Lotte Jacobi (1896-1990)

Lotte Jacobi (1896-1990).  Marc Chagall and daughter Ida, C.1945. Silver print with matte finish, print measures an impressive 11 x 14 inches, an uncommonly large format for Jacobi images. This image bears the negative scratches appearing only in the earliest prints. The damaged negative was problematic for Jacobi as indicated by later “corrected” editions of the image printed c.1965 and then again in 1979.

Provenance: collection of Abraham A. Davidson.

Johanna Alexandra “Lotte” Jacobi (August 17, 1896 – May 6, 1990) was a German photographer, who immigrated to the United States to escape Nazi Germany.

Born in Thorn (Toruń) in Prussia (now in Poland), she was the eldest of three children. She spent parts of her life in Berlin (1925-1935), New York City (1935-1955), and New Hampshire (1955-1990). Her portraits of celebrated subjects included Albert EinsteinThomas MannRobert FrostMarc ChagallEleanor RooseveltAlfred StieglitzJ.D. SalingerPaul RobesonMay SartonPauline KonerBerenice Abbott and Edward Steichen.

The name “Lotte” was a nickname given to her by her father.[1] She always used it professionally and was never known by her birth name outside her family. In 1916 she married Fritz Honig, and a year later she gave birth to a son, John. The marriage did not last, and in 1924 they divorced. She put her son in school in Bavaria and went to school herself in Munich.

After completing her formal studies (1925 – 1927), Jacobi entered the family photography business in 1927. During this same period (1926-27) she began her professional work as a photographer, and she also produced four films, the most important being Portrait of the Artist, a study of Josef Scharl. From October 1932 to January 1933, she traveled to the Soviet Union, in particular to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, taking photographs of what she saw. She returned to Berlin in February 1933, one month after Hitler came to power. As persecution againstJews increased, she left Germany with her son, arriving in September 1935 in New York City, where she opened a studio in Manhattan.

In 1940, Jacobi married Erich Reiss, a distinguished German publisher and writer, a marriage that lasted until his death in 1951. During this time, she continued portrait photography at her studio, while also embarking upon an experimental type of photographic work that artist Leo Katz later named photogenics: abstract black-and-white images produced by moving torches and candles over light-sensitive paper. In 1955, she left New York with her son John and daughter-in-law Beatrice and moved to Deering, New Hampshire, a move that changed her life. There she opened a new studio.

Lotte Jacobi is best known for her photographic portraits, which act as a “chronicle of an era.” The list of her subjects reads like a who’s who of the 20th century: W. H. AudenMartin Buber, Marc Chagall, W. E. B. Du Bois, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Käthe KollwitzLotte LenyaPeter Lorre, Thomas Mann, Max Planck, Eleanor Roosevelt, J.D. Salinger, Alfred Stieglitz, and Chaim Weizmann, to name but a few. Jacobi traveled around from assignment to assignment with her equipment bringing the studio to her models. She liked to wait until the models were most at ease before taking a photograph.

Jacobi continued to photograph through the early 1980s. She died in her home in DeeringNew Hampshire, in 1990.