Exemplary amateurs

From Bauhaus to Instagram

© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019
Umbo (i.e. Otto Umbehr, 1902–1980), Umbo selbst, um 1930, Silbergelatinepapier, 29,2 x 22 cm, Sammlung Siegert, München


Tulga Beyerle is an Austrian designer. Since 2018 she has been director of the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg.

[Translate to English:] Einstieg

They are shpaing our view of reality through their smartphone lenses. The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) is currently presenting an exhibition that actually makes a connection between the Bauhaus and Instagram. We spoke to the Director of the MKG Hamburg, Tulga Beyerle, about illusion and truth, imagination and self-representation, iconic images and political photography.


Tulga Beyerle, a billion people around the world use Instagram. What makes us all take so many snapshots: the urge to create memories, to reassure ourselves, or simply the ability to correct reality through a filter?

There are certainly many different reasons. If I look at my own Instagram behaviour, the bubble I move in is characterised by the impressions, experiences and inspiration I wish to share. Naturally, it’s also about positioning, creating your own profile. Am I attractive on Instagram, do people like my images, and which photos should I post? However, another way of presenting yourself is professionalised behaviour, which I can’t relate to. The tendency to portray oneself, becoming rather artificial and staged, appears to be a way for people to switch between different identities. Perhaps it’s also a phenomenon of our times that we want to assume different identities.

Is such playing with identities a bridge to the Bauhaus? Or was photographic self-representation by Bauhaus protagonists much more naïve than today’s selfie-age?

The Bauhaus teachers and students used amateur photography as a source of inspiration. They believed that works by amateurs, whose view had not been tainted by education, were more interesting than trained photographers. They sought to use that artistic potential, that freedom. The curator Esther Ruelfs found it fascinating to see whether something similar is happening today through Instagram. When Bauhaus-people took photos of themselves, they were of course also staging their identity. They presented themselves as part of an avant-garde group of young people who consciously positioned and presented themselves differently from the norms of bourgeois society at the time. Is that more naïve than Instagram today? Probably. The Bauhaus photography expresses a joy and optimism about the future, making a new world tangible. By contrast, people today consider very precisely how to generate personal gain from it – even if it is only to increase awareness.

Many Bauhaus photos are icons of photography. Were there any surprising conclusions from the exhibition?

We all know the iconic Bauhaus photos, for instance of Oskar Schlemmer, who is lying on the balcony and his feet are enormous because there is a distortion, which is a typical breach of photographic rules. Or double exposure and portraits that play on unusual angles or mirrors. What I didn’t know, for instance, is that Lucia Moholy had planned to produce a publication celebrating this break with classical photography: “Don’t stick to the rules!” The fact that the Bauhaus movement wanted to make that idea so deliberately public and stress how the Bauhaus discovered amateur photography was new to me.

Moholy-Nagy pressed the shutter in Ascona and photographed Oskar Schlemmer.
VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019
Moholy-Nagy pressed the shutter in Ascona and photographed Oskar Schlemmer.

One important section of the exhibition “From Bauhaus to Instagram” is the theme of political photography. Why?

Politics was just as important to young photographers in the 1920s as it was in the 1960s, 1970s and still is today. Workers’ culture. Class struggle. The fight against nuclear power and for environmental protection. These are all themes that have inspired amateur photographers to regard the camera as an instrument or a kind of weapon, with which they can demonstrate the unsatisfactory situation. Amateur photography only began when cameras became affordable. Today, smartphones give us an incredible amount of opportunities to share demonstrations, protest, historic moments and inequality. That doesn’t mean at all that society has actually changed due to political amateur photography. But things are beginning to shift. Think of the Arab Spring and how much we learned from inside the protests through photos on Instagram and Facebook. What I find extremely exciting in that context is the theme of forensic architecture, reconstructing events and discovering more about the truth.

Chabr Wandernde Gesten, Architektur: Nagy Jehle, Wien
Henning Rogge
Chabr Wandernde Gesten, Architektur: Nagy Jehle, Wien

[Translate to English:] Dank

Many thanks for talking to us, TulgaBeyerle.


About the Exhibition

Amateurfotografie. Vom Bauhaus zu Instagram
Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

  • # Interview
  • # Hamburg
  • # Exhibition
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