New York in 1924, the architect followed in the footsteps of Adolf Loos in visiting the city of tall buildings. As an outsider, coming to America from a nation that still did not build skyscrapers, Mendelshon seemed to be fascinated by the sharp edges of the jutting narrow buildings and enthralled by the blinding lights of the city at night. One has the sense of a curious designer, making sense—for a German audience—of the strange new landscape of New York during the boom of the 1920s. At night. the city glowed and was diffused by illumination photographed with a slow lens, an indication that the city refused to sleep. The narrow confines of the island of Manhattan forced architects to call upon the modern techniques and inventions of steel and elevators to push building ever higher, transforming tall buildings into skyscrapers. The skyscrapers were statements of architectural invention as the designers maneuvered between stark modernity and historical references and they were markers of profitable capitalism and national exuberance. 

But an uncanny was unveiled, mirroring an observation made by a British traveler in 1920. Calling America “the land of the giants,” Walter Lionel George wrote, “The colossal scale of New York naturally makes upon the stranger his first important impression. The American does not realize what a shock New York can be to a European who has never before seen a building higher than ten floors; the effect is bewildering. The monster hotel where the stranger makes his first acquaintance with America is itself a shock.” In the mid-twenties, New York was in the midst of a building boom that was wiping out the nineteenth-century city and replacing it with a new city of towering buildings looming over the population, blocking light and air, despite the step-backed designs. Germany, in contrast, was barely recovering from the War and Mendolshon’s book introduced his colleagues to the impact of tall buildings upon vision, forcing the head to crane upwards and the camera to distort and dramatize the great heights. For the German audience, America: An Architect’s Picture Book, presented the future and defined the modern, as memorialized by Mendolshon through New Vision.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.
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