Born 1922 in Munich, Germany, Erich Hartmann was sixteen when he came with his family in 1938 to Albany, New York, refugees from Nazi Germany. The only English speaker in the family, he worked in a textile mill, attending evening high school and later taking night courses at Siena College.
When the U. S. entered the Second World War he enlisted in the U.S. army, trained in Virginia and at Ohio State University, served in England and during the invasion of Normandy as well as in battles across Europe. At the war’s end he was assigned as court interpreter at Nazi trials in Cologne.
In early 1946 he came to New York City where he worked as an assistant to a portrait photographer and then as a freelancer. His portrait subjects over the years included Walter Gropius, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Koestler, Rachel Carson, Marcel Marceau, Gidon Kremer and many other literary and musical personalities.
Hartmann was invited to join Magnum Photos in 1952. From 1967 to ’86 he was on the board of directors and he served as president in 1985 and ’86.
Hartmann first became known to the wider public through his work for Fortune magazine in the 1950s. His poetic approach to science, industry and architecture shone through the photo essays “Shapes of Sound”, “The Building of Saint Lawrence Seaway”, and “The Deep North.” He later did similar essays on the poetics of science and technology for French, German and American Geo and other magazines.
He traveled extensively, dividing his time between editorial assignments for publications worldwide, and annual reports for IBM, Boeing, RCA, Mead Paper Co., Ford Motor Company, Citroën, Citicorp, Schlumberger, Steuben Glass, All-Nippon Airways, Kimberly Clark, Pillsbury, The European Space Research Organization and numerous others. His editorial work included major features on art, travel, architecture, music, technology, science and industry for magazines in the United States, Europe and Japan. During the Vietnam War he traveled to Saigon with representatives of the Fellowship of Reconciliation to meet with South Vietnamese peace activists.
Over the years he was a lecturer at the Summer Academy in Salzburg, Austria. He also taught at the Syracuse University School of Journalism, the University of Maryland, the “Design and Content” series at New York University and participated in many photographic symposia and workshops in the U.S. and Europe. He was the recipient of numerous prizes, awards and citations including the Photokina Award, Cologne, Germany, International Award from CRAF, Italy, the Newhouse Citation in Photography, medals and awards from Art Directors’ Clubs.
Hartmann’s principal interest, in photography and in life, was the way in which people relate to their natural surroundings and to the environments that they have created. He documented not only industry and high technology–glass-making, aviation, agriculture and food production, scientific research, space exploration, construction, information processing–but also the human cultural and geographical context: Shakespeare’s England; James Joyce’s Dublin, Thomas Mann’s Venice, a U.S. presidential election, train travel through Europe, musicians and music-making wherever he traveled.
His personal projects reveal a fascination with the beauty embodied in technology: the abstract patterns of ink drops in water, laser light in natural and man-made environments, intimate portraits of precision-manufactured components. His most penetrating and poignant work explores the emptiness that can lie within the world human beings make for themselves: a mannequin factory crowded with inanimate yet suffering faces; the alienation of the modern workplace; and the mute, horrifying remains of the Nazi concentration camps.
Erich Hartmann was married for 52 years to Ruth Bains; she, their son, Nicholas Hartmann, daughter, Celia Hartmann, and granddaughters Emily and Alice Garfield survive him. He died 1999 in New York City.
Selected solo exhibitions
2016 A Certain Slant of Light, CLAIRbyKahn, Munich
2015 ODB, Landesnationalmuseum, Zurich
2012 The Abstract Art of Erich Hartmann, CLAIRbyKahn, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France
2012 View York–Nine Perceptions, CSH Freiburg, Germany
2011 View York–Nine Perceptions, DAI Tübingen, Germany; CLAIRbyKahn, Munich
2009 Erich Hartmann, CLAIRbyKahn, Munich
2008 A Place in Maine, Magnum Gallery, Paris
2008 Music-Makers, United World College of the Adriatic, Duino, Italy
2007 Mannequin Factory, Ikona Gallery, Venice
2006 Writing with Light, Atlas Gallery, London
2005 Writing with Light, Artefact Gallery, Zurich
2005 Dublin 1964, Robinson Gallery Memphis, Tennessee
2004 Dublin 1964, Gallery of Photography, Dublin
2004 A 1960 Transatlantic Crossing on RMS Queen Elizabeth, South Street Seaport Museum, New York
2000-2002 Where I Was, Fotohof Salzburg, Austria; Leica Gallery, New York; Sankt Anna Kapelle, Passau, Germany; Jewish Museum, Munich; Leica Gallery, Tokyo
1995-2008 In the Camps, Arc de Triomphe, Paris; Goethe House, New York; Leica Gallery, New York; NGBK Gallery, Berlin; Kunsthaus, Hamburg; St. Anna Kapelle, Passau, Germany; National Monument, Camp Vught, Netherlands; Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome; Villa Cian, Spilimbergo, Italy; Sala San Leonardo, Venice; Lucca Festival; Villa Manin, Italy
1991 High Technology, Berlin, Bonn and elsewhere in Europe
1989 Musicians at Work, Lockenhaus Music Festival, Austria
1988 Veritas, Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York
1987 Washington, Magnum Gallery, Paris
1985 The Heart of Technology, Paris, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Tokyo
1984 Erich Hartmann Slept Here, Residenz Gallery, Salzburg
1983 Macroworld, Olympus Galleries in Paris, Hamburg, Tokyo, London
1982 Train Journey, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Hamburg and numerous other venues in the U.S.
1982 Europe in Space, Photographers’ Gallery London; also shown in Paris
1978 A Play of Light, Neikrug Gallery, New York
1977 Photographs with a Laser, AIGA Gallery, New York; Fiolet Gallery, Amsterdam
1976 Carnet de Route & Natures Mortes, Photogalerie, Paris
1971 Mannequin Factory, Underground Gallery, New York, Fiolet Gallery Amsterdam, also shown in Paris
1962 Our Daily Bread, The Coliseum, New York, Department of Agriculture, Washington and other venues in the U.S.
1956 Sunday with the Bridge, Museum of the City of New York, Brooklyn Museum
2011 View York–Nine Perceptions, Kerber Verlag, Bielefeld
2000 Where I Was, Otto Müller Verlag, Austria
1995 In The Camps, W.W. Norton Company, USA; also published in England, France, Germany and Italy
1972 Au Clair de la Terre, European Space Research Organization and Arcade (published in U.S. as Space Focus Earth)
1965 About OXO, Spectator Publications, USA