Helmar Lerski


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Swiss actor, writer, photographer, and film-maker. Raised in Zurich, he spent several years in North Africa before moving to the USA, where he became a film actor and then one of the earliest professional cinematographers. From 1915 he followed the same profession in Berlin, before turning to portraiture in 1928. His dramatically lit images of working men and women won immediate acclaim. From 1932 until 1948, with a two-year interlude before the Second World War, Lerski worked as a photographer and film producer in Palestine. In both his Berlin and his Palestine portraits he used mirrors and white surfaces to create a theatrical ‘light structure’ around his subjects. In 1936 he executed his best-known experiment in portraiture: more than 160 images of a street sweeper, called The Metamorphosis of Light. This final photographic statement was followed by a shift to documentary film. In 1948 Lerski moved back to Zurich.

From The Oxford Companion to the Photograph in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Photography and Photographs.

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