shall never forget the first time I came across the photographs of Emil MayerI saw only two of his prints, that first day, but it was enough to convince me that I was in the presence of a master. That was nearly ten years ago; and now, with the publication of this, his surviving masterwork, I believe more than ever that the finding of Emil Mayer’s lost art represents one of the most important discoveries in the history of photography.
Emil Mayer was a Viennese photographer who did most of his work with a hand-camera on the streets of Vienna around 1910. Although he was a lawyer by profession, his greatest passion was for photography: he was the long-time president of one of Vienna’s most prominent camera clubs, and by the time of his death was internationally known for his work in photography. He died in June, 1938he committed suicide along with his wife, soon after the Nazi occupation of Viennaand we know that the Gestapo entered his apartment soon afterwards, with the result that his entire personal collection of photographs was almost certainly destroyed.
In the years that followed, Mayer’s name, and his art, came to be completely forgotten. Fortunately, however, two copies of an extraordinary collection of original prints did manage to survive: the portfolio Wiener Typen, a collection of Viennese street scenes that Mayer put together himself and gave to family and friends. One copy found its way into the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The other copy has a fascinating history: we can trace it back to Mayer’s niece, Maria Menzel, who was one of the few members of his family to survive the Holocaust. Sometime in the 1970s, she brought the portfolio to G. Ray Hawkins, of the G. Ray Hawkins Gallery in Los Angeles, who then sold it to Graham Nash, the rock musician and well-known photo collector. For twenty years, the niece’s portfolio was part of Nash’s photo collectionuntil 1989, when he auctioned his entire collection at Sotheby’s.
The Mayer portfolio was acquired by Mack Lee of the Lee Gallery in Winchester, Massachusetts. It was in his gallery that I first saw Mayer’s photographs back in 1991. At that time, the name of Emil Mayer was almost entirely unknown. Thus began the many years of research that has led, finally, to the publication of Mayer’s extraordinary portfolio. The result is, I think, one of the most beautiful photography books ever made: Viennese Types. Since Viennese Types was first published last March, it has been hailed by such critics as Susan Sontag and Rudolf Arnheim, and has been acclaimed as one of the best photo books of the year. With its beautiful and timeless images of people on the streets of Vienna, this is a wonderful book for the person who loves art and photography, who is drawn to the nostalgia of old Vienna, or for anyone who is touched by the story of a great artist whose work was long lost because of the Holocaust.
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