John Gutmann

Goodbye Berlin, 1933

In 1933, John Gutmann left behind a promising career as a modern painter in Germany to come to the United States. A student of the German Expressionist Otto Müller, he had flourished in the dynamic cultural world of Berlin. But by 1933, as a Jew, Gutmann was forbidden to work, teach, or even to exhibit his art.

The Artist Lives Dangerously, 1938

Encouraged by friends, he set out for the West Coast of the United States. With a new portable Rolleiflex camera in hand, he was determined to make his living as a press photographer by reporting back to Germany on the news and events of the nation. 

The News Photographer, San Francisco City Hall, 1935

Soon after his arrival in San Francisco, Gutmann also began to teach. He secured an appointment at San Francisco State College in 1938 and remained active as an educator there until his retirement in 1973. For two generations of Bay Area artists and students, Gutmann was an influential and indispensable link to European modernist ideas.

Gutmann’s photographs present a unique artistic sensibility, born out of the distinctive milieu of modern German-Jewish culture in Breslau and Berlin and shaped by the politics, popular culture, and emerging modernism of the United States.

Although Gutmann continued to make photographs and films through the 1950s and 1960s and intermittently published press photographs, there were no exhibitions or monographs of his work during this time. His early work was largely forgotten until the 1970s. Over the following three decades, Gutmann’s photographs were shown in major exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1976 and 1989), the M. H. de Young Museum (1995) and the Cantor Center for the Visual Arts at Stanford University (2000). John Gutmann died in 1998 at the age of 93.

These images were chosen for The Hoosac Institute by Jane Reed from her film My Eyes We Fresh, the Life and Photographs of John Gutmann (2006). Sponsored in part by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Photo Credits: Center for Creative Photography, Tuscon Arizona.

Jane Reed writes about Gutmann: “John was not after the fame of Group f/64. He had a more intuitive look at this crazy new culture of all races living together, it was so different from culture he left behind.He loved teaching and being with students, something he did for most of his life. It may have taken him longer to be recognized, but as he always said: “There was a Frank before Frank.”

Contact: Jane Levy Reed

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