A student, at any age and at any stage, treads a well-worn path. I consider myself a student and I’m on a path. I research and study street photography greats for equal parts advancement in my own development as a photographer and for just pleasure. The path of research, as I’ve said before, is well-worn but with reason. The names link together, one great leading to the next, making the path easy to follow. The names Cartier-Bresson, Frank, Winogrand, Doisneau… they all are markers on the path. But sometimes, the path becomes too familiar. You see familiar sights. The same images pop up again on the mostly digital and sometimes hardbound trail I take. Then something, or in this case, someone different catches your eye and you must detour. Hours pass and you realize that the neck of the woods you’ve stumbled into isn’t that far off the path, it’s just been neglected. This particular neck of the woods I thrashed my way into belongs to John Gutmann.
Gutmann(1905-1998) was, in my humble opinion, a true pioneer in American street photography and his story is fascinating. Born in Germany, Gutmann studied art in Berlin with the great Expressionist painter, Otto Mueller. He then became an art teacher. As the Nazi regime rose to power he was prohibited from practicing art. Being Jewish, he was also forbidden from teaching, He devised a plan to escape Germany. The plan was brilliant… buy a camera.