Image school

As the Michael Hoppen Gallery puts its collection of Bauhaus photographs on show, Clare Dowdy finds out why the movement is still so influential

Anyone who has admired a tubular steel frame chair has enjoyed the influence of the Bauhaus. It may have only lasted 15 years as a school, but as a movement, it is still having an effect in the design world today.

From metal, furniture, weaving, typography, photography, wall-painting and sculpture workshops, as well as departments for architecture, exhibition techniques and graphic design, the Bauhaus Art School was the ultimate in multidisciplinary teaching.

Walter Gropius, who set up the avant-garde school in Weimar in 1919, said at the time: ‘Fine arts and the crafts were not fundamentally different activities, but two varieties of the same thing.’

For Gropius, who was an architect by training, insisted that every student should do everything, from all the various design disciplines right through to the stage productions. It was Gropius who coined the term Bauhaus, which means ‘building house’ in German.

Gropius, Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and the other Bauhaus pioneers wanted to create an ethos and a design to change the way people lived. ‘New objects are designed above all for ease of use and maximum efficiency,’ was one of their basic mantras.

The Michael Hoppen Gallery in London’s Chelsea has amassed from the Bauhaus archives what it describes as a collection of seminal, vintage Bauhaus photographs. On display are shots by the teachers and students of Weimar and then the school’s new home in Dessau and then Berlin before it moved to Chicago. These images are rarely seen in public.

And in some of these photos, the long-term impact on design and the way we live, is apparent. Despite being taken around eight decades ago, these images have an eerily contemporary feel. Some of the interiors shots would not look out of place – in colour – in a modern-day Habitat catalogue.

That too goes for Grit Kallin-Fischer’s atmospheric photo of industrial porcelain, and Katt Both’s image of Atikah cigarettes. It is easy to see how much advertising graphics went on to borrow from this sort of styling.

And when it came to typography, one of Bauhaus’ biggest claims to fame must be student Eliot Noyes, who went on to help develop the IBM corporate identity with Paul Rand.

While the still-lifes have a contemporary feel, none more so than Gerd Balzer’s Prellerhaus Balconies, the portrait shots by their very nature have dated. Both’s dancing girl with her bob and string of pearls is firmly set in 1928.

However, they have a charm of their own and are particularly good examples of the school’s efforts in photographic experimentalism.

Hajo Rose’s self-portrait photomontage is genuinely innovative, as are other photographers’ use of negatives and photograms.

More than 1250 students passed through the Bauhaus doors. Those students then spread the Bauhaus philosophy of art and industry working hand-in-hand. As Michael Hoppen himself says, ‘If you have used an adjustable reading lamp, or live in a house partly or entirely constructed from pre-fabricated materials, then you are closer to the Bauhaus influence than you might realise.’

Designing Utopia, Photographs from the Bauhaus shows from 20 November until 17 January 2004 at The Michael Hoppen Gallery, 3 Jubilee Place, London SW3

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