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  • Provenance

    Prakapas Gallery, New York, 2000

  • Literature

    The Museum of Modern Art, Object:Photo: Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection, frontispiece and no. 266 (other images from the series illustrated on front and rear free endpapers)
    Ruge, 'Ich fotografiere mich beim Absturz mit dem Fallschirm,' Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, no. 21, 24 May 1931, p. 845

  • Catalogue Essay

    This remarkable photograph by Willi Ruge could easily be mistaken for a photomontage, so unlikely is the juxtaposition of a pair of dangling legs with Berlin’s urban landscape far below. Its bird’s-eye view of Berlin recalls the photographs Moholy-Nagy made from a radio tower just a few years before, and it employs the same kind of radical perspective seen in Alexander Rodchenko photographs. It is a superlative example of the camera’s ability to depict the visual world in an entirely new way and, as such, is a quintessentially Modernist photograph.

    Berlin Fallschirmspringer was taken by press photographer Willi Ruge in 1931 as part of a photo story he conceived for the popular picture magazine Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung. Ruge had made his reputation in the picture press of the 1920s and '30s. Equal parts daredevil and photographer, Ruge increasingly adopted a more experiential approach to his work, essentially putting the viewer in the center of the action. His photographs taken from the seat of a racecar, for instance, deliver a thrilling cocktail of speed and peril. He was an innovator in other ways, too, publishing a picture story entitled Negative Objektivität, consisting of a series of negative images. It is a Ruge image of a photographer featured on the poster for the seminal Film und Foto exhibition, although his work was not included in that show. Ruge also founded his own picture agency, Fotoaktuell, to distribute his photographs.

    Ruge, who was a pilot and a certified parachutist, formulated the idea of a photographic essay that would document his own descent from an airplane to the ground in 1931. Ute Eskildsen's account of this photo shoot in her chapter “Willi Ruge and Fotoaktuell: Adventures for the Press” in Object: Photo: Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection, reveals that it was a carefully choreographed production. Ruge was equipped with a camera and planned to photograph his descent as it happened. A second photographer in another plane, and a third on the ground, ensured that the event would be fully documented from a variety of perspectives. The full series, which was published in BIZ, as well as the Illustrated London News and several American magazines, shows Ruge’s leap from the plane as well as the tense expressions on the faces of the onlookers below. The most dynamic photographs were taken by Ruge himself, who made at least two exposures in freefall before he opened his chute, and more on his downward glide. The photograph offered here is the definitive image from the series and nearly 90 years later has lost none of its power to astonish.

    Even though Ruge was in the business of supplying photographs to the very active picture press of the day, surviving prints of this series are rare. Eskildsen recounts that Ruge’s archive was destroyed during an air raid on Berlin in 1943. With 15 photographs, the Thomas Walther Collection at The Museum of Modern Art has perhaps the largest number of prints from the series, including the image offered here.

6

Berlin Fallschirmspringer from I Photograph Myself During a Parachute Jump

1931
Gelatin silver print.
8 x 5 1/2 in. (20.3 x 14 cm)
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on the verso.

Estimate
$20,000 - 30,000 

sold for $65,000

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Caroline Deck
Senior Specialist, Head of Sale

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Deputy Chairman, Americas

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The Odyssey of Collecting: Photographs from Joy of Giving Something Foundation Evening Sale

New York 3 April 2017