Feininger combined an architect’s love of precision, space, and technique with an artist’s love of sweeping vistas. Although an American citizen, Feininger did not come to the United States until he was 33. Son of the late acclaimed artist Lyonel Feininger, he was born in Paris in 1906, and graduated with highest honors in architecture from schools in Germany. At the time, Feininger was using a camera as a reference aid in creating his building designs. The camera became his mechanical sketchbook.
Commissions were scarce for non-European citizens in the depressed economy. After a year’s work in France for the legendary architect Le Corbusier, followed by a struggle to find employment in Stockholm, Feininger turned his attention full-time to photography. He sold his first photos in 1932, moved with his family to the United States in 1939, and in 1943 became a staff photographer for LIFE magazine where he completed more than 430 assignments in a twenty year span.
Full of towering skyscrapers, broad swaths of road, and angles of geometric perfection, Feininger’s works are masterful in their technical excellence and panoramic grandeur. Such timeless images as New York Landscape Seen From Eight Miles Away in New Jersey, 1947 are notable for their harmony, balance, and grand scale. Through Feininger’s trained eye, the beauty and intricacies of both the natural and man-made world were magnified and intensified. From the broad span of bridges, exuding progress and power, to the symmetrical perfection of the skeleton of a carbon viper, Feininger’s images revealed a new aesthetic of order and geometric perfection. Even a seemingly utilitarian object like a doctor’s head mirror possesses mesmerizing, symbolic qualities when seen through Feininger’s lens.
Feininger had said that the city had attracted him since his earliest days as a photographer. But in time this love grew to include all the aspects of the city and its buildings, its people, its cars and traffic jams, its confusion and even its ugliness. I see the city as a living organism: dynamic, sometimes violent, and even brutal, he stated.