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Rolf Tietgens (November 8, 1911 - December 11, 1984) was an American photographer who lived in the United States since 1939. When Patricia Highsmith and Ellen Blumenthal Hill came to New York in early May 1953, their affair was ostensibly "in a fragile state," and Highsmith began an "impossible" affair with the German homosexual photographer Rolf Tietgens, who had played a "sporadic, intense, and unconsummated role in her emotional life since 1943." She was reportedly attracted to Tietgens on account of his homosexuality, confiding that she felt with him "as if he is another girl, or a singularly innocent man." Tietgens shot several nude photographs of Highsmith, but only one has survived, torn in half at the waist so that only her upper body is visible. She dedicated ''The Two Faces of January'' (1964) to Tietgens.
Rolf Tietgens came from a Hamburg patrician family. He attended the Hermann-Lietz-Schule Haubinda and Hermann Lietz-Schule Spiekeroog and began a commercial apprenticeship after the Obersekunda, which he supplemented in 1933/34 with an internship in the US. There he saw show fights of the Indians at the World's Fair A Century of Progress, and met a Chief's son of the Sioux and made several trips to the Indian reservations, where he photographed a lot. Returning to Germany, he began a new phase of his life as a photographer. He became friends with the painter Eduard Bargheer and met the photographer Herbert List. In 1935 Tietgens moved to Berlin; there he trained at the Film School, where he also worked as a cameraman in the film adaptation of the Olympic Games in 1936. At the end of 1935, Alfred Schmid published his first photo book, with his Indian portraits taken two years earlier. It also contained songs of the Indians transmitted to him. The volume is a lyrical combination of text and images and at the same time points to the destructive effects of American civilization on the lives of the Indians. In 1936, the book was banned by the National Socialists. For some among the (now illegal) Bündischen, their possession was regarded as a distinguishing feature. Some Navajo verses were set to court in the youth movement; an illegal Rhineland Bündische group called itself "Navajos". Tietgens was able to publish some photos in magazines (for example, in 1935 in Der Querschnitt, and in 1938 in the Kodakmagazine Photographik), but saw no career opportunities in Nazi Germany and emigrated to New York in December 1938. In May 1939 his illustrated book Der Hafen with a foreword by Hans Leipwas was published by Hamburg's Ellermann Verlag in an edition of 6000 copies. The external reason for the publication was the celebration of the 750th anniversary of the Port of Hamburg. It "presents the port as an organism whose liveliness emerges in the rhythm of a working day as well as in the manifold close-ups of its technical organs such as ship propellers, material storage or cranes" and thus combines "documentary precision and advanced imagery".
Soon after arriving in New York, Tietgens was able to publish images in various magazines, including Popular Photography, U.S.Camera, and the special issue of Fortune for the 1939 New York World's Fair. In 1939 he received his own exhibition at Princeton University, and in 1941 he was commissioned by the Department of Agriculture to document the consequences of the Rio Grande flood disaster, and in the same year the Museum of Modern Art bought two of his paintings for permanent collection. In addition, he published essays, for example on the topic "What is surrealism?". Tietgens shared a studio in New York with photographer Ruth Bernhard; through her he met the writer Patricia Highsmith, with whom he had a special relationship until 1970. She dedicated her 1964 book The Two Faces of January to him, he took nudes of her and transformed portrait elements of the author into surrealist works. During the war he was interned for a short time as an "enemy alien". In order to be able to exist financially after the war, he was forced to earn his money mainly with advertising and magazine photography. Among other things, he presented pharmaceutical products and jewelry and received several awards for particularly successful advertisements.  He could not realize his wish to make further photo books. Tietgen's attempts to build on his earlier successes in Germany failed. He "objected to photographers, many of whom are artists, being told by an art director what pictures to take and how to take them. He couldn't stand being told and refused. He alienated people who could have given him work." In 1964 he ended his career as a photographer and devoted himself exclusively to painting. As a painter, Tietgens did not have much success. He had regular contact with the artist Johannes Dörflinger, who lived in New York at the end of the 1960s, but lived very isolated in the last years of his life and was in poor health. He died on December 11, 1984 in a clinic in Manhattan. Tietgen's works can be found in numerous collections, including the Berlinische Galerie, the Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, the Columbus Museum of Art (Columbus (Ohio)), the Berlin Museum of European Cultures, the Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C.).
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