Current Affairs Exhibition highlights work of 20th century photographer Gerti Deutsch
The Austrian Cultural Forum in Prague has a new exhibition showcasing the work of Viennese-born photographer Gerti Deutsch. She grew up in Vienna and also resided in Paris and Salzburg, but it was in London, that she began to be taken more seriously as a professional woman. She began working as a freelance photojournalist for the then-newly founded ‘Picture Post’.
The exhibition shows an outline of her work from 1935 – 1965 as well as earlier prints. Lorna Stephen spoke to Gerti Deutsch’s daughter, Amanda Hopkinson, to find out about her mother’s connections to the Czech lands as Gerti’s parents had been born in Olomouc and Český Těšín.
“When her parents were born in the 1870s and ‘80s of course there wasn’t a Czechoslovakia or a Czech Republic, it was all the Austro-Hungarian Empire and all of the Jewish Communities spoke German to one another. Czech had a status probably somewhere between German and Yiddish; it was a poorer second language. My mother was taught music by the mother of a famous art historian Ernst Gombrich, who was Czech – Leonie Hock, and she certainly heard, understood and spoke a certain amount of Czech. The posh language however, – and it was a very bourgeois family – was High German and that’s what she always spoke at home, apart from with her French Governess where she was bilingual in French.”
Do you think that it was important for here to take the photos of the Švejk performance by the exiled Austrian players in London – did she ask to do that or was it just a coincidence?
“No I don’t think it was a coincidence, I think she almost certainly wanted to do it. When I first came to Prague, the first word I learnt was “divadlo”, because every other place seemed to be a theatre! So there is an obvious connection. I think it was personal to her and I’m almost sure she would have suggested it. Some of the other stories she did, particularly to do with nursery schools and child development and so on were the standard stories that Picture Post began to give women because children were seen a the ‘soft stories’ and it was obviously a real shock to her to go back to her home city, Vienna, in ’47 and ’48 and see what had become of it and do really a hard news story on that, that was difficult.”
Would you mind telling me again the story of the paper opener from Olomouc?
“Well just recently in excavating all these boxes from the garage over the last couple of years, I found a paper knife which I couldn’t bring with me. I suddenly realised on my way to the easyJet flight, passing through London, that if I put it in my hand luggage they would take it off me because it has a sharp silver point, so I didn’t want to lose it. On it, it says ‘A. Haas und Söhne’, so my great-grandfather’s name - he and his sons were obviously in business together - ‘Malzfabriken’ which are malt houses and ‘Haná’ which is a suburb of Olomouc, and then ‘Olomouc’. I went there with professor Macháček, who is the professor I work with through an Erasmus teaching exchange at the Palacký Olomouc University, and he’d already checked it out for me.
"He found that there was half a malt house still left belonging to the family, but because it says ‘Malzfabriken’, there was obviously a chain of factories, so I don’t know where the other ones were but this was clearly the headquarters. It was situated by a train station called ‘Nová Ulice’, or as it was then called, ‘Neu Gasse’, so it was just the end of the train line and they must have exported this stuff. What I’m still not sure of - I get contrary messages from different people - is whether the malt processing was used for a brewery or it may have been for use in ‘Konditorei’ in pastries and baking and so on. There is still Haas Bakery in Austria that makes baking powder and vanilla sugar and all these kinds of products for cookery, so I will research that further. That’s the connection!”
The exhibition continues until April 30th 2013 you can find more information at the Austrian Cultural Forum’s website.