With the help of the online database Kunst-Archive, T. Lux Feininger’s complete photographic oeuvre, as well as his paintings and drawings, can be found in the catalogue raisonné. Examples will be inserted as links in an analysis of T. Lux Feininger.
He began teaching himself photography during the 1920s while studying at the Bauhaus in Dessau, capturing images of his surroundings. He began his studies at the Bauhaus at the age of sixteen, in the winter semester of 1926, with a preliminary course with Josef Albers. From the 2nd semester (summer 1927–1929) he participated in the stage workshop and class run by Oskar Schlemmer and completed his postgraduate studies in 1932. Other of his teachers include Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and .
Feiniger's photographs reflect the spirit of the New Vision and the progressive photographic ideas of Moholy-Nagy and others, as can been seen in his photograph of the Bauhaus building and his portraits of Werner Jackson, Margo Loewe and Marcel Breuer, taken from a steep upward perspective to the height of a balcony. His camera was his constant companion and he used it to portray his friends, for example Clemens Röseler, the weaving class, teachers and artists, for example Paul Klee, the Bauhaus jazz band, a spatial studies workshop and a parody group portrait inspired by Oskar Schlemmer’s theatre. Today these images serve as a chronological visual image archive of the vivid and creative art movement that existed during the 1920s and 1930s in Weimar and Dessau, revealing the lives and networks, as well as the work, of these artists. When the National Socialists came to power and closed the Bauhaus many of them were forced to leave the country.
Besides these images, Lux Feininger also made self-portraits, including one that shows him playing the banjo and another taken in the mirror of his room at the Meisterhaus in Dessau, where his family lived. Other images show his family at the beach in Depp and building a model ship with his father, which they later on remade in Central Park in New York.
His photographic talent and unique view were displayed in 1929 when he participated in the Internationale Film und Foto (FiFo) exhibition in Stuttgart, where works by his brother , and were also presented. T. Lux Feininger was represented by the DEPHOT photo agency in Berlin and in 1931 several of his photographs were purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. However, over the following years, his earnings came almost exclusively from his paintings after he began working in this medium in 1929. He quickly gained international success and during the 1930s had his first one-man show at the Galerie Nierendorf in Berlin (which later opened a branch in New York) and at the Galerie Commeter Hamburg, which had long had contacts in New York. The worsening situation for artists in Germany prompted Feininger to emigrate to Paris in 1931.
Although he himself was born in Berlin, his father had been born in New York and this allowed him to gain American citizenship in 1930. In Paris he started photographing the city's street life, capturing images of pedestrians and people at work as well as the buildings. The number of photographs he took of the city at this time was not high, but he also recorded his private life. For example, there is a portrait of Andreas Feininger with his friend and later wife Wysse Hägg. Between 1932 and 1933 Andreas Feininger shared Lux Feininger's apartment in Paris. Further images document Lux's trips with his parents and brothers to the seaside, to visit Andreas and Wysse Feininger, then to Stockholm and back to Berlin.
The sale of his paintings made it possible for T. Lux Feininger to finance his emigration to New York on 5 November, 1936 and he arrived there on 16 November. He recorded his journey into exile on his camera and one of the last images of Europe show his farewells at Lehrter station in Berlin with his parents and the architect De Vries. The next images show his passage across the Atlantic Ocean on board the S.S. Washington with a blurred coaster seen from the deck and the shipping in the channel.
On his arrival in New York in 1936, Lux T. Feininger explored the streets with his camera and experimented with different photographic techniques and processes, building a singular body of photographic work that includes studies of the city's transport systems and infrastructure, as well as everyday street life and family events. Among the first pictures he took in New York was an image of an advertisement on the 9th Avenue El. In 1937 he recorded the arrival of his parents Julia and Lyonel Feininger at his apartment at 511 East 85th Street. In New York he resumed the tours of discovery that he had begun in Paris, though his impressions were completely different and his fascination with the new metropolis immediate. In addition to everyday life on the streets and in the parks, and the new spatial dimensions, he began photographing motifs which already featured in his paintings and were to become another dimension of New York, namely the nautical world of ships, ferries and tugboats which he found at the piers and docks of New York, as well as on the Hudson and East Rivers. He recorded, for example, the arrival of the big steamships Normandie and Queen Mary as well as everyday scenes at Battery Park and a Coney Island boat. Lux Feininger was also interested in the transportation systems of the metropolis as well as its industries and machinery.
Besides this group of work, a second group was the more personal images he took and the photographic studies and series of images taken from the windows of the apartment where he lived. These images and his autobiography Zwischen den Welten make possible a reconstruction of the several addresses in New York where he lived (Feininger 2006). Among these images is a self-portrait taken in his first apartment, at 511 East 85th Street, and several views from his apartment window. Over the following years he took photographs from the windows of every apartment where he lived, so this group of images can be considered a series. The émigré photographer also took photographs from his apartment window.
As Lux Feininger had already learned English in Germany before his emigration to New York, the language did not pose the challenge for him that it did for many other émigrés. His knowledge of the language also allowed him to take the occasional job as a translator. He translated his brother Andreas Feininger's book New Paths in Photography (1939) from German to English and also the catalogue for the Bauhaus: 1919–1928 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art which ran from 7 December, 1938 until 30 January, 1939. One of his photographs was also used for the catalogue cover. After the exhibition, Lux Feininger worked as an assistant for Herbert Bayer, replacing Alexander Xanti Schawinsky. Bayer had also emigrated from Germany and the two men knew each other from their days at the Bauhaus. Between 1936 and 1942 Feininger worked at a number of occasional jobs to make ends meet. From 1942 until 1945 he was drafted into the United States Army as a technical sergeant for the Military Intelligence Division at Fort Dix and Maryland.
After World War II, Lux Feininger continued and expanded his photographic work with artistic and technical experiments and a second very productive phase continued until 1953. One group of images from this time shows everyday street scenes, in which people are rarely captured in single portraits but rather in groups and anonymous crowds. He also photographed on the streets at different times of day, when different types of pedestrian were about. In this group of photographs shop windows are also featured. Other émigré photographers such as and produced similar types of picture.
Another big group was the motifs Lux Feininger photographed before his military service, namely nautical, transportation and industrial urban motifs. These ranged from the infrastructure of the harbours and docks to the ships, steamers and ferries on the East and Hudson Rivers, Water tanks. He also photographed the industrial and transportation systems of New York, the trains, elevated railways, cars and trucks, and the fire departments.
A third group of images created by Lux Feininger was his experimental telephoto perspectives using opera glasses or German Wehrmacht field glasses. This process was his own invention and during the next five years he found his motifs in the streets and docks of Manhattan, in train stations and from his apartment windows. With the round cut-out he achieved a specification focusing on certain details which gave him a new and different view of the city and the urban patterns.
From the window of his parents' eleventh floor apartment, where he spent some of his time, he created during 1947 and 1950 the telephoto series A window on the East River, 1947–1950. He later wrote up his ideas and experiments in the text “Fenster zum East River – Das Telefoto-Experiment von 1946” (1983), where he explained his telephoto technique. “In the spring of 1946, I designed for myself an optical system for making tele-photographs. I had neither the funds nor any inclination to spend money on such expensive equipment, but I found through experimentation that my old Zeiss prismtype binoculars (made in the 1890s) could be adaped to the lens of my Pilot single-lens reflex camera of 1940. The only difficulty to overcome when photographing with this system was vibration caused by the heavy shutter, which was very noticeable with the long exposures required.“ (Feininger 1983) The photographing of a certain motif in several images can be found in other works by Lux Feininger. Focusing on the same motif, or one similar, gives the series an experimental character that can also be seen in his apartment window series and in his series on Bronx Zoo and many more. Bronx Zoo was also a working destination for the émigré animal photographers , , and also probably . The post-war transformation of the city and city overviews were also subjects favoured by émigré photographer .
Although the photographs Lux Feininger took after his emigration to New York make up more than the half of his photographic oeuvre, he also pursued a successful career as a painter and had many works commissioned as well as exhibitions. In 1943 his work was represented in the group exhibition American Realists and Magic Realists and, in 1940, in a show together with Ben Shan at the . This was followed in 1947 with a one-man show at the Julien Levy Gallery and another at the Gallery Nierendorf. Comparing the motifs in his paintings and drawings with those in his photographs, similarities can be found. There are very few to no sources in which Feininger comments on his photographs and the function they served within his artistic oeuvre, but it can be assumed that the camera was an important medium for him to record his external impressions of the city in spontaneous though elaborate shots that helped train his eye. In addition to many different types of ship, it is above all the everyday street scenes that he subsequently transformed into drawings, watercolours and paintings. Whereas his paintings were an imaginative compilation of real and unreal impressions, his drawings and sketches reflected the real circumstances, which he captured with a photograph. Photographs and sketches were likely made in parallel. Some sketches seem spontaneous and quickly created though others contain detailed motif studies of ships, cars and railroads in ink. Examples include: People in the street (1948), Two Girls in the Subway (1948), Windy Corner 4th Avenue and 24th Street , Yachts off City Island (1948), Abend am Central Park (1948), Drei Kerle am Battery Park and Shopwindow on East 23rd Street.
Comparing the photographic work of Lux and Andreas Feininger and their chosen motifs, it is remarkable that both discovered the cities where they lived – New York, Paris, Stockholm – with their cameras and shared parallel interests in nautical subjects like harbours and ships, as well as railroads. These motifs can also be found in Lux Feiniger’s paintings and also in the work of Lyonel Feininger, Lux and Andreas's father. From December 1955 until January 1956 an exhibition at the Mint Museum of Art featured work by the Feininger family (Anonymous 1955). In 1965 Lux and Andreas published the volume Lyonel Feininger. Die Stadt am Ende der Welt (Rütten & Loening, 1965). The text, which describes Lyonel's passion for making toys and model cities and sailboats, is accompanied by Andreas Feininger's photographs of the models. Several images exist of Lyonel with Lux and Tomas, Andreas's son, sailing their homemade sailboats on Central Park pond during the 1940s and 1950s. The pond was famous in New York for attracting model sailboat enthusiasts, as can also be seen in an image shot by the Austrian émigré photographer , who photographed Central Park for a spring series.
After moving from New York City to Massachusetts in 1953, Lux Feininger took a postion there as a teacher and his photographs became fewer, mainly records of family events. His last image was taken in 1958: a view from his window at 6 Holly Avenue. In 1980 Lux Feininger began the comprehensive archiving of his photographic oeuvre, stimulated by the interest of the New York gallery owner Eugene Prakapas. The artist selected 202 early photographs, which he described in his list of "Bauhaus-related photographs", and the first major exhibition of his photographs, T. Lux Feininger. Photographs of the Twenties and Thirties, took place at Prakapas Gallery on 19 East 71st Street, New York, from 1 November to 13 December, 1980. In 1983 (17 June – 15 July) the gallery put on a second major exhibition of his photographic work with approximately 100 photographs from the 1930s and 40s (Anonymous 1983). In 1984 Feininger took part in the Bauhaus Photography exhibition at the Robert Klein Gallery, along with Lisette Model and Lotte Jacobi and in 1985 his work was shown at the Photography of the Weimar Republic exhibition at the Emory University Museum of Art and Archaeology (Anonymous 1984; Anonymous 1985) In 2019, his Berlin photograhs were rediscovered and exhibited as part of the Bauhaus centenary celebrations.