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His work is characterised by its consistent composition and clear imagery. Like few others and as a member of the fotoform collective, Toni Schneiders’ (1920–2006) visual language defined photography in Germany since the 1950s. A tribute to mark his 100th birthday.

“It is quite concerning to see what exhibitions and yearbooks present as ‘modern photography’ today. Distorted and dishonest images without content, without any intellectual level, are prevalent. The whole technical apparatus of photography is focussed on the sole aim of bluffing the viewer.” This general criticism was not directed at contemporary photography, even though Schneiders’ comments could well refer to some picture productions seen today; it came, in fact, from a text written in 1952. In issue 5 of the magazine Leica Fotografie, Schneiders was honoured as a ‘Master of the Leica’. He was not actually introduced by the magazine’s editorial team, because he himself delivered the text that accompanied the picture portfolio. Consequently, the readers were given insight into the photographer’s convictions and photographic techniques. The Leica magazine was the best forum back then, because there was a lot that linked the 32 year-old at the time with Leica: he not only photographed virtually exclusively with Leica cameras, but was also interested in the latest technical novelties. This meant that over the following years he was always in demand as a tester for lenses and other innovations. He willingly also shared these experiences with the readers of professional and amateur photography magazines.

“A good photograph is timeless!” is one of the sayings recorded in the Leica magazine; and this statement may well explain why so many of his pictures have lost none of their modernity or elegant expressiveness to this day. Without a doubt, Schneiders was one of the most significant photographers who repositioned and redefined the artistic medium of photography in post-war Germany.

Despite all artistic impulses, Schneiders always considered photography independent, as can be read in the afore-mentioned text from the Leica Magazine: “Photography has always had its fundamental impulses from painting and graphic art, and so far its development has always run in parallel with the visual arts. Every ‘ism’ is also reflected in photography, yet photography has its own laws as well.” He then finishes his presentation with a simple summary: “We should once again learn to see our environment is a positive manner, and to be more honest with ourselves and our work: simple, clear and true.” The fact that he was skilfully able to blank out post-war melancholy, was not only because of his clients, but also due to his photographic curiosity and his people-oriented personality.

His direct images – characterised by clear compositions, strong contrasts and a masterful play with light and shadow – were abstract and documentary at the same time. In Schneiders’ eyes, abstraction was not necessarily the antithesis of realism, but rather a visually condensed interpretation of reality. Driven by an empathic curiosity, he found his subjects wherever he found himself: in the area around Lake Constance, on his many trips through Germany and, eventually, his extensive travels around the globe. Schneiders managed to establish a flourishing career as a travel photographer and author of illustrated city and country guides. However, it was not the act of travelling itself that he found so appealing, but rather “the opportunity to work in a free and, in a sense, playful manner”.

The outcome of this freedom, as well as the wide and varied range of his pictorial compositions, can be discovered in an impressive new photo book and exhibition titled ‘Schaut her!’ (Look here!). Because of the coronavirus, the exhibition in Munich is currently closed, but should be reopened in due course. After that the exhibition will move on to Singen. (Ulrich Rüter)

The issue 4/2020 of the LFI magazine presents Toni Schneiders in its Leica Classic segment.

All images on this page © Toni Schneiders Estate / Stiftung F.C. Gundlach
Equipment: Various Leica M Models, various lenses
Two on the Wire, Lindau, 1954
Country Road, Kärnten 1957
Restaurant at Grunewald Tower, Berlin, 1959
Man from Above, St. Malo, 1966
White on Black, Lake Bled, Yugoslavia, 1965
Pillars in the Water, 1957
Roofs, Kaufbeuren, 1951
Umbrella from Above, Dubrovnik, 1965

Toni Schneiders

Schneiders was born on May 13, 1920 in Urbar near Koblenz, Germany. 1936 to 1938: apprenticeship at the Menzel photo studio. From 1940: served in the aerial photography unit of the German Air Force, and as a front-line war reporter. From 1948: opened a photo studio in Lindau at Lake Constance; co-founded the fotoform collective; numerous group exhibitions. 1950 to 1951: took over the Werner Mannsfeldt photo studio in Hamburg; returned to Lindau. From 1953: extensive travels throughout Europe, Africa and Asia. Diverse exhibitions and honours, including the DGPh Cultural Award 1999 (together with fellow fotoform members Siegfried Lauterwasser and Wolfgang Reisewitz). Toni Schneiders passed away in Lindau on August 4, 2006.

Toni Schneiders Archive
Toni Schneiders Retrospective in Munich
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