She died in the 31st of July 1985 in the town of Wetzlar (Ger., Eng.), somewhere in the middle of Hassia, where ‘the Dill joins the Lahn’. She went to this place 1983 to live with her sister Berthe (born 1906) after having suffered a stroke in autumn 1982 in Dehra Dun near Rajpur, Uttar Pradesh. She lived in India since 1967 after she had sold her stake in the hotel Oriental in Bangkok she co-owned and managed since 1947. To Bangkok she went 1946 after having served for Free France under deGAULLE in Northern Africa, what let to her taking part in the Southern Invasion of France.
Germaine KRULL (1897-1985) (Ger., Eng.) was born in Wilda, the smallest district of the town Posen, to the engineer Johann Friedrich KRULL of Hamburg and his wife Albertine, born in Nuremberg. The family life was agitated, not only did the young family move a lot through Europe, but the relationship of the parents deteriorated and finally, 1912, they split: The father leaves the family, Albertine moves with her two daughters to Munich and opens a small pension. Friedrich dies 1917.
She learned to photograph at the Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Photographie in Munich (Ger. only), received her certificate 1918 and as Meisterphotographin she opened her own studio in Schwabing (Ger., Eng.) – a kind of German Montmatre. And found herself in the middle of the German revolution of 1918 (Ger., Eng.), the Bavarian Räterepublik (Ger., Eng.) and the buzzing new bohème that established itself in the old artist-quarter. Friedrich POLLOCK (Ger., Eng.) and M. HORKHEIMER (Ger., Eng.), the founding fathers of the Institut für Sozialforschung (Ger., Eng.) and the Frankfurter Schule (Ger., Eng.), became friends of her, as TOLLER, RILKE and Stefan ZWEIG. She calls POLLOCK throughout her life her ‘older brother’ – it is remarkable that she keeps her friendships for long, item with men (and some women) her relations were of a more intimate sort. She writes in one of her autobiographical texts that she “wanted to be the queen of Schwabing” – she was not, but surely played her part.
She marched with Kurt EISNER (Ger., Eng.) on the 7th of November, took the portraits of him that still today are printed in history books, and photographed his dead body, after he was murdered by Anton GRAF von ARCO (Ger., Eng.), who shot the first Bavarian Ministerpräsident in back and head – pereat !
When the revolution finally had been drowned in blood by those infamous murdergangs called Freikorps, Germaine was sentenced to expulsion out of Bavaria (1920). She follows a lover to Russia, but this whole episode is ill-fated, she is arrested in the Lubyanka (Ger., Eng.) two times 1921 and finally expelled from Russia in January 1922. Ill, she finds shelter at a small village in the Schwarzwald at the house of Elisabeth EISNER, Kurt’s widow.
She goes to Berlin. Where else?
Here she’s in the middle of a lot of other women photographers of the age (Debschitz-Kunowski, Lendvai-Dircksen, Elli Marcus, Cami Stone, Else Neuländer (‘Yva’)) – their future ways will lead in absolute different directions. Together with Kurt HÜBSCHMANN (Eng. only, later known as Kurt HUTTON) she opens a studio, and she does some nude-photography that still pops up first when you search for her: If a photographer wants to survive, s/he seemingly needs to picture some naked flesh only.
She meets Joris IVENS (Ger., Eng.) and follows him to Amsterdam 1925, meets the Netherlandish avantgarde (everything called Neues Sehen or Neue Sachlichkeit belongs in this area, go search for yourself, start with Bauhaus), participates in filmmaking – and finally, in spring 1926 – chooses Paris as her permanent place of residence. She marries Joris 1927, it’s a marriage of convenience, but she gets a Netherlandish passport, not bad in 1920s Europe (and still today … ).
She developed an audience already in Berlin and took part in exhibitions, her work met growing success, and the years up to September 1939 see her on her hight, developing her own photographic language, working for magazines, doing reportage, shooting mode (especially DELAUNAY (Ger., Eng.)) – a lot of her work seemingly is still buried in diverse magazine archives over Europe. 1941 the party is definitely over, she leaves Europe in January for Brazil and arrives in Belem (Ger., Eng.) in February.
Sometimes in the first half of 1942 she hears a speech of Charles deGAULLE and knows what to do: She joins the Forces Françaises Combattantes and travels by ship to Brazzaville (Ger., Eng.), where she arrives in September 1942. In French Äquatorialafrika she organizes the photo service for Radio Brazzaville. The history of the Free French Forces (Ger., Eng.) is a bid complicated – as is often with organizations in exile. Germain writes in her autobiography that she is proud of having joined the organization of deGAULLE and that a lot of ‘the pure’ had difficulties later, when le General was forced to make compromises with the Americans that let to the ‘cooperation’ with general GIRAUD – but honestly, in my humble opinion all this has always a bit the air of opera to it: I know that it is dead serious for some people (and deadly for some ! ), that connections and relations dating from this time play a major role in the coming French republic(s), but it was fought out in the desert by British and German forces. Monty won.
She works in Algiers 1944, joins the forces for the invasion in Southern France and photographs the liberation of Paris. In September of this year she goes as war correspondent for the French Press to Ceylon. And as I see it she only returns 1983 to Europe.
She settles in Bangkok 1946 and becomes co-owner of the Oriental (Ger., Eng.) 1947 for the next twenty years, until she moves to India. She publishes articles, she photographs, she writes her memories; she has exhibitions, her first retrospective 1967.
I would very much like to read her autobiographical writings, I am sure that a lot more photographs of her are to be discovered. She was always independent, very political, never without passion. She came a long way, from Posen to Wetzlar via the world. Her biography can be understood as quintessential example of a whole generation, with all her ideas, ideals, imaginations – and all the set-backs, disillusions, disappointments, too.
An interesting woman.
Apologies – I totally forgot to mention my source ! It is the excellent book by
Sichel, Kim: Avantgarde als Abenteuer. Leben und Werk der Photographin Germain Krull, München 1999.
First: Germain Krull. Photographer of Modernity. Cambridge, Mass., 1999.
The heritage of Germaine Krull is to be found in the photographic collection of the Museum Folkwang in Essen.
I should try to sort my books now …