How Another Paul Wolff Leica Photo Exhibition in Japan Reveals Leitz’s 1930’s Advertising and Marketing Strategy

Jan 16, 2017  By Ed Schwartzreich
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The cover of the Japanese exhibition catalog, showing a nice contre-jour image which is an image from Dr. Wolff beach book

It is almost a truism that when one thinks one has finished a piece of research and put it to bed with a Viewfinder article, something additional pops up to bite one’s posterior. In this instance, my recent article on Dr. Paul Wolff ’s exhibitions in Japan concluded with a statement that I had not found any other photo shows of his than the ones I documented. Shortly thereafter, I came into possession of yet another 1930’s exhibition catalog, almost accidently. Interestingly however, I think deciphering this document says more about E. Leitz Wetzlar and its marketing strategies than it does about Japan and Dr. Wolff.

The catalog is a 24-page pamphlet, the size of the usual Leitz IB’s and product brochures, which documents an Oct., 1936 exhibition arranged by Schmidt Shōten, the Japanese Leica agency, devoted to the camera work of Dr. Wolff and Anton F. Baumann. Baumann was Leitz’s traveling lecturer prior to Walther Benser’s tenure, and also the photographer of one of the first all-color photo-books, Die Farbige Leica Buch / The Leica Book in Color (1938), Kodachrome having just arrived on the scene in 1935 and being shown in all its glory in this book. While the Schmidt exhibition catalog appears to indicate that all the images from both photographers were in monochrome, there is the striking similarity of at least one image motif of Baumann’s from the exhibition and his later color book.

The cover the rare English-language version of Dr. Wolff’s beach book.

Likewise, some of Dr. Wolff ’s images appear to be taken from his two 1936 books: Ski-Kamerad Toni / Toni, ou Ski et Photo / Ski and Camera on the Winter Olympics, and his beach book Sonne über See und Strand / Sun, Sea, Shore. There needs to be mentioned also a Japanese-language Dr. Wolff monograph The Paul Wolff Masterpiece Collection, which, while from 1940, contains both the same and similar images and with a Japanese editor and Japanese-language text, has the appeal of a home-grown product.

The text of the Schmidt catalog does not address the photographers at all – while it has the typical list of images and data, it runs on about Barnack, the development of the Leica camera, and the Leica’s improvements and recent new model (IIIa). It seems a reasonable guess that Dr. Wolff ’s images would bring the public in, and likely also would Baumann’s, especially if the first Leica color book was in the offing. So while the exhibition was a draw in itself, it was also, and perhaps primarily, meant to sell the photographic books from the two photographers, and of course Leica cameras and lenses.

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