Gorgeous images of distant galaxies play across our computer screens, generated from signals dispatched by unmanned space probes, and this miraculous imagery is relegated to use as electronic wallpaper. An exhibition at the Getty Museum of Lyonel Feininger’s photographs brings us back to earth, and makes the act of composing an image more immediate and moving. The New York-born artist was one of the first teachers at the Bauhaus, designing the cover of its prospectus, but he disdained photography as a mechanical medium. When he finally did pick up a folding pocket camera in 1928, he approached the subject as though it were an experimental art form, shooting the Bauhaus buildings and the city of Dessau at night. Complementing these tiny black and white images are holiday snaps of his family and exuberant shots by his son, T. Lux Feininger, which capture the high spirits of the Bauhaus students. The father’s precise compositions and the son’s spontaneity reflect the two faces of a school that shaped our concept of modernism, and still feels alive, eighty years after it was shut down. And, as a bonus, the exhibition includes images by Feininger’s colleagues, László Moholy-Nagy and Walter Peterhans, and a few from his subsequent exile.
Lyonel Feininger Photographs, 1928-1939, will be on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum through March 11, 2012