cover image Eye to I: The Autobiography of a Photographer

Eye to I: The Autobiography of a Photographer

Erwin Blumenfeld. Thames & Hudson, $29.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-500-01907-8

The late fashion photographer's work for Harper's Bazaar and Vogue--urbane photos that were the ""New Yorkiest"" of New York--were created in spite of the meddling and conniving of ""hideous"" and ""nasty"" art directors and fashion editors. Or so Blumenfeld (1896-1969) would have us believe in this caustic, vigorously sardonic memoir, first published in Germany in 1976. It's a raucous narrative, rich with beguiling tall tales, narrow escapes and praise for some of the kinder denizens of the demimonde. The ability to survive and even flourish in hostile environments is Blumenfeld's recurrent theme, but these struggles unfold mostly in the classrooms and parlors of turn-of-the-century Berlin and the battlefields and concentration camps of the world wars. Unsparing humor and a compelling sense of the absurd invigorate Blumenfeld's tales of WWI, when he was pressed into service as an ambulance driver (he was the only survivor when, ""driving with neither lights nor experience,"" his loaded ""Corpse-Carrier"" overturned). He was also the bookkeeper of Field Brothel No. 209 (in service of a unit diagnosed as ""one hundred percent syphilitic""--attributable, perhaps, to the practice of recycling hard-to-find condoms); a go-between for an amorous nun and priest; and a French tutor to an obtuse sergeant (who when hiring Blumenfeld awarded him the Iron Cross). His reminiscences about his brutal internment in a French concentration camp during WWII unleash some of his most vitriolic and hilarious rhetoric, not only at Hitler (the ""idol of lavatory manufacturers"" whose likeness, superimposed on a crystal skull, was the author's first celebrated photograph) but also at the French collaborators, in whose pestilential camps the photographer was imprisoned. Illustrations. (June)