Ellen Auerbach

(1906 – 2004)

Ellen Auerbach, born in Germany in 1906, began studying photography in l929 with Bauhaus Professor Walter Peterhans.  Also studying with Peterhans was Auerbach’s childhood friend Grete Stern.  In 1931 Auerbach and Stern opened Studio ringl & pit in Berlin.  They became known for their avant-garde approach in advertising photography.  Their imagery was innovative and daring, reflecting and counter-balancing the somber and bizarre era of Germany at the beginning of the l930’s.  Their credo, as was the Bauhaus’, was one of experimentation; their philosophy was to breakthrough the constrictions of middle class  ideology, and to incorporate an element of Surrealism in the images.

Ellen also became known for her “strikingly insightful portraits” wrote Van Deren Coke in his overview book Avant-Garde Photography in Germany, 1919 – 1939.

Fleeing from Germany in 1934, Auerbach emigrated to Palestine and then on to America.  She continued to photograph bringing to her personal work the spirit of experimentation.

On a trip to Chicago in l939 Ellen Auerbach met Fairfield Porter, an insightful art critic and realist painter, who was included in the inner circle of Alfred Stieglitz’s world.  Fairfield invited Ellen and her husband Walter Auerbach to spend a few weeks with him on Great Spruce Head Island in Maine, which resulted in a life long friendship with photographer Eliot Porter, Fairfield’s brother.  Sixteen years later, Porter and Auerbach worked on a collaborative project photographing hundred’s of churches and religious art in Mexico.  They traveled for nearly a year and covered ten thousand miles of terrain in Mexico, visiting small, rural villages whose churches were already in ruin, and whose art and religious iconography has since been destroyed and or taken.  The photographs, in both black & white and in color are remarkable in their artistic, emotional, and historical content.  This work resulted in the award-winning publication Mexican Churches, published by the University of New Mexico Press in 1987.

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