"(F)or women, whether artists or writers ... the conditions of exile have especially ambiguous or even ambivalent implications." - Linda Nochlin
That Gertrudes Altschul (1904-1962) would become an internationally famous photographer came about because of what Linda Nochlin called "conditions of exile."
Altschul and her husband Leon were Jewish. When Leon was forced to sell his hat-making business in 1939 under increasing anti-Semitic legislation by the Nazi regime, the couple left Berlin in haste and piecemeal, evacuating their son Ernst to relatives in Great Britain, the parents arriving separately in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Finally, in 1941 the family were reunited with their son. Another version of this story of families being buffeted by World War II is Lore Segal's 1964 affecting fictionalized memoir Other People's Houses.
As in the United States, the many professional people who emigrated from Germany constituted a critical mass that influenced the art scene in Sao Paulo. In photography, to name one medium, Brazilians began to move away from pictorialism and toward experimental modernist methods that often highlighted form and geometry.
Gertrudes Altshul found work making artificial flowers; as part of her new life, Altschul began photographing and joined the Foto Cline Club in 1952. Her ambitious experiments rivaled those of any make photographer. She aimed to create images that could resonate universally As subjects she frequently chose stairs, ladders, and construction materials. Filigree represents another of Altshcul's continuing interests, botanical subjects. Soon Altschul earned an international reputation for her work.During the 1950s, club members won prizes on six continents. Though her pphotogrpahic career was short, it was memorable.
With Filigree Altschul has used the camera to convey an intimate relationship; without wanting to overstate my claim, I see it as a portrait. This leaf is like no other.
The Foto Cine Club Bandeirante was a group of inventive amateur photographers that began in Sao Paulo in 1939. Unusually for the time, the club specifically encouraged women to become members. In These were no ordinary hobbyists. Their photo salons won admiration around the world for originality, They launched a magazine Boletim foto-cine that appeared on a quixotic schedule and was free to members and for sale to the public. The magazine fostered an esprit de corps by including information about members' doing,: birthdays, weddings, and club excursions. Those club excursions were joint learning experiences in the field. There was even an annual visit from Santa Claus.
Image: Gertrudes Altschul - Filigree, 1953, gelatin silver print, Estate of Gertrudes Altshcul