DTheo Rosenfeld could have glued the note “Valuable cargo” to the flap of his station wagon when he set off from Weimar to Frankfurt this Wednesday in snow, freezing rain and with a defective windshield wiper system – thirty-two graphic boxes in his luggage, one each small treasure chest filled with manuscripts and notes, telephone lists, diaries and, above all, stacks of old prints by the photographer Gisèle Freund. Altogether a not inconsiderable part of her estate. The gray boxes are now the latest acquisition in the windowless archive room of the Jewish Museum, where they fill half of the shelf with the number 5. The other half houses the estate of Anne Frank’s family. Another museum treasure.
Gisèle Freund was both an artist and a theoretician. Born in Berlin in 1908 and raised there in an upper-class Jewish milieu, she studied sociology in the early 1930s, including with Norbert Elias in Frankfurt. In 1933 she fled to Paris, where she received her doctorate at the Sorbonne with a thesis on “Photography and civil society”. She had already started taking photographs during her studies, “out of necessity”, as she puts it in her memoirs. Among the first shots were images of a May Day rally in Frankfurt, the last before the Nazis took power. This was followed by photo essays about the misery on the outskirts of big cities for magazines such as “Vu”, “Weekly Illustrated”, “Picture Post” and “Life”. But even before the outbreak of the Second World War, the first celebrities had taken a seat in front of her camera, and as early as 1939 the then legendary bookseller Adrienne Monnier, with whom she lived for a while in Paris, set up the exhibition “Ecrivains célèbres”, “Famous writer”, a. “Reports to earn money and portraits for my own pleasure,” Gisèle Freund distinguished. The work did not make her rich, although she was at times a member of the legendary photographers’ agency “Magnum”; the pleasure, on the other hand, is world-renowned. Anyone who recalls the likenesses of James Joyce, Colette or Virginia Woolf, Frieda Kahlo or Evita Perón today has their early pictures in mind.