“Photographers — idiots, of which there are so many — say, ‘Oh, if only I had a Nikon or a Leica, I could make great photographs.’ That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard in my life. It’s nothing but a matter of seeing, and thinking, and interest.” – Andreas Feininger
346 assignments for Life magazine
Andreas Feininger immigrated to the United States in 1939 where he worked as a freelance photographer for the Black Star Picture Agency. He started shooting for Life magazine and joined the staff in 1943 working there until 1962.
His best-known photographs for Life were compressed telephoto scenes of crowded rush-hour traffic, pedestrians and skyscrapers in the 1940s and 50s. From a photograph of 42nd Street from across the Hudson River to snow on 42nd Street and the Brooklyn Bridge disappearing into the fog (opening photo, top row, left to right), Feininger chronicled everyday New York City life.
Another view of the skyline features the luxury liner United States steaming along the Hudson River (opening photo, bottom row, far left). Notice that is vantage point is almost the same as the photo above it.
Several of these photographs were featured in double-page spreads in the magazine.
Son of a painter
Andreas was the son of painter Lyonel Feininger and was born in Paris. He grew up in Germany. In the 1920s he went to the renowned Weimar-based school of art and design where his father taught. The institution was notable as one of the first that considered photography on a par with the other visual arts. Andreas, who was studying architecture and cabinetmaking was intrigued by photography. He took pictures of industrial age products, especially automobiles.
He moved to Sweden in 1933 and committed his life’s work to photography in 1936.
Andreas Feininger was a skilled photographic technician. He used his craft to create personal photographs of isolated subjects like the gaboon viper skeleton in the opening photo. He used custom-built cameras and lenses for all of his work.
He wrote over 30 books, the first was published in Stockholm, Sweden in 1936. His books include 1954s’ “The Face of New York,” “Changing America” in 1955 and in 1966, “Forms of Nature and Life.”
He wrote a monthly column for Modern Photography and contributed to several other magazines.
His autobiography, “Andreas Feininger: Photographer” was published in 1986.
He has had exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the International Museum of Photograph and George Eastman House.
Andreas Feininger summed his thinking on photography in 1982 writing, ”I believe that the key to good photography is interest on the part of the photographer, not in photography but in his subject.”
Read more inspirational stories of photographers past and present in On Photography.