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Archival Item Of The Month | August 2021



Farewell and bon voyage

The medium of photography skims close to invisible death, showing what has once been there and what will someday be no more. This is how Roland Barthes described it in "The Bright Chamber". The German Photographic Academy bids farewell to two of its members: At the age of 95, F.C. Gundlach passed away on 23 July 2021. We remember the man who shaped the German photography scene like no other with a text portrait by Marlene Schnelle-Schneyder in the Archive Object of the Month for August.

Adolf Clemens also passed away in Münster on 15 July 2021, shortly before his 80th birthday.

Marlene Schnelle-Schneyder

F.C.Gundlach | On behalf of fashion - always on the move in the world of images

When Franz-Christian Gundlach entered the photographic fashion stage, it was by no means a solo act. On the scene at the time were several character actors who had already made a name for themselves with the public.

The fifties were still marked by the post-war period, the backdrop of the mountains of rubble had not yet been erased and was a reminder of the terrible war years, of dictatorship and fascism. But the war was over. There was a great pent-up demand for light-heartedness, for cheerfulness and a longing for beauty. Between flight, alarms and hunger, we had forgotten what it felt like.

In addition to a few illustrated magazines, a number of fashion magazines were founded: Film und Frau and Constance in 1948, Madame in 1950. Film und Frau on copper gravure with a gold logo was so much in keeping with post-war dreams. Film stars and the first German mannequins showed fashions from the first German fashion houses. Hubs Flöter and Regi Relang put them in the picture. Film stars Nadja Tiller and Ruth Leuwerik were also sought-after models. The models lost their anonymity and became the Van Cleef or Gloria. I particularly remember Elfi Wildfeuer as a model, who presented herself at that time with a particularly distinguished face, elegance and a particularly narrow waist.

Gundlach seemed destined for his role. Born in Heinebach/Hesse in 1926, he already owned an Agfa box at the age of 12 and soon had a darkroom in his own room. Photography had taken hold of him and he was not content with the supporting role, he was drawn to the limelight.

But times initially threw a spanner in the works. In 1943 he was an air force helper, in 1944 the Wehrmacht, then a prisoner of war and a hospital. But he had not lost sight of his goal. His war experiences were followed by training at a private photography school. Franz-Christian became F.C. and 1949-52 assistant in various studios in Wiesbaden and Stuttgart. Then he ventured to Paris, which in 1951 was by no means as uncomplicated as it is today. You needed invitations for a visa, Germans were not necessarily the dream tourists or volunteers for the French. He was able to place his first publications with a number of German magazines: Stern, Quick, Die Deutsche Illustrierte and die Revue.

After only one year, F.C. Gundlach started his own business as a freelance photographer in Stuttgart. He was initially interested in theatre and film reportage, and in 1953 a fresh wind blew through the fashion worlds. Film and women had engaged F.C. Gundlach and he photographed fashion for them for the first time. He had already provided portraits of film stars during his time in Paris.

As already mentioned, it was well-known names who photographed for Film and Woman when F.C. Gundlach conquered this scene. His success was explained by the expansion of his role. He deliberately directed. He interpreted the respective fashion with his own pictorial ideas, which in commissioned photography required perseverance, self-will and self-confidence. Bathing caps were combined with pyramids, extravagant designer models were set in street scenes, whereby the pose was also understood as a pictorial device.

He was able to develop this signature quite clearly when he joined the magazine Brigitte in 1963. F.C. Gundlach had recognised that a new image of women was quietly developing there. Glamour was being replaced by the working woman, haute couture by prêt-à-porter. During these long years (until 1986) he proved his ability to change, but he remained true to his subject. His pictures are not contemporary witnesses with which one believed one could change the world in the sixties. He pursued his goal of making photographed fashion a cultural statement of the times. He focused on bringing creativity and dynamism to the "still" images, playing the keyboard from formal rigour to accidental lightness.

The remarkable thing about F.C.Gundlach is his versatility: pioneering photographer, collector (long before photography received the consecrations of art), entrepreneur, curator, gallerist, author, editor, speaker. I experienced him at Paris Photo, when he jetted through the booths with enthusiasm and shining eyes, multiplying red dots. His collection: "The Image of Man in Photography" is complemented by images that differ from his own production. Nan Golding or Wolfgang Tillmans, for example, have realised other image worlds.

For several years I worked with him on the board of the German Society for Photography (DGPH). He has the gift of presenting informed arguments at the right time. He combines personal distance with a passion for the medium, vision with what is feasible and an overview with an interest in detail.

A wise man orders his house. The F.C. Gundlach Foundation in Hamburg manages his archive and his pictures, which also raises the question of digital processing and durability. And F.C. Gundlach, "who always looks ahead", has touched a taboo subject with philosophical insight, which has already brought various critics onto the scene. He has determined the place in Hamburg where this successful life journey will find its final resting place.

At the moment, this is not up for debate for the gentleman among photographers. He is lively, full of expectation, interested and open to new developments.

Marlene Schnelle-Schneyder

On 19 November 2009, the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin will open its major show: F.C. Gundlach- the Photographic Work, which will run until 14 March 2010.

DFA press materials:

Marlene Schnelle-Schneyder | F.C.Gundlach: Im Auftrag der Mode – immer unterwegs in der Welt der Bilder

Marlene Schnelle-Schneyder | F.C.Gundlach: Im Auftrag der Mode – immer unterwegs in der Welt der Bilder

Instead of an obituary: Marlene Schnelle-Schneyder's portrait of F.C.Gundlach on the occasion of his retrospective at the Gropiusbau Berlin 2009-2010.


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