Preview: Gerti Deutsch - Photographs 1935-1965
A woman's journey preserved and on display
Posted: January 23, 2013
The daughters of Gerti Deutsch, a respected photographer who fled her native Austria in 1938 because of her Jewish roots to settle in the United Kingdom, have brought her work back to the Continent for an exhibition held at the Austrian Cultural Forum Prague until the end of April, including beautiful black-and-white photos shot on a Leica.
Austrian-born with Jewish roots, Gerti Deutsch emigrated at the beginning of World War II to London, where she started her career as a respected photographer for the magazine Picture Post trying to make her way in the male-dominated British press. She enjoyed her greatest success as a photographer from 1935 to 1965, but her work and legacy were eventually forgotten. Now, Deutsch's daughters have brought it back, organizing, exactly 52 years after her last big exhibition in the Austrian Cultural Forum London, in a new show presenting high-quality and professional photographs. This current exhibition has traveled from London through Austria and Germany and can be seen at the Austrian Cultural Forum Prague.
The exhibition is ordered chronologically, beginning with Deutsch's pictures as a photography student in 1930s Vienna. She had originally wished to become a famous pianist; however, the neuritis in her right arm made this impossible, so Deutsch took up photography. Her first pictures are in a very traditional, classical style.
Her professional development and shift toward photojournalism can be seen in several small pictures. "When the Nazi period started, it was not safe to live in Vienna for Gerti Deutsch," says Kurt Kaindl, the exhibition's curator. "Like her peers, she was considering emigration. In 1938, she definitively left for Great Britain. Here we can see the portfolio she probably took with her. These are not the classical pictures anymore: It is the beginning of journalistic photography. Here Gerti Deutsch shows how well she could make compositionally complicated pictures. She found a job in London shortly after her arrival."
Picture Post had a profound influence on the development of modern photojournalism worldwide, and most of the images on display were taken by Deutsch during the period she worked there. The most powerful ones come from two series both looking at war. One, called Returnee Prisoners-of-war; Home from Russia shows a ruined Vienna in 1948 with people shaken by terror. The second big series is 1940's "A Child's View of the War." It presents Jewish children transported to London to save their lives. The children appear very calm, as though they have not fully realized what is happening around them. An interesting fact is that Gerti's own children, two daughters, discovered these pictures first in their adulthood.
When: Through April 30
Where: Austrian Cultural Forum Prague, gallery and auditorium, Jungmanovo nám. 18
"We had no idea that our mum was taking these pictures," daughter Nicolette Roeske says. "We didn't discuss it at home at all. Our mother didn't talk to us about politics."
Deutsch did not specialize in war. She also shot celebrities, theater plays and music festivals. There are two pictures of the famous Austrian painter Oskar Kokoschka, for example.
"I remember as a child when we went to Kokoschka's apartment, which was completely filled with paintings," says Amanda Hopkinson, Deutsch's other daughter. "Once, he asked me which picture I would like to have. I chose one with half a tiger and half a lion. But he never gave me the picture to take home, for which I will never forgive him." Deutsch had a bit of a fraught relationship with Kokoschka, documented here by their letters and postcards.
Aside from Deutsch's personality and the interesting topics she shot, the exhibition is also showcases her technique. Authenticity is too rarely found in the too-perfect digital displays that make up most of contemporary photography. At the Austrian Cultural Forum, visitors can admire beautiful black-and-whites shot on a Leica; some of the pictures are even printed on handmade paper. Visitors can also see a platinum print, an art technique done by drawing with pigments.
As a woman, Deutsch was in a disadvantaged position from the start, but she displayed her talent successfully. Currently, her works are also on display at the "Vienna's Shooting Girls: Jewish Women Photographers from Vienna" exhibition at the Jewish Museum Vienna.
Monika Ticháčková can be reached at