Along with Albert Hennig, Erich Comeriner and Judit Kárász, Irena Blühová is one of the few students at the Bauhaus who pursued social photography. Even before her studies in Dessau, Slovakian-born Blühová had started taking a critical look at the lives of those around her.

Portrait of Irena Blühová, Bratislava, photo: Hilde Hubbuch, 1932, reproduction. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © unknown.
Portrait of Irena Blühová, Bratislava, photo: Hilde Hubbuch, 1932, reproduction. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © unknown.

Irena Blühová was born on 2 March 1904 in Považská Bystrica (Slovakia). From 1914 to 1918 young Irena attended the Höhere Töchterschule (secondary school for girls) and the Gymnasium (grammar school) in Trenčín. Aged 14 she started work in a notary’s office as an assistant secretary; four years later she becomes a bank clerk (1922–1929). Blühová begins to be politically active in this period. From 1922 to 1926, alongside her regular job in the bank, she studies at the Realgymnasium (grammar school with a focus on languages/sciences) in Bratislava. She also turns her hand to photography, taking her first tourist photos and starting the series 'Kysuca – Kysuca', 'Kinder und Kinderarbeit' (Children and child labour), 'Kretinismus und seine Ursachen' (Cretinism and its causes) and 'Auf dem Markt' (In the market): Social studies, which would mark the start of her artistic approach to photography. In 1927 she produces three more photo series, focusing on the 'Jahrmärkte im Waagtal' (Fairs in Waagtal), 'Wegekreuze hinterm Dorf' (Wayside crosses behind the village) and 'Korbflechter' (Basket weavers); the series 'Saisonarbeiter' (Seasonal workers) and 'Auch so lässt's sich leben' (Another side of life) follow a year later. In 1929, her series 'Fischer' (Fishermen) and 'Italien' (Italy) are published in periodicals.

Group of children, photo: Irena Blühová, 1929. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Zuzana Blüh, London.
Group of children, photo: Irena Blühová, 1929. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Zuzana Blüh, London.

In 1931 Irena Blühová decides to study at the Bauhaus in Dessau, inspired by an article in the Frankfurter Zeitung (May 1927) in which Ilja Ehrenburg discusses the Bauhaus and its specialisation in architecture, typography, photography and advertising. After attending Josef Albers’s preliminary course Blühová studies under Joost Schmidt in the printing and advertising workshop and in Walter Peterhans’s photography class. Blühová leaves the Bauhaus in 1932

Old woman in the village, photo: Irena Blühová, 1930. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Zuzana Blüh, London.
Old woman in the village, photo: Irena Blühová, 1930. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Zuzana Blüh, London.

From 1933 to 1941 Blühová runs the bookshop Blüh in Bratislava and founds the group Sociofoto. In 1933 in association with architect Fridrich Weinwurm and actor Andrej Bagar, she starts up the agitprop theatre group Dielňa-Werkstatt-Mühely. In 1934, Blühová organises an exhibition for the group Sociofoto in Pálffy Palace in Bratislava. In 1935, John Heartfield uses one of her images for the design of a book cover for 'Brachland', the German edition of a novel by Peter Jilemnický. The former Bauhausler now photographs the lives and work of Alpine herdswomen for the series 'Leben und Arbeit der Sennerinnen' and tobacco growers for 'Tabakzüchterinnen'. In 1938, when the avant-garde Kunstgewerbeschule (school of arts and crafts) in Bratislava sets up a film department headed by Karol Plicka, Blühová enrols to study there (1938–1939).

During the war, from 1941 to 1945 Blühová is active in the illegal antifascist movement. From 1945 to 1948 she co-founds and directs the publishing house Pravda; at the same time she starts work on the photo series 'Persönlichkeiten' (Personalities). In 1948 Irena Blühová becomes mother to a daughter, Zuzana. From 1949 to 1951 she leads the cooperative society Volkstümliches Kunstgewerbe. In 1951 Blühová finds employment in the state institute of education. In 1955 she co-founds the Slovak educational library and is its director until 1965. From 1954 to 1957, alongside her work, she studies at a teacher training college. In 1959 she co-publishes the young people’s book 'Prvé kroky' (with Krista Bendová). In 1964 Blühová is honoured by the state for excellence in her profession. In 1966 she publishes the book 'O jedno prosím' with Elena Čepčeková. In June 1968 Blühová contributes to the international conference Výtvarné avantgardy a dnešok in Smolenice, which is dedicated to the Bauhaus and the Bratislava school of arts and crafts. In 1971 the book 'O jedno prosím' is finally published in German in Berlin under the title 'Keine Nachricht für Katka' (No news for Katka). Blühová takes part in the 3rd and 4th International Bauhaus Colloquium in Weimar in 1983 and 1986. In 1989 she is awarded the Josef Sudek Medal to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the discovery of photography. 

Irena Blühová died on 30 November 1991 in Bratislava.

 

[AG 2015]

Operator at the Bauhaus, photo: Irena Blühová, 1931–1932, reproduction. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Zuzana Blüh, London.
Operator at the Bauhaus, photo: Irena Blühová, 1931–1932, reproduction. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Zuzana Blüh, London.

Literature:
Blühová, Irena (1969): Bauhaus: Wie es ein Student erlebte, in: ars, No. 2.
Galerie am Sachsenplatz (1983). bauhaus 6, Teil 1. Irena Blühová und Albert Hennig, engagierte Fotografie vom Bauhaus bis heute: tschechoslowakische Fotografen 1900–1940, Leipzig.
Ketterer Kunst Hamburg: 'Die Fotografie zur Waffe zu schmieden'. Blühovà, collection of 48 original black-and-white photographs, http://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/auction-catalogues/ketterer/catalogue-id-ketter10002/lot-0d90b0a8-4ce8-4eb5-8549-a3f6010244bc, 09.06.2016.
Secklehner, Julia: Capturing the Ordinary? Irena Blühová and photographic modernism in Slovakia 1926–1936, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London, http://euroacademia.eu/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Julia_Secklehner_Irena_Blühová_and_Photographic_Modernism_in_Slovakia-.pdf, 09.06.2016. 
Škvarna, Dušan et al. (1991): Irena Blühová (Ireny Blühovej), Bratislava.