Karl Schenker was a very much acclaimed master of photography and illustration especially during 20s Germany who later lost his impact and died 1954 in London without much notice from society.
I often wonder how it must be to rise that high and then vanish into oblivion. We see this all the time with film stars for example. But in Karl Schenker’s case it touches me even more. We see a man with true skills, magician like, he achieves unimaginable artistry and because of changing tastes and technology demand for him declines up into nothing.
At the beginning Karl Schenker had a Studio in Berlin where everybody from high society be it aristocrats or politicians came to get their portraits taken. He did everything himself and where he shined most was the post-editing process where Karl Schenker proved to be a master of retouching. The studio portraits were taken in the gloomy style of the decade but with his hands and a brush he managed to add feathery and glowing highlights. The subjects were manipulated to look better and in the end they appeared with slimmer noses and shined with soft radiance wearing pelts and feather boas from the picture.
This retouching talent of Karl Schenker woke interest in the budding beauty industry and soon he got advertisement assignments.
The interesting thing is that I had seen these ads before and only had been wondering about their misogynist message while I admired the beauty of the image. The mannequin have perfect porcelain like skin with not a single blemish in sight. Little did I know those women were actually wax figures which the photographer Karl Schenker could shape to his requirements. Photographing was much harder then and having a model who did not move, only needed some preparation and little to none retouching … A wax figure proofed to be the perfect model indeed.
One main focus of the exhibition about him shown currently at the Museum Ludwig is a very much enlarged self portrait of the artist working on the mannequin of his choice. Lets take a closer look.
First of all I really do like his jewelry a big manly signet ring right in the middle of the picture and just below his cuff links. That’s nice and then there is the perfect set-in-scene. The composition is very minimalist and you can see right to the core of its subjects. The importance for an impeccable appearance on his behalf. Perfection was very important to Karl Schenker.
Besides common attributes of how people looked then with the sleek combed hair and the shirt and such, I noticed the shadow around the eyes. I call this the dark eye of that time and looking at pictures of the era this is a very common look. I like how it makes the subject more sophisticated and brings a mysterious element. It is much more exaggerated on men than on women where we see the shadow mostly concentrated above the eyes. Is this shadow intentionally or can we blame the look on a lack of concealer? Hopefully some of my questions will be answered by the accompanied exhibition catalogue which I purchased on the day I visited.
Above are the steps between the initial photograph and the end result to be seen. And can we take a moment and admire the magnifier the curators chose? They could have put anything there but luckily they decided for this beautiful piece.
This reads little advice for ugly women written by princess Ludmilla F. Sounds very hateful though the content is very much the same as in todays magazines.
Color photography wasn’t born yet so publishers relied on Karl Schenker to deliver illustrations for the covers of famous UHU magazine.
This fashion illustration could be from the Gazette du Bon Ton of Paris. I bet he drew inspirations from there as it appeared simultaneously and was a leading spread in fashion.
As technology evolved people left the set structures of a studio to achieve more lifelike pictures. We see that Karl Schenker did not relent and adapted this style as well. He produced some great editorial shots where he used the sharp shadows created by harsh sunlight to his advantage. Very much in contrast to his earlier works.
Still Karl Schenker couldn’t maintain his former significance and as he was forced to emigrate during the Nazi regime due to his Jewish origins knowledge of him diminished almost completely.
The Museum Ludwig Cologne rediscovered this great artist and bought a collection of his work recently. A compilation of photographs and illustrations are to be seen in the exhibition Master of Beauty – Karl Schenkers mondäne Bildwelten. Shown until January 8th 2017. Images credited below each or they are of private origin. For further information follow this link.