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PORTFOLIO

14.01.2015

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Nearly 83 years ago, a young student equipped with a Leica set out to photograph the 1st of May demonstrations in Frankfurt. They are documents directly reflecting the political resistance to the growing influence of National Socialism. It was the last time the demonstrators were allowed to march publicly through the streets carrying flags and banners, because by the following year the
1st of May had also been turned into a synchronized propaganda event.

The photographer was Gisela Freund, who was 24 at the time. She had come to Frankfurt a year earlier to continue her studies in Sociology and History of Art. She was politically active, a member of the socialist youth movement, and she used the Leica I that her father had given her when she graduated high school, to document the street demonstrations. A year later she barely managed to avoid imprisonment by escaping to Paris. She kept her Leica and the negatives of the pictures she took in Frankfurt, but they were not published. In Paris, she not only completed her dissertation, but, as Gisèle Freund, also became one of the most famous photo reporters of her times. Above all, she became internationally renowned for her colour portraits of authors and artists. Freund died in Paris on March 31, 2001.

For a long time, the early photographs from Frankfurt were forgotten. The first time they were seen was in 1995 at the Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art. Gisèle Freund had taken out the original negatives and printed a selection on Baryt paper. Thanks to a generous donation from Dr. Martin and Margarethe Murtfeld, the History Museum Frankfurt now not only has a spectacular addition of 51 photographs to their collections, but is also able to present a selection of 23 of them in a special exhibition that opened on January 12 and will run till May 3, 2015.
Red students’ group in Alte Mainzer Gasse, Frankfurt am Main, 1 May 1932. hmf © bpk / IMEC, Fonds MCC / Gisèle Freund
Gisèle Freund: Communist speaker at the rally in front of the Opernhaus, Frankfurt am Main, 1 May 1932. hmf © bpk / IMEC, Fonds MCC / Gisèle Freund
The photographer documented political speakers at the Opernplatz and at the Römerberg. Freund's images are unique, historic testimonials, which already reflect the photographic eye for scenes and stories for which she would later become known, after fleeing to Paris
Gisèle Freund: Listener at Römerberg, Frankfurt am Main, 1 May 1932. hmf © bpk / IMEC, Fonds MCC / Gisèle Freund
A view of the masses of listeners and 1st of May demonstrators at the Römerberg. The seemingly fleeting snapshots the photographer took show her sense for composition, when she lets the political activists in the right bottom corner of the picture collide with the powerful masses of people with hats and sun umbrellas
Gisèle Freund: Children at Römerberg with sign: “Children!! Come to us”, Frankfurt am Main, 1 May 1932. hmf © bpk / IMEC, Fonds MCC / Gisèle Freund
The photographer and her Leica standing right in the middle of the demonstrators. 7,000 to 8,000 people are supposed to have taken part in the rally of May 1st that year. From the middle of the action, she focussed on the masses who had come together at the Römerberg
Gisèle Freund: Self-portrait, Berlin 1929. hmf © bpk / IMEC, Fonds MCC / Gisèle Freund
The self-portrait of the photographer was taken in 1929 when she was still in Berlin, probably before she began studying in Freiburg
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