May 2007 Journal

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A salute to Wolf Suschitzky

The appearance of a handsome volume, Wolf Suschitzky Photos, edited by Michael Omasta and Brigitte Mayr of SYNEMA, the society for film and media, and Ursula Seeber of the Österreichische Exilbibliothek at the Literaturhaus in Vienna (Vienna: SYNEMA, 2006, ISBN 3-901644-18-0), reminds us of the impressive contribution Wolfgang Suschitzky has made to the art of photography in Britain. Born in Vienna in 1912 to a bookseller father – his cousin was Joseph Suschitzky, who ran the fabled Libris bookshop on Boundary Road, London NW8 – Wolf Suschitzky now lives in Maida Vale.

The book charts the career of Suschitzky - who left Vienna when the Austrian government suppressed the left in 1934, coming via Holland to Britain - with a marvellously evocative selection of his photos, including such favourites as those of the pre-war Charing Cross Road, of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1942, shot through the shattered window of a bombed house, and the later portraits that range from Alexander Fleming and Aldous Huxley to Guy the Gorilla (of London Zoo). The expert essays that accompany the photographs make this book a must for those whose interest in Suschitzky has been whetted by the recent exhibition Wolf Suschitzky Cameraman at the Austrian Cultural Forum.

Alongside publishing and psychoanalysis, photography was one of the areas of British life that was most significantly influenced by the refugees from Central Europe. Major figures like Laszlo Moholy-Nagy of the Bauhaus and John Heartfield, creator of photomontage, spent some years in exile in Britain, while Stefan Lorant founded the phenomenally successful Picture Post, working with the photographer Felix H. Man. Germany and Central Europe had been far ahead of Britain in this field, thanks to the technically advanced equipment produced by firms like Leica and to the avant-garde aesthetics of the pre-Hitler period, which brought a new spirit of socially conscious realism to photography. Emigrés like Suschitzky and his sister Edith Tudor-Hart, also a photographer, imported this new approach into Britain.

Suschitzky is equally well known for his work in film. He was the cameraman for an acclaimed film version of Ulysses (1967), which conveyed the atmosphere of Joyce’s Dublin to near-perfection, and for Mike Hodges’s 1971 gangster classic Get Carter – hence the nutshell version of his life story: ‘Fled Hitler, Loved Lenin, Shot Michael Caine’.

Suschitzky, a modest man who lets his achievements speak for themselves, never allows his personality and views to intervene directly in his photographs, yet they breathe an unmistakable air of humanity, of egalitarian interest in the everyday life of ordinary people, of compassion for the downtrodden. Today, his photos of London, whether of West End society or working-class slums, evoke the atmosphere of bygone decades with the almost palpable intensity that is the hallmark of true art.
Anthony Grenville

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