War Work: The Architectural Photography of Helmut Gernsheim and the Early Years of the Warburg Institute in London

Christy Anderson
Seminar, 10 May 2007

Christy Anderson, Associate Professor and Associate Chair at the Department of Fine Art at the University of Toronto, explores the collaboration between the photographer Helmut Gernsheim and the architectural historian Rudolf Wittkower during the early 1940s.

Gernsheim was hired by the Warburg Institute to document important buildings around London for the newly formed National Buildings Record and on various publications at the Warburg including the catalogue, British Art and the Mediterranean (1948). Through their work together, he and Wittkower — then head of the Fototeca at the Warburg Institute — forged an important, though ultimately fraught, partnership. Wittkower’s growing interest in English Baroque architecture emerged at this time, and needs to be seen in the context of Gernsheim’s distinctive approach to these same buildings. Although much attention has been given to Wittkower’s method of scholarship, little attention has been given to his particular visual acuity and attention to ‘isolated balanced surface patterns,’ as he called it. Gernsheim’s own fame has been based primarily on his later work as a collector and historian of photography. Yet his important work as an architectural photographer occupied him throughout his long lifetime, and through various publications reached a wide and influential audience.


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