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Kurt Safranski

  • Kurt Safranski was one of the founding members of the Black Star photo agency, a teacher at the New School for Social Research and the author of photojournalistic articles and books.
  • Given name:
  • Last name:
  • Alternative names:

    Kurt Szafranski, Kurt Stephen Safranski

  • Date of Birth:
  • Place of Birth:
    Berlin (DE)
  • Date of Death:
  • Place of Death:
    Kingston (US)
  • Profession:
    Picture AgentFounding MemberTeacherCartoonistPublisherIllustrator
  • Introduction:

    Kurt Safranski was one of the founding members of the Black Star photo agency, a teacher at the New School for Social Research and the author of photojournalistic articles and books.

    Word Count: 31

  • Signature Image:
    Portrait of Kurt Safranski with his wife Maria and daughter Tina Safranski, photographer unknown, n.d. (© Heirs of Kurt Safranski).
  • Content:

    Kurt S. Safranski worked as an illustrator, cartoonist and publisher in Berlin during the 1920s at the Ullstein Publishing House together with Kurt Korff, who later was involved in the founding of Life magazine in New York in 1936. He also trained as a graphic artist with Lucien Bernhard, father of the émigré photographer Ruth Bernhard, in Berlin. In 1934, as an endangered Jew, he emigrated to New York with his wife Maria and daughter Tina to work for the Hearst Magazine Division and in 1936 joined German émigrés Ernest Mayer and Kurt Kornfeld in founding the Black Star photo agency. During the 1940s and 1950s he also taught at the New School for Social Research.

    Little information can be found on the life and work of Kurt Safranski in New York. Although he was one of the founding members of the Black Star photo agency and well connected within photographic and journalistic circles in New York, and therefore often cited in this context, personal details are scant. After his arrival in New York in 1934 he americanised his name to Kurt Stephen Safranski (formerly Szafranski). During his first two years in New York, from 1934 to 1936, he resided at the Park Crescent Hotel at 150 Riverside Drive, where Ernest Mayer and Kurt Kornfeld also lived, in 1935 and 1936 respectively. In 1936 Safranski and his family moved to New Rochelle, where they lived from 1936 until 1958, at several locations. Mayer and Kornfeld also moved to New Rochelle the same year. The commute to the Black Star office could be done by train, arriving at Grand Central Station, from where there was easy access to 420 Lexington Avenue, where the agency was located. From 1937 to 1942 Kurt Safranski was vice president of Black Star (while Ernest Mayer was probably responsible for the London branch of Black Star) and, from April 1942 to December 1943, worked as coordinator in the Office of War Information. In 1944 he probably worked for Look magazine after his return to Black Star in 1943, where he remained until his retirement in 1958. Safranski was a photo agent at Black Star, working with such European émigrés as Ruth Bernhard, Ralph Crane (Rudolf Crohn), Andreas Feininger, Fritz Goro (Gorodiski), Carola Gregor (Gorodiski, née Margarete Meyer), Philippe Halsman, Fritz Henle, Lilly Joss (Joseph), Lisa Larsen (Rothschild), Walter Sanders (Suessmann), Fred Stein, Roman Vishniac and Werner Wolff.

    In 1940 he published the book Selling Your Pictures (Ziff Davis). This photojournalism handbook and technical guide was aimed at both amateur and professional photographers and photojournalists who wanted to know more about how to sell their pictures to photo agencies and on the general photographic market. Kurt Safranski promoted Black Star photographers in his book, reproducing several of their photographs. The book was published by the Ziff-Davis Publishing Company. Safranski also published articles offering advice on photographic matters in different magazines, for example “Backgrounds.” (Minicam Photography, July 1945). In 1938 he wrote the flyer for Ruth Bernhard’s exhibition at the PM Gallery. Safranski knew Ruth’s father, Lucien Bernhard, from his time in Berlin and the two had stayed in contact after they both emigrated to New York. It can be assumed that this connection also brought Ruth Bernhard photo commissions from Black Star.
    Another lifelong contact of Kurt Safranski's was the émigré photographer Lotte Jacobi. In Lotte Jacobi’s papers archived in New Hampshire can be found several letters dating from 1947 to 1961 in which the two wrote about their private lives as well as their photographic and journalistic activities. It can also be assumed that they and Lotte Jacobi’s husband Erich Reiss all knew each other from their time in Berlin during the 1920s and early 1930s.

    In August 1948 an article on the German photographer Erich Salomon appeared in Popular Photography. During the 1920s and 1930s Erich Salomon was a well know photographer and one of the creaters of the picture story format pioneered by such German magazines as Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung (BIZ). Salomon and Safranski knew each other from their time in Berlin, where they both worked for the Ullstein Verlag publishing company, and remained in contact after Safranski’s emigration in 1933. Correspondence between them clearly reveals that Safranski tried to persuade Salomon, who had fled to Den Haag in 1933, to emigrate to New York. Salomon was reluctant to leave and in 1944 he and his family became victims of the Holocaust. “There is no grave and no tombstone for Erich Salomon. Nothing remains but his name and work: the memory of a man who made photographic history – and history of photography” (Safranski 1948, 108) are the final words in an article by Safranski on Erich Salomon. During the early 1930s Erich Salomon had visited New York and created some picture stories on the metropolis for Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung. He was also among the first to  gain photographic access to the White House in Washington D.C.

    In 1953 Safranski returned briefly to Berlin to assist in conception and production for the relaunch of the Sonntags-Illustrierten magazine by the Ullstein publishing house (Keil 2019). It was to be relaunched as an American-style colour weekend supplement and the first issue came out in March 1954. Unfortunately, the readers’ willingness to buy the supplement at a higher subscription price, or to buy it separately, was low. In addition, the magazine lacked topicality and flair compared to its competitors and the colour printing was expensive. The project ended after only six issues on 25 April 1954 with a loss of 1.5 million marks (Keil, 2019).

    From the autumn of 1944 Kurt Safranski gave his “Pictorial Journalism” course at the New School for Social Research, in which he followed an interdisciplinary approach between photography, journalism and literature. In the 1950s he added a second course and workshop with “Photography as Mass Communication” which continued until his retirement in 1958. Among those who took his Pictorial Journalism course was the photographer W.G. Smith, who also worked for Black Star. In the same year, 1958, Safranski also retired from Black Star. Other émigrés giving lessons in photography and offering photojournalism courses were Josef Breitenbach, Lisette Model, Marion Palfi, Charles Leirens, Alexey Brodovitch and Tim Gidal. The émigrés Fred Stein and Werner Wolff also frequented the New School, working as commissioned work for the Black Star photo agency, and the German émigré Erika Stone was a student there.

    Word Count: 1037

  • Media:
    Cover of Selling Your Pictures by Kurt Safranski (Ziff Davis Publishing Company, 1940).
    Kurt Safranski “Backgrounds.” Minicam Photography, July 1945, pp. 52–53 (Photo: Helene Roth).
    Kurt Safranski. “Dr. Salomon.” Popular Photography, August 1948, pp. 56–57.
    Announcement of "Pictorial Journalism" course by Kurt Safranski in New School Bulletin, vol. 2, no. 9, 1944, p. 84 (© New School course catalog collection, NS-05-01-01. The New School Archives).
    Werner Wolff, K.S. Safranski’s Class in Pictorial Journalism, 1950 (New School for Research Archive, Photograph Collection © Steven Wolff).
    Announcement of "Pictorial Journalism. Photographs as a Language and their special Problems" course by Kurt Safranski at the New School for Social Research, Spring 1949 (© The New School Archives and Special Collection, The New School, New York).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Chapnick, Howard. Truth Needs No Ally. Inside Photojournalism. University Missouri Press, 1994.

    Dogramaci, Burcu, and Helene Roth. “Fotografie als Mittler im Exil: Fotojournalismus bei Picture Post in London und Fototheorie und -praxis an der New School for Social Research in New York.” Vermittler*innen zwischen den Kulturen, special issue of Zeitschrift für Museum und Bildung, vol. 86–87, 2019, pp. 13–44.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. Lieselotte Friedlaender (1898–1973). Eine Künstlerin der Weimarer Republik. Ein Beitrag zur Pressegraphik der zwanziger Jahre. Wasmuth, 2001.

    Fischer, Ernst. Verleger, Buchhändler & Antiquare aus Deutschland und Österreich in der Emigration nach 1933. Ein biographisches Handbuch. Verband Deutscher Antiquare e.V., 2011.

    Gervais, Thierry. The Making of Visual News. A History of Photography in the Press. Translated by John Tittenson, Bloomsbury, 2017.

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

    Hartmann, Rainer. „Kurt S. Szafranski - Vier Leben.“ Fotogeschichte, 160, 2021.

    Hicks, Wilson. Words and Pictures (The Literature of Photography). Arno Press, 1973.

    Keil, Lars-Broder. “‘Eines Tages war er plötzlich wieder da’.” 26 August 2019, Axel Springer. Accessed 1 March 2021.

    Kornfeld, Phoebe. Passionate Publishers. The Founders of the Black Star Photo Agency. University of Missouri Press, 2021.

    Lieselotte Friedlaender 1898–1973. Schicksal einer Berliner Modegraphikerin, exh. cat. Jüdisches Museum Berlin, Berlin, 1998.

    Mayer, Mathilde. Die Alte und die Neue Welt (1951). Arbeitskreis Jüdisches Bingen, 2003. [Original text was completed in 1951 by Ernest Mayer’s mother while in exile in New Rochelle, New York.]

    Morris, John Godfrey. Get the Picture. A Personal History of Photojournalism. University of Chicago Press, 2002.

    Neubauer, Hendrik. Black Star. 60 Years of Photojournalism. Könemann, 1997.

    New York Photography 1890–1950. Von Stieglitz bis Man Ray, edited by Ortrud Westheider and Michael Philipp, exh. cat Bucerius Kunst Forum, Hamburg, 2012.

    Oels, David, and Ute Schneider, editors. “Der ganze Verlag ist einfach eine Bonbonniere”: Ullstein in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts. De Gruyter, 2014.

    Safranski, Kurt. Selling your pictures. Ziff Davis Publishing, 1940.

    Safranski, Kurt. “Backgrounds.” Minicam, July 1945, pp. 52–56, 109, here: pp. 52–53.

    Safranski, Kurt. “Dr. Salomon.” Popular Photography, August 1948, pp. 56–59, 104–108.

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

    Smith, C. Zoe. “Émigré photography in America: contributions of German photojournalism from Black Star Picture Agency to Life magazine, 1933–1938.” (unpublished dissertation, School of Journalism in the Graduate College of the University of Iowa, Iowa City, December 1983).

    Smith, C. Zoe. “Black Star Picture Agency: Life’s European Connection.” Journalism History, vol. 13, no. 1, 1986, pp. 19–25.

    Smith, C. Zoe. “Die Bildagentur ‘Black Star’. Inspiration für eine neue Magazinfotografie in den USA.” Kommunikation visuell. Das Bild als Forschungsgegenstand – Grundlagen und Perspektiven, edited by Thomas Knieper and Marion G. Müller, Herbert von Halem, 2001, pp. 240–249.

    Torosian, Michael. Black Star. The Ryerson University Historical Print Collection of the Black Star Publishing Company. Portfolio Selection and Chronicle of a New York Photo Agency. Lumiere Press, 2013.

    Vowinckel, Annette. “German (Jewish) Photojournalists in Exile. A Story of Networks and Success.” German History, vol. 31, no. 4, December 2013, pp. 473–496.

    Werneburg, Brigitte. “LIFE: Leben in der Emigration. Deutsche Fotojournalisten in Amerika.” (unpublished manuscript, 1991). Accessed 15 February 2021.

    Word Count: 491

  • Archives and Sources:

    Word Count: 41

  • Acknowledgements:

    My deepest thanks go to Phoebe Kornfeld, the granddaughter of Kurt Kornfeld, and the heirs of Kurt Safranski for providing me with information and archival material.

    Word Count: 26

  • Author:
    Helene Roth
  • Exile:

    New York, US (1934–1958).

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    Park Crescent Hotel, 150 Riverside Drive, Upper West Side, New York City (residence, 1934–1936); 116 Calhoun Avenue, New Rochelle, New York (residence, 1936–1939); 122 East Brookside Drive, Larchmont, New York (residence, 1939–1958); Woodstock, New York (1958–1964); Hearst Magazine Division,  57th West 8 Avenue, Midtown Manhattan, New York City,(workplace, 1934–1936); Black Star Photo Agency, Graybar Building, 420 Lexington Avenue, Midtown Manhattan,New York City (workplace, 1937–1942); Office of War Information, 122 East 42nd Street, Midtown Manhattan, New York City (1942–1944); Black Star Photo Agency, Graybar Building, 420 Lexington Avenue, Midtown Manhattan, New York City (workplace, 1944–1953; 1954–1957);  Black Star Photo Agency, 305 East 47th Street, Tudor City, New York City (1957).

  • Metropolis:
    New York
  • Helene Roth. "Kurt Safranski." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 26-04-2022.
  • Walter Sanders
    New York

    Walter Sanders was a German émigré photographer. In 1938 he arrived in New York, where he worked from 1939 until the end of his life for the Black Star agency and, from 1944, for Life magazine.

    Word Count: 33

    Werner Wolff
    New York

    Werner Wolff was forced to leave Germany in 1936 due to his Jewish background and emigrated via Hamburg to New York, where he could follow his career as photographer and photojournalist.

    Word Count: 30

    Andreas Feininger
    New York

    Andreas Feininger, was a German émigré photographer who arrived in New York with his wife Wysse Feininger in 1939. He started a lifelong career exploring the city's streets, working as a photojournalist and writing a large number of photography manuals.

    Word Count: 39

    Ruth Bernhard
    New York

    Ruth Bernhard was a German émigré photographer who lived in New York from the 1920s to the 1940s. Beside her series on female nudes, her place in the photography network, as well as in the New York queer scene, is unknown and understudied.

    Word Count: 43

    Lisette Model
    New York

    Lisette Model was an Austrian-born photographer who lived in New York with her husband Evsa Model after emigrating from France. Her street photographs capturing the curiosities of everyday life quickly caught the interest of museums and magazines.

    Word Count: 37

    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

    Alexey Brodovitch
    PhotographerArt DirectorGraphic Designer
    New York

    Alexey Brodovitch was a Belarus-born émigré graphic artist, art director and photographer who, from 1933, worked in New York for Harper’s Bazaar magazine and at the New School for Social Research.

    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

    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

    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

    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

    Ruth Jacobi
    New York

    Ruth Jacobi was a German-speaking, Polish-born photographer who emigrated in 1935 to New York, where she opened a studio together with her sister Lotte Jacobi. She later had her own portrait studio.

    Word Count: 31

    Fritz Henle
    New York

    Fritz Henle was a German Jewish photographer who emigrated in 1936 to New York, where he worked as a photojournalist for various magazines. He also published several photobooks of his travels throughout North America and Asia.

    Word Count: 35

    Kurt Kornfeld
    PublisherPicture AgentFounding Member
    New York

    Kurt Kornfeld was a publisher and literary agent and a founding member of the Black Star photo agency in New York City after his emigration in 1936 to New York.

    Word Count: 29

    Ernest Mayer
    Picture AgentFounding MemberPublisher
    New York

    Ernest Mayer was co-founder of the Black Star Publishing Company photo agency, which built a network for émigré photographers and the American magazine scene from the mid-1930s until the end of the 1950s.

    Word Count: 34

    Carola Gregor
    New York

    The German émigré photographer Carola Gregor was an animal and child photographer and published some of her work in magazines and books. Today her work and life are almost forgotten.

    Word Count: 30

    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

    Black Star Agency
    Photo Agency
    New York

    The German émigrés Kurt S(z)afranski, Ern(e)st Mayer and Kurt Kornfeld founded Black Star in 1936. The photo agency established was a well-run networking institution in New York.

    Word Count: 31

    New School for Social Research
    Academy/Art SchoolPhoto SchoolUniversity / Higher Education Institute / Research Institute
    New York

    During the 1940s and 1950s emigrated graphic designers and photographers, along with artists and intellectuals, were given the opportunity to held lectures and workshops at the New School for Social Research.

    Word Count: 31

    Photo Supplier
    New York

    Spiratone was a photo company and photo supplier founded in 1941 by the Austrian émigré family Hans (1888–1944) and Paula Spira (?–?) and their son Fred Spira (1924–2007).

    Word Count: 24

    Josef Breitenbach
    New York

    On arriving in New York in 1941, the German photographer Josef Breitenbach tried to restart as a portrait, street and experimental photographer, as well as a teacher of photo-history and techniques.

    Word Count: 30

    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

    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

    Black Star Publishing Company London
    Photo Agency

    The 1936 New York-founded Black Star Publishing Company photo agency opened a European branch in London the same year in response to the high demand for foreign images in the U.S.

    Word Count: 31