Otto Steinert: 1915-1978, Subjective Photography

Otto Steinert, a German medical doctor and photographer who worked for the State School of Arts and Crafts, founded the Fotoform photography group in 1949. Then went on to teach at the Folkwag Hochschule of Design in Essen. He abandoned medicine to become a photographer in 1947 and focused on portraits. The Fotoform group primarily created abstract images from closeups of patterns from nature, in the group were: Peter Keetman, Siegfried Lauterwasser, Wolfgang Reisewitz, Toni Schneiders, and Ludwig Windstosser. However, he abandoned the group in the 1950s and eventually became the director of Staatliche Werkunstule. During this period, he was the director of Folkswagshule in Essen.

His influential exhibitions in the 50s called Subjective Fotografie emphasized abstraction and included László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray.

His description of subjective photography is expressed in some of the following quotes from his writings:

  • Photographs composed with regard to their form and content.
  • The frame-work embracing all aspects of individual photographic creation from the non-objective photograph to profound an aesthetically satisfying reportage.
  • “Humanized, individualized photography and implies the handling of a camera in order to win from the single object the views expressive of its character.” (pages 26, 27. Otto Steinert’s text)

Subjective Photography attempts to overcome the distinction between “straight photograph” and “experimental photography” by superseding it with the concept of selection. A photographer working from a subjective photograph includes both straight and experimental photography but focuses on how the photographer selects.

Steinert focused on experimental methods such as photograms, highly reduced black and white images, extensively cropped images and multiple exposures mostly carried out in the darkroom. 

Steinert’s approach to photography, he felt, can be distinguished by five elements: the act of isolating an image from nature; the transformation that occurs through the optics of lenses (which, unlike the human eye, is a static capture rather than a roving focus and peripheral impressions); transposition of the tone and colour; and how a photograph isolates the temporal.