From the Collections: Yva
By Theresa Rodewald (Online Editor)
Yva, whose real name was Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon, is considered to be one of the most influential fashion photographers of the Weimar Republic. In the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (German Digital Library) alone, you can find more than 100 of her daring and dynamic photographs.
Yva was born as the youngest of nine children of a Jewish family in the middle of Berlin-Kreuzberg in Großbeerenstraße 36 on 26th January 1900. Her mother was a modiste and milliner, her father a merchant. After her apprenticeship as a photographer, Yva opened her own photographic studio in Berlin-Tempelhof at the age of only 25. She quickly developed into a photographer of avant-garde fashion and trends. Her fashion photographs were published in renowned journals and magazines like the Berliner Illustrierten or Elegante Welt; she also worked for the Ullstein Verlag (publishing house), among others. She developed photographic stories in the journal UHU, together with the editor-in-chief Friedrich Kroner, and these were the forerunners of today’s photo stories
In addition to fashion and advertising photographs, Yva also portrayed well-known personalities, for example the sculptor Hugo Lederer. In the early 1930s, her photographs were shown at exhibitions in Rome, London and Paris.
At times, Yva employed up to ten employees and trained young photographers. One of these trainees was Helmut Neustädter, who later changed his name to Helmut Newton and became world-famous with his photographs.
In the 1920s, most fashion and advertising pictures were still drawn by hand. With her photographs, Yva thus stood out fundamentally from other advertising campaigns. In addition, she was also different from other advertising photographers of her time. She used multiple exposures, a technique which was widespread in photographic art, especially in photographic surrealism, at that time.
With this method, the film or photographic plate is exposed multiple times, whereby several motifs can be combined into one image. Yva became a master of this technique and was successful in exposing a plate up to seven times. The images resulting from this were surreal, dreamlike and stood out clearly from advertising photography at that time. It was such avant-garde photographic techniques, unusual portraits and an aesthetic all of her own which gradually became Yva’s unmistakeable trademark.
In the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, you can mainly find such fashion and advertising photographs by Yva from the1930s, but which do not have multiple exposures. This apparently declining willingness to experiment is possibly to be seen within the context of the rise of National Socialism: modern art and its imagery – from expressionism to surrealism – did not fit into the National Socialist view of the world and, in certain states of the Weimar Republic, this was described as “undeutsch” (“un-German”) as early as 1930 and later vilified as “Entartete Kunst” (“degenerate art”) and confiscated, sold and destroyed.
Yva‘s photographs in the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek are characterised above all by the elegant use of light and shadow and playing with unusual perspectives as well as by her unique image composition.
In 1930, Yva moved into a new, large photographic studio in Bleibtreustraße 17. Many of her photographs were now taken on the studio’s expansive terrace. In 1934, she married the merchant Alfred Simon, who took over the commercial management of Yva’s studio.
At first, Yva was successful in continuing to work under the National Socialist government after 1933, despite her Jewish origin. In the course of the so-called “Aryanisation” – the expropriation of Jewish citizens and their expulsion from the economy, culture, science and social life – Yva transferred the management of her studio to her friend Charlotte Weidler, an art historian who is partly controversial today. Only two years later, however, in the course of the occupational ban issued in 1938, Yva had to permanently close her studio. Yva and her husband Alfred were forced to give up their flat in Schlüterstraße 49. The National Socialist “Reichskulturkammer” (“Reich Chamber of Culture”) moved into the expropriated building. To begin with, the couple moved into a smaller flat; later they had to share a furnished room. In the meantime, Yva was working as a radiographer in the Jewish hospital; Alfred, as a forced labourer, had to sweep streets in Berlin-Zehlendorf.
On 1st June 1942, the couple was arrested by the Gestapo. Just two weeks later on 13th June, they were deported by train in the direction of the extermination camp in Sobibór. 1030 of the train’s occupants were subjected to a selection in Lublin and some of these were sent to the nearby concentration and extermination camp in Majdanek. It is not known whether Yva and her husband were among these. They were probably murdered in Majdanek or Sobibór shortly after their deportation. On 31st December 1944, they were officially declared dead.
Shortly before their deportation, Yva and her husband had apparently tried to emigrate. At this time, more than 30 crates with furnishings from her photographic studio were stored in Hamburg free port. The majority of these crates were destroyed in a bomb attack and the rest later auctioned off.
Yva was one of several German-Jewish artists and intellectuals who were no longer able to emigrate, one of more than six million Jews murdered in the extermination camps. Today there is a “Stolperstein” (small paving stone bearing a brass plate inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution) in front of the Schlüterstraße 45 in Berlin in memory of Yva and her husband Alfred Simon. In addition, the passage between Hardenberg- and Kantstraße at Bahnhof Zoo (railway station in Berlin) also bears the name “Yva Bogen”. In the remembrance project “Wir waren Nachbarn” (“We were neighbours”) in the Schöneberger Rathaus (Schöneberg City Hall), there is an album dedicated to Yva. Besides this, we also have her photographic work which, with its mixture of elegance and avant-garde, has not lost any of its impressiveness up to the present day.
About Charlotte Weidler
In the recent past, there have been allegations made against Charlotte Weidler, who was the manager of Yva’s photographic studio from 1936 onwards. It has been alleged that she declared numerous works of art, which were entrusted to her by art dealers and collectors who had to emigrate, including Paul Westheim and Alfred Flechtheim, as gifts and sold them to art museums like the Museum of Modern Art in New York. There have, however, been no such accusations for Yva’s estate.
Jüdisches Museum Berlin: https://www.jmberlin.de/objekt-yva-amor-skin
Stolpersteine Berlin: https://www.stolpersteine-berlin.de/de/biografie/4261
Die Geschichte Berlins: https://www.diegeschichteberlins.de/geschichteberlins/persoenlichkeiten/persoenlichkeitenuz/368-yva.html