London-based SHOWstudio is giving us the gift of Erwin Blumenfeld’s magic through a series of previously unreleased films on advertising. Experiments in Advertising: The Films of Erwin Blumenfeld is a virtual show of the photographer's experiments with film from 1958 to 1964, which makes the final product even more impressive given the level of technical skills needed to produce such work at that time.
An interview with Blumenfeld’s son Yorick, makes for an interesting companion piece to the films. A writer himself, Yorick Blumenfeld offers some insight on the motivations and general mindset of his father at the moment of producing these shorts.
Yorick also provides a blunt impression of his father’s feelings towards advertising and commercial work versus what he considered more artful, personal stuff. In this part the old dichotomy of art versus advertising comes afloat. In the context of his father’s autobiographical work, Yorick tells us that the photographer “felt that much of his time had been spent in a world of advertising, and making money, and he saw this as a form of prostitution,” which led to his self-portraits in the red light of Dutch prostitutes.
The fact that such a prominent figure of the world of fashion is reflected under such a strong moral light help us understand these rare films, which definitively depart from and land on the territory of art, but with the clear advertising aura throughout. This is why he was unable to sell them as TV commercials at that time (although they could probably make it to the small screen now), the paradigm reversed itself and came back to haunt him, the films were too pure for the advertising world, that is if pure is the exact opposite of prostitution in the stiff world of stereotypes (which are no more than empty signifiers).
In any case, the experimental TV spots of Erwin Blumenfeld are not only interesting to watch and extremely beautiful but offer us a vision of advertising that was ahead of his time. Once we are able to strip them from Barthes’ “moral feelings” it is easy to appreciate how the artist (?) had the vision of making something beautiful for his audience, of adding value to the people watching. Isn’t that the new trend, the base of the new wave of advertising?
Thanks again to Mogollon for contributing.