Monday, 25 July 2022

Herbert Bayer, Bauhaus, Graphic Design & Photography


Herbert Bayer (1900-1985) was a polymath who was very influential in the Bauhaus movement and studied and taught a wide range of art subjects as he believed in the integration of all arts.  This approach interests me greatly, as I use many different artforms as means of expression and certainly think that the narrowness of a 'subject' can be restrictive and as the Bauhaus movement did in the 1920s, we should be encouraging students now to embrace everything, explore everything and learn as many skills as they can as the the future is uncertain. 

The above work on The Menstrual Cycle is from 1939 when he was discovered in New York, this was for the Schering pharmaceutical company “He was especially fascinated by bodily mechanisms, from the human eyeball to the female uterus,” Lupton writes.  Bayer had to leave Germany after the second World War he was not in favour as he had produced posters for the Nazis and though his wife was Jewish he said 'had been blind' to the atrocities they had carried out.  Graphic design is where Bayer got most of his work and his eye for design and abstraction is what is interesting about his work.  The work I would like to discuss is his photographs as I will be creating photo poetry I really want to explore how to design the images to really express the feeling of the poem through possibly using abstraction. 

In the above image, sometimes called humanly impossible; 'was created [by Herbert Bayer] some years after he had left the Bauhaus. Reality, symbolised by the body rendered with photographic precision, merges with the dream world, where a mirror not only reflects the image of an excerpt of reality, but literally makes it possible to experience the dissolution processes first-hand.' (Bauhauskooperation, 2022) The idea that the process of reality breaking down within in the image reminded me of a play by Carl Laszlo 'Let's Eat Hair'!' which was about the breakdown of language.  World War II and Post WWII the idea of reality's breaking down would become quite prevalent in art as people had watched their own reality fall apart.  Here Bayer has been influenced by the work of László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) who created very experimental abstract photographic images.  As can be seen here the mixture of dreams and unreality/abstraction could really work well with the photopoetry I intend to create.  To create the above image this was the process used: 

'To make this work Bayer started by taking his picture in a mirror. Knowing that every added mark might betray the illusion he wanted to project, he worked to scale. He exposed the self-portrait negative to a 30 by 40 centimeter (11 13/16 by 15 ¾ inch) sheet of photographic paper pinned to an easel in a darkened room, and he then mounted the resulting print on board and worked up the image. To shape the fragmented arm and its missing slice, he painted over the photograph with gouache containing an opaque white Pigment (such as chalk) that acted as an effective concealer and provided good reflectivity. With an airbrush, the turn-of-the-century tool favored by graphic designers, Bayer then deposited an atomized spray of gouache and watercolor to smooth irregularities and create seamless transitions from paint to photograph. In the next stage, this maquette was photographed and printed to scale, signed in the lower-right corner, and photographed again; every subsequent print was made from this third negative' (Humanly Impossible (Self-Portrait) (Menschen unmöglich [Selbst-Porträt]) Abbaspour, Mitra, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg. Object:Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909–1949 at The Museum of Modern Art. December 8, 2014., 2022)


The process here I actually really enjoy this use of paint on the photograph and then using a maquette to create that doll like-like quality to the final image.  This use of paint, cut-outs  and playing with the image in this way could be a technique I employ in my own images and this will be something I will explore in my test shots.  This last composition has a look of Dali and the use of manmade and natural objects and using a frame within a frame assists with the leading line and perspective of the piece.  This feels much more like a painting composition than a photographs and, it is interesting that Bayer was not that interested in the technical side of photography and moved into graphic design for most of his career and it was his eye for composition that really does make his designs stand out.  

I will be experimenting with some mixed media techniques as I experiment with the photopoetry and I will be studying Bayer's work further to see what I can implement in my own work and experiments 

References (2022). Herbert Bayer Self-Portrait. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 July 2022].

LACMA. (2022). Moholy-Nagy: Future Present. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 July 2022].

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). (2022). Humanly Impossible (Self-Portrait) (Menschen unmöglich [Selbst-Porträt]) Abbaspour, Mitra, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg. Object:Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909–1949 at The Museum of Modern Art. December 8, 2014. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 July 2022].

Museum of Modern Art (2022) Herbert Bayer. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 July 2022].

V & A Museum, (2022). Shortly Before Dawn | Bayer, Herbert | Bayer, Herbert | V&A Explore The Collections. [online] Victoria and Albert Museum: Explore the Collections. Available at: [Accessed 25 July 2022].

Magazine, S. and Moonan, W., (2020). The Pioneering Work of Graphic Artist Herbert Bayer. [online] Smithsonian Magazine. Available at: [Accessed 25 July 2022].

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