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Ellen Auerbach

  • When she arrived in New York in 1937, the German-born photographer Ellen Auerbach (formerly Rosenberg) had already passed through exile stations in Palestine and Great Britain.
  • Given name:
  • Last name:
  • Alternative names:

    Ellen Margarete Rosenberg

  • Date of Birth:
  • Place of Birth:
    Karlsruhe (DE)
  • Date of Death:
  • Place of Death:
    New York City (US)
  • Profession:
  • Introduction:

    When she arrived in New York in 1937, the German-born photographer Ellen Auerbach (formerly Rosenberg) had already passed through exile stations in Palestine and Great Britain.

    Word Count: 25

  • Signature Image:
    Ellen Auerbach, Selbstportrait, cropped detail (Ellen Auerbach auf einer Liege sitzend, sich selbst im Spiegel fotografierend), New York 1950 (©Akademie der Künste, Berlin / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021).
  • Content:

    The variety of data that can exist about a person who has moved residence multiple times, including within the same city, is exemplified by Ellen Auerbach's life as an emigrant in the United States. The unjustly still-forgotten photographer arrived in New York in 1937, after stays in Palestine and London, with her husband Walter Auerbach. Some biographies recount that the couple went directly to live in Philadelphia, but through correspondence and images, it can be deduced that Ellen and Walter Auerbach first stayed at The Latham Hotel in Midtown Manhattan before moving across the river to the Clinton Hill district of Brooklyn (211 Clermont Street). Whereas, even in the 1930s, Manhattan was already the most densely populated borough and the centre of New York City, Brooklyn’s population was still growing, making it an attractive and affordable residential choice for people wishing to settle there. In the near vicinity of the Auerbachs' residence was the Pratt Institute, an art and industrial school, and the main focus in the area. The neighbourhood was comprised of houses and apartments in shingle, clapboard, brick, limestone and brownstone and was inhabited by a large number of architects, artists, photographers and craftspeople of different ethnicities and cultures. The Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges were only a twenty-minute walk away and it was there that that the first of Ellen Auerbach’s few pictures of the metropolis were taken. In one particular view, she focused on the densely built-up settlement, and the staggering of the houses. Interestingly, she cut out the high-rise buildings, more interested in the density and extent of development than in the skyscrapers and other New York landmarks, which are only a faint, grey blur in the background and difficult to recognise. The images seem like montages, with the houses merging into a large mosaic, and it is difficult to recognise where one house or facade begins, or the height of a building. Another image was taken as she stood on the Brooklyn Bridge looking towards the north-eastern part of the Manhattan Bridge and shows an image of the docks against the familiar Manhattan cityscape. Other motifs were the Brooklyn coal loading dock and the black community on the street.

    Already in Tel Aviv (1933-1936) and London (1936/37) Ellen Auerbach had taken pictures of the city from a high vantage point, primarily to gain an overview and orientation, but also to allow her to record various architectural transformations. In London she made a series of bird's eye view photographs, focusing on the hustle and bustle and traffic of Oxford Circus and Upper Regent Street. Other photographers who had their first exil stop in London before emigration to New York were Trude Fleischmann, Henry Rox, Tim Gidal. Furthermore, there were a dense German émigré photo scene in London, where for example the magazine Picture Post by Stefan Lorant was created or also the photographers Wolf Suschitzky, Lázsló Moholy-Nagy, Gerty Simonas well as Edith Tudor-Hart worked.

    Before marrying and changing her name to Auerbach, Ellen Rosenberg, who was born in Karlsruhe in a Jewish family middle class, studied sculpture in at the Karlsruher Kunstakademie under the professors Karl Hubbuch, Scholtz, Schreyogg and  Speck and in Stuttgart . In 1929 she went for one year at the Kunstakademie Stuttgart before she moved to Berlin where she learned photography in  under Walter Peterhans, who became professor at the Bauhaus in Dessau for Photography. In 1930, together with Grete Stern, who also studied under Walter Peterhans, she founded the ringl+pit photo studio, which was very much characterised by an artistic-experimental approach. Interestingly, also Lux Feininger saw Walter Peterhans like a mentor for his photographic work. Beside photography Ellen Rosenberg made also experiments in film with a 16mm camera. Anti-Semitic persecution forced Rosenberg to leave Germany and, instead of her original goal of America, she managed to escape to Palestine in 1933. Together with her childhood friend Liselotte Grschebina (whom she knew from Karlsruhe) she established the “Ishon” studio, specialising in child photography, in the modern and newly-built centre of Tel Aviv. In addition, she began to explore the city for the first time with her camera. Her subjects were the modern buildings of Tel Aviv, traditional life in Jaffa, and views of the city from above, all captured in new perspectives and with an experimental outdoors approach. She also made films with Walter Auerbach. Due to the Arab uprisings and the economic hardships of 1936, the previously flourishing business of the studio abruptly collapsed.

    While Ellen Rosenberg emigrate to her friend Grete Stern in London in 1936, Walter Auerbach arranged the dissolution of the studio, then joined her in London. In London, she tried to took over the commercial photographic studio and business of Grete Stern, who emigrated to Buenos Aires together with her husband Horacio Coppola, but it failed. There is a series of photographs from the London period showing the writer Bertolt Brecht, who was photographed by Ellen Auerbach and Grete Stern during his stay in London. When the British Home Office denied Ellen Rosenberg and Walter Auerbach the required residence and work permits, the couple were no longer able to stay in London and made plans to emigrate to America. In order to speed up the bureaucratic process and gain one instead of two visas, the couple married on 27 February, 1937, to with Ellen adopting the name Auerbach from then on and signed her photographs with this surname.

    After spending the summer of 1937 in Brooklyn New York, the couple moved to Elkins Park in Philadelphia. Through Ellen Auerbach's paternal relatives, they were able to live rent-free in a house with a garden in this Philadelphia suburb. A first assignment to photograph furniture for a renowned antique furniture store fell through due to technical problems (Lotte Jacobi apparently gave tips?). Ellen Auerbach tried to make a name for herself in the field of baby and child photography, as she had in Tel Aviv, and one of her photographs was chosen for the cover of Life magazine (28 November 1938), a great honour and a mark of recognition for any photographer. However, she did not see herself as a commercial photographer, meeting the demands of agencies and magazines, but rather as an artistic photographer. In addition to taking up a position as a reproduction photographer and technical assistant to the art collector Lessing J. Rosenwald, she also experimented with different photo techniques as Infrared, color and ultra and photographed the landscape and nature of her everyday life environment in Elkins Park and Maine, where her friend, the painter Fairfield Porter (the brother of the photographer Eliot Porter), and his family had a summer home.

    Despite the move to Philadelphia, the Auerbach’s often visited New York to meet up with other emigrated friends. During these trips, Ellen Auerbach also made a small number of photographs of the city, but also details as shopwindows. Through Edwin Denby, whom Ellen Auerbach had already photographed in Berlin, the Auerbach’s met the Swiss émigré photographer Rudy Burckhardt, who in turn introduced them to his neighbour, the Dutch émigré painter Willem de Kooning. A friendship and close artistic exchange developed between them, with each buying artworks from the other. During the 1940s, Ellen Auerbach carried out a number of photographic experiments, created colourful and surrealistic collages, drew cartons and wrote short stories. Always very open to experimentation, she found these artistic conversations inspiring.

    In 1944 Ellen Auerbach, whereas Walter Auerbach was drafted in the army, moved back to New York, where to 116 West 21st Street, where she lived in a part of the studio of the painter Fairfield Porter before she took over the whole studio. She was a close neighbour of Rudy Burckhardt, Edwin Denby and Elaine and Willem de Kooning, the sculptor Edith Thompson, who was married to the émigré sculptor Emil „Izzy“ Sher . In 1944, she made a portrait series of the young painter couple in their studio – documenting their early years, shortly before their adoption of Abstract Expressionism. She also produced images that document the inspirational artistic encounters in their Chelsea lofts. Rudy Burckhardt also documented the de Kooning’s, as well as other young American painters, such as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. During this time, Ellen continued to photograph views of the city, focusing on how the cityscape was changing and transforming during the post-war era. Favourite motifs were construction sights viewed from above, everyday streets with people and merchants, and the neighbourhoods around the bridges.

    Ellen Auerbach moved house again, though she remained in New York, and lived between 1951 and 1953 in Yorkville (338 East 39th Street). Shooting on the roof of her apartment building and using the city as a backdrop, she captured a large series of the dancer Renate Schottelius. Renate Schottelius was the wife of Ellen Auerbach’s brother Walter Auerbach, whom she had met on a trip to Buenos Aires in 1945, and already in front of Ellen Auerbach's camera in Argentina. It was on this trip, where Ellen Auerbach also met up again with Grete Stern. Ellen Auerbach's dance shoots with Schottelius bring to mind the dance photographs of the emigrant photographer Marion Palfi, who, in the mid-1940s, photographed the dancer Sono Osato in action on the rooftops of New York, capturing the way the body’s movement echoed the skyline and the roofs. Auerbach’s modern, avant-garde rendition of the physicality of dance also reflected the progressive dance scene of emigrated female dancers in New York as well as other émigré photographers as Gerda Peterich or Lotte Jacobi photographing this scene in expressiv images.

    After a trip to Europe – her first European post-emigration trip abroad – where she visited Greece and Italy and Karlsruhe, her birth town, Ellen Auerbach moved to another address in Yorkville (321 East 85th Street), where she lived until her death in 2004. The self-portraits and other images contained in her apartment are documented. During the 1950s, Auerbach had several occasional jobs, including as a substitute teacher at the Junior College of Arts and Craft in Trenton, filling in for Rudy Burkhardt, with whom she remained friends. In 1954, she went on a long trip with the photographer Eliot Porter – which was honoured in 1957 with an exhibition at Helen Gee’s Limelight Gallery, which, during the 1950s, was a hub of networking for women photographers. She also began to study Zen Buddhism and finally gave up photography in the 1960s to become a therapist specialising in children with learning difficulties.

    Ellen Auerbach photographed herself on all her stations in exile, starting in Tel Aviv, continuing in London and finally in New York during all her life. Today, these photographs form a kind of exile archive of the photographer's life and also reveal details about the photographer's self-confidence and reputation. All her self-portraits were taken in front of a mirror or shop window, in which the reflection of herself was photographed. In the 1950s and 1960s, Ellen Auerbach took a series of self-portraits in her different New York apartments. One photograph from 1950 shows the photographer sitting on a bed in front of a large mirror. The cropped edges of the mirror simultaneously form a kind of frame for the self-portrait. Both hands deftly hold the 35mm camera. The camera lies in the left hand, from this side also with the left thumb the shutter release was operated. Whereas against the right hand was draped to the side of the camera. Both elbows are propped up on her knees, forming a living tripod for her shot. The camera is leaning against the right cheek, while Ellen Auerbach is looking to the left side. In the composition chosen by Auerbach, the camera, placed almost at eye level, forms like a kind of third eye of the photographer. The camera and the hands are centrally placed in the focus of the shot, whereas Ellen Auerbach's eyes move into the background. The camera and her hands can thus be interpreted as Ellen Auerbach's central tools, which were central to her work as a photographer. With the positioning of the camera at the level of her eyes and head, it nevertheless shows that self-perception and visual imagination are also the prerequisite for a successful photograph and should be so firmly anchored that, as it were, the desired image detail can be captured photographically even with an averted gaze to the side. The camera and the hands are centrally placed in the focus of the shot, whereas Ellen Auerbach's eyes move into the background. The camera and her hands can thus be interpreted as Ellen Auerbach's central tools, which were central to her work as a photographer. With the positioning of the camera at the level of her eyes and head, it nevertheless shows that self-perception and visual imagination are also the prerequisite for a successful photograph and should be so firmly anchored that, as it were, the desired image detail can be captured photographically even with an averted gaze to the side. This understanding of the photographer and practice of photography is also reflected in the photographer's city photographs and is also consistent with the understanding of her teacher Walter Peterhans, who taught her that the appropriate image detail does not arise in experimenting with the viewfinder in front of the eye, but that the images must be aimed at and perceived as pre-images with one's own eye - so to speak, the world should be viewed with a photographic eye (exh. cat. Ellen Auerbach 1998). The examination of self-designs of the feminine and the simultaneous exploration and reflection on the possibilities of the photographic, can already be observed in the self-portraits from the time in Berlin in the 1920s together with Grete Stern in the studio ringl-pit. The avant-garde short haircut of Ellen Auerbach as well as the work with the 35mm camera are elements that accompany the photographer on her way to emigration and life in the US. Even in the 1950s, the self-portrait shows that Auerbach saw herself as a progressive photographer who worked and experimented with the 35mm camera in a mobile and agile manner. At the same time, wearing a dress embodies the emphasis on the feminine, that a woman photographer can also act confidently with the camera.

    Word Count: 2353

  • Media:
    Ellen Auerbach, Selbstportrait. (Ellen Auerbach auf einer Liege sitzend, sich selbst im Spiegel fotografierend), New York 1950 (©Akademie der Künste, Berlin / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021).
    Cover of Life magazine, with image Two Years Old by Ellen Auerbach, Life, 28 November 1938 (Photo: Helene Roth).
    The dancer Renate Schottelius photographed by Ellen Auerbach ( "Ellen Auerbach - Robert Mann Gallery" by Erika_Herzog is licensed under CC BY 2.0).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    "all die Neuanfänge ..." Photographien aus der Kunstsammlung der Akademie der Künste, edited Hannelore Fischer, exh. cat. Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum Köln, Köln 2008.

    Displaced Visions. Émigré Photographers of the 20th Century, edited by Nissan N. Perez, exh. cat. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2013.

    Ellen Auerbach. Berlin - Tel Aviv - London – New York, edited by Susanna Baumann, Ute Eskilsden, exh. cat. Akademie der Künste Berlin, Berlin 1998.

    Gilbert, George. The Illustrated Worldwide Who’s Who of Jews in Photography. G. Gilbert, 1996.

    Graeve Ingelmann, Inka. Ellen Auerbach. Das dritte Auge. Leben und Werk. Schirmer/ Mosel, 2006.

    Otto, Elizabeth. "ringl + pit and the Queer Art of Failure." OCTOBER 173, Summer 2020, pp. 37–64.

    Schaber, Irme. “Fotografie.” Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration 1933–1945, edited by Claus-Dieter Krohn and Patrick von zur Mühlen, WBG, 1998, pp. 970–983.

    Verborgene Spuren. Jüdische Künstler*innen und Architekt*innen in Karlsruhe 1900-1950, exh. cat. Städtische Galerie Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe 2021.

    Word Count: 146

  • Archives and Sources:

    Word Count: 27

  • Author:
    Helene Roth
  • Exile:

    Palestine, Israel (1933-1936); London, GB (1936/37); New York City, US (1937/1938); Philadelphia, US (1938-1943); New York City, US (1943-2004).

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    Hotel Latham, 4 East 28th Street, Nomad, New York City (residence, April 1937); 211 Clermont Street, Brooklyn, New York City (residence, summer 1937); New 2nd Street, Elkins Park, Philadelphia (residence and workplace, autumn 1937-1943); 116 West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York City (residence and workplace, 1943–1946); 500 East 11th, East Village, New York City (residence and workplace, 1946–1951); 338 East 39th Street, Murray Hill, New York City (residence and workplace, 1951-1953); 321 East 85th Street, Yorkville, New York City (1953-2004).

  • Metropolis:
    New York
  • Helene Roth. "Ellen Auerbach." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 31-08-2022.
  • Erika Stone
    New York

    Erika Stone is a German émigré, who moved to New York with her parents and sister in December 1936, at the age of 12. She went on to carve out a career as photographer.

    Word Count: 32

    Fred Stein
    New York

    Always accompanied by his camera, the German émigré photographer Fred Stein discovered New York City during the 1940s and 1950s. His pictures provide an human and multifaceted view of the metropolis.

    Word Count: 31

    Charles Leirens
    New York

    Charles Leirens was a Belgian-born musician and photographer who emigrated to New York in 1941. While publishing two books on Belgian music, he also gave courses in musicology and photography at the New School for Social Research.

    Word Count: 36

    Rolf Tietgens
    New York

    Rolf Tietgens was a German émigré photographer who arrived in New York in 1938. Although, in the course of his photographic career, his artistic and surrealist images were published and shown at exhibitions, his work, today, is very little known.

    Word Count: 39

    Marion Palfi
    New York

    Marion Palfi was a German émigré photographer who lived in New York from the 1940s to the 1960s. Her photographic engagement in social and political topics made her name for her use of the camera to draw attention to social injustices.

    Word Count: 41

    Tim Gidal
    PhotographerPublisherArt Historian
    New York

    Tim Gidal was a German-Jewish photographer, publisher and art historian emigrating in 1948 emigrated to New York. Besides his teaching career, he worked as a photojournalist and, along with his wife Sonia Gidal, published youth books.

    Word Count: 35

    Lilo Hess
    New York

    The German émigré Lilo Hess was an animal photographer working for the Museum for Natural History and the Bronx Zoo, as well being a freelance photographer and publisher of children's books.

    Word Count: 31

    Lilly Joss
    New York

    Lilly Joss was an émigré freelance photographer in New York. She worked for the Black Star photo agency and magazines and was also a portrait and theatre photographer.

    Word Count: 28

    Ruth Staudinger
    PhotographerCinematographerArt dealer
    New York

    Very few and only fragmentary details can be found on the German émigré photographer Ruth Staudinger, who emigrated in the mid-1930s to New York City. Her nomadic life was also characterisedd by several changes of name along the way.

    Word Count: 40

    Rudy Burckhardt
    New York

    Rudy Burckhardt was a Swiss-born photographer, filmmaker and painter who emigrated from Basle to New York City in 1935. He was well networked within the emerging Abstract Expressionist art scene of 1940s' and 50s'.

    Word Count: 33

    T. Lux Feininger
    New York

    Lux T. Feininger was a German-American émigré photographer and painter and the brother of the photographer Andreas Feininger, arriving in 1936 in New York. Although he started taking photographs during the 1920s in Germany, Feininger is better known for his career as a painter and his photographic work is largely unacknowledged.

    Word Count: 50

    Trude Fleischmann
    New York

    Trude Fleischmann was an Austrian-Jewish portrait and dance photographer who emigrated in 1939 to New York, where she opened a studio in Midtown Manhattan with the photographer Frank Elmer.

    Word Count: 28

    Henry Rox
    New York

    Henry Rox was a German émigré sculptor and photographer who, in 1938, arrived in New York with his wife, the journalist and art historian Lotte Rox (née Charlotte Fleck), after an initial exile in London. Besides his work as a sculptor, he began creating humorous anthropomorphised fruit and vegetable photographs.

    Word Count: 50

    Photo Agency
    New York

    Photo-Representatives was a photo agency founded by the photographers Erika Stone and Anita Beer in 1953.

    Word Count: 15

    Service Photo Suppliers Inc.
    Photo Supplier
    New York

    Service Photo Suppliers was a photo supplier distributing a wide variety of photo equipment and opened by the German émigré Hans Salomon (1909–?) in 1945.

    Word Count: 23

    Edith Tudor-Hart

    The Viennese photographer Edith Tudor-Hart emigrated to England in 1933 and made a name with her photographs focusing on questions of class, social exclusion and the lives of marginalised people.

    Word Count: 29

    László Moholy-Nagy
    PhotographerGraphic DesignerPainterSculptor

    László Moholy-Nagy emigrated to London in 1935, where he worked in close contact with the local avantgarde and was commissioned for window display decoration, photo books, advertising and film work.

    Word Count: 30

    Horacio Coppola
    Buenos Aires

    Born in Buenos Aires, Horacio Coppola is one of the photographers who represent modern photography in Argentina.

    Word Count: 17

    Lotte Jacobi
    New York

    In October 1935 the German émigré photographer Lotte Jacobi, together with her sister Ruth Jacobi, opened a photo studio on 57th Street. The two sisters had to leave their parents' photo studio in Berlin in the 1930s and emigrated to New York.

    Word Count: 41

    Gerda Peterich
    New York

    The German émigré Gerda Peterich had a photographic studio at 332 West 56th Street and in New York, where she specialised in dance and portraiture. In addition, she visited dance studios and photographed outside in the city.

    Word Count: 36

    Grete Stern
    Buenos Aires

    Grete Stern is one of the photographers that represent modern photography in Argentina. Her house in Ramos Mejía was a meeting place for local and foreign artists and intellectuals.

    Word Count: 30

    Gerty Simon

    The Berlin photographer Gerty Simon established a studio in Chelsea, London. Her solo exhibition Camera Portraits from 1935 featured a distinctive portrait of the émigré art dealer Alfred Flechtheim (shown above).

    Word Count: 30

    Wolf Suschitzky

    The Viennese Wolf Suschitzky made a career as a photographer and cinematographer after emigrating to London in 1935.

    Word Count: 17

    Bertolt Brecht

    Grete Stern practised as a commercial and portrait photographer in her London exile and took portraits of emigrants such as Bertolt Brecht, Helene Weigel, Karl Korsch and Paula Heimann.

    Word Count: 29