© Céline Brunko

The Photo Book in the Service of Industry and Commerce

23 February to 29 May

Exhibitions of the
Photo Library

From the time of London’s 1851 Great Exhibition onwards, at the latest, photography began to evolve from its status as an industrial product into a means of documenting industry itself. In the course of the following decades, photography became the medium of choice for highlighting entrepreneurial profiles – often in the form of corporate publications issued to mark special occasions such as a jubilee year, with the aim of presenting the company in a light that conferred a sense of gravitas and lasting stability. Businesses used photographic illustrations in a bid to modernise their image while at the same time consolidating their market position. Produced in-house, in high-quality small editions, superbly printed and exquisitely bound, such publications were often distributed as gifts. The photographs themselves tended to range from aesthetically enhanced portrayals of company products to insights into the production process and the daily life of the workforce.

Adhering closely to specific company guidelines, the commissioned photographers rarely had much input in terms of their own original ideas or compositions. However, as industrialisation continued to progress, the thematic and functional requirements of these publications also began to change, offering greater scope for the creativity of the photographers and the designers. By the 1920s, the experimental visual syntax of the Neues Sehen movement had come into its own, with bold angles, audacious cropping, and photomontage.  At the same time, however, the clear-cut documentary style of Neue Sachlichkeit was also celebrated. Photographers were no longer regarded merely as artisans in the employment of the company, but started to be credited by name. The more artistically sophisticated the corporate publication, the better it served as a reflection of the requisite corporate identity. In the 1950s, during the economic upsurge of Germany’s postwar “Wirtschaftswunder”, countless corporate publications appeared – some of them even in colour – showcasing the very latest consumer goods and production processes. By the 2000s, however, major corporations were increasingly channeling their image via new and alternative media.

These carefully crafted and beautifully produced corporate publications can be regarded as documents recording our economic and cultural history. 
They have now become collectible objects in their own right, representing an important aspect of the history of photography and the photo book. A comparative study of the genre reveals the development and usage of new products on the one hand, and the improvements in the mechanical reproduction of photographic images on the other. At the same time, they chart the changing aesthetics of photography in a way that tells us as much about the evolution of business and industry as it does about the history of the photographic medium itself.

Curated by Céline Brunko and Matthias Gabi, Fotobibliothek


To the Photo Library catalogue