Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The mystery of the Siegfried Lauterwasser Collection solved via the internet

In my post Downfall and the mystery of Karajan's personal photographer I wrote about the mysterious Siegfried Lauterwasser archive of photographs of Nazi Germany, and told how Ryerson University in Canada had not responded to queries about the identity of the photographer.


All photographs on this post are from the remarkable Siegfried Lauterwasser Collection

I have have now had a most helpful communication from a lady in Fairhaven, Massachusetts which does confirm that the photographer of these chilling photos was actually Siegfried Lauterwasser, who was later personal photographer to Herbert von Karajan.

Here is the message which really illustrates the power of blogging, and the interconnectedness of the World Wide Web.

"I must confess to having visited “The Overgrown Path” link via the BBC People's War website —finding that we have some shared musical interests as well. I took advantage of my presence here in the States to call the Eastman House photo archivist, Joseph Struble, to get help with the Lauterwasser question you posed the other day. He is sorry he has not responded to your inquiry sooner as it typically takes him about 3 weeks to turnaround email inquiries (having worked at a local museum with a lone photo-archivist, I know they tend to be stretched very tightly but I have suggested to him that in the case of particularly long-distance inquiries, at least sending a brief note of acknowledgement, if not a full answer, is a good policy to adopt so the person writing at least knows their question made it through the ether! I learned this when I had several European clients during my career at SilverPlatter Information). This is what he told me:

The collection was a purchase from a Konrad L. Klein and it came with virtually no provenance as to photographer or time period, other than it was during the Nazi regime. Eastman House took it on due to the compelling subject matter. Andrew Eskind, the person who wrote the piece on the website indicating that the photographer was unknown, was in the process of researching the collection. At some time post-article, Andy ascertained that the photographer was indeed Lauterwasser and this is what Eastman has in its catalog—unfortunately, the website is not as current as the internal catalog. If you wish to know more detail, Joe said you can email Andy
and inquire of him. He no longer works at Eastman House but stays in touch with them and Joe felt he would be receptive to the question. Joe, by the way, helped with some of the research by recognizing Leni Riefenstahl in the photos.

I have mentioned the broken link on the website although I have suspicions that this is handled separately by another division in the museum and will probably take time to fix up. I also hinted gently that the website could use a bit of updating to reduce the confusion. As a longtime librarian/archivist/database specialist, this sort of thing drives me nuts.

Hope you find this helpful.

Regards from
Fairhaven, MA"


So these remarkable, and intimate, pictures of leading Nazis were the work of Siegfried Lauterwasser. None of his biographies seem to mention this extraordinary, and important, body of work, as Andy Eskind so neatly puts it below "until literally the last year of his life, Lauterwasser had never revealed his youthful indescretion of taking some small photo assignments for NASDP (Nazi Party)."

Should the political connections of an artist influence our judgement of his work?


6 hours later - and this story gets more and more interesting. After posting the piece above I received this email from Andy Eskind who was responsible for the attribution of the archive to Siegfried Lauterwasser...

There's lots to tell about the Lauterwasser adventure. I did literally crack the attribution of the images at GEH by using the internet, and I'm happy to share the whole story. The real clincher is that the Lauterwasser family shared digital copies of strips of film which fit together with those at GEH like 'hand in glove'. This despite the fact that until literally the last year of his life, Lauterwasser had never revealed his youthful indescretion of taking some small photo assignments for NASDP. There is much more that could be done with the project - GEH material on the web site is far from fully (or even correctly) sorted out, but, alas, I was among post 9/11 layoffs at GEH when tourism plumeted, as did government and Kodak grants leaving GEH in a financial pinch from which it still hasn't fully recovered. I could go on and on, but at the moment am working on a grant application due May 1. I barely had time to glance at your postings - but this is definitely an interesting story. I did send Riefenstahl those 2 frames before she died in hopes she would identify the cinematographer next to her. Unfortunately never heard from her. Chris Horak and other cinema experts have been contradictory in their identifications of him. I, of course, had incorrectly jumped to the conclusion that she was in Nurenburg shooting what came to be Triumph of the Will. It turns out to have actually been the following year and the project she barely ever acknowledged working on until prints were discovered in Eastern film archives - details when I have more time.
(and later)
Yes, I guess it's ok to post. My only misgiving is I don't want to offend the Lauterwasser family who were very cooperative with me. I had raised the funds to visit them in Germany when my tenure at GEH was abruptly cut short. They have as much material from that era as is at GEH - it's not entirely clear why it was so arbitrarily divided in half - my hunches in the past haven't always turned out to be correct. When you used his later Karajan images, did you deal directly with Lauterwasser? By the way, the film strip sequences on geh.org were assembled before the family shared additional material with me. The new material in several cases proved that I had put things together which didn't really go together. Mistakes I never had a chance to correct.

Regards, Andy


Two days later I received this email from Eastman House.
Dear Sir,
I do not have any information about the relationship of Siegfried Lauterwasser to the conductor Herbert von Karajan.
The article that Mr. Andrew Eskind wrote on the collection of 808 negatives (35 mm strips) for the museum's magazine "Image" (Volume 38, Nos. 1-2, Spring-Summer 1995) was published before his effort to find authorship of the material was accomplished. Mr. Eskind was very persistent with this and I think he would be happy to correspond with you concerning the process and the connection of these negatives to Sigfried Lauterwasser that was established. Perhaps you are already in contact with him, as I spoke to someone here in the US who was following up on your inquiry to us for you and I shared this with her. In any event, you have bumped up against one of the limitations of our offsite database access. We hope to provide acccess to all the updated information that has been added in the past several years since the Museum switched over to a new Data Management System (TMS) which has its own public interface (E-Museum). However, we cannot provide this at present. I'm glad you were able to make contact with us and I do wish I could have responded to you sooner, but believe it or not, there is quite a steady volume of e-mail inquiries which make their way to me and which I try to respond to in a timely manner along with some my other responsibilites here.
Best wishes,
Joe R. Struble
Assistant Archivist
Photo Collection



29th April - a further update with fascinating information on the discovery and attribution of the Lauterwasser archive – see
How photo archive was salvaged from a trash can
Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

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