For his self-portrait of 1932, Herbert Bayer drew on surrealism and experimented with unconventional perspectives and cutouts. The foundations for this had been laid earlier at the Bauhaus Dessau, where László Moholy-Nagy had established the medium of photography as an artistic discipline.
With László Moholy-Nagy’s appointment at the Bauhaus, from 1923 photography outgrew its purely documentary purpose and was increasingly used as a medium of design. An experimental approach to photography also prevailed, especially during the Dessau years. Multiple exposures, cutouts, photograms, unusual perspectives or the photomontage technique developed by the Dadaists were particularly popular.
The self-portrait by Herbert Bayer was however created some years after he had left the Bauhaus. Reality, symbolised by the body rendered with photographic precision, merges with the dream world, where a mirror not only reflects the image of an excerpt of reality, but literally makes it possible to experience the dissolution processes first-hand.
Bayer had left Dessau in 1928, seeking new challenges. He wanted to do practical work and the opportunity for this arose when the internationally renowned American advertising agency Dorland Studio opened a branch in Berlin, at Kurfürstendamm 211. Employed there as artistic director, Herbert Bayer established the Bauhaus-developed design principles in the advertising.
Later on in Berlin, Herbert Bayer also experimented, as he himself states, “further in the field of photography and especially photomontage, a technique that suggests a melding of objectiveness and imagination” and “surrealistic images” that enabled him to “portray the invisible or a sequence of continuous events”. In this period he worked among other things on a series of photomontages that he “originally conceived as a photographic narrative titled “Man and Dream” (Mensch und Traum), but never completed”, as he stated in a 1976 essay on visual communication, architecture and painting.
Hartmann, Udo (1990): Das Auge Herbert Bayers, in: Fiedler, Jeannine: Fotografie am Bauhaus, Berlin, S. 64–74.
Bayer, Herbert (1967): Visuelle Kommunikation Architektur Malerei. Das Werk des Künstlers in Europa und USA. Ravensburg.
Hansen, Stefan (Hg.), Schug, Alexander, Sack, Hilmer (2004): Moments of Consistency. Eine Geschichte der Werbung, Berlin.
[NO 2017, Translations: RW]