Wolf Suschitzky Interview

Above: Wolf Suschitzky

Wolfgang Suschitzky - The United Nations of Photography

eBOOK DOWNLOAD: Wolfgang Suschitzky was born on the 29 August 1912 in Vienna, in what was then Austria-Hungary. Suschitzky’s first love was zoology, but he realised he could not make a living in Austria in this field, so instead, influenced by his sister, he studied photography. Around this time, the political climate in Austria changed from a Socialist Democracy to Austrofascism. Being a Socialist and of Jewish origin, Suschitzky decided there was no future for him in Austria and in 1934 he left for London, where his sister lived. While in London, Suschitzky’s father committed suicide. Suschitzky married a Dutch woman in and they moved to Holland. Suschitzky’s first job in Holland lasted only a few months and his wife left him so he travelled to England in 1935 and worked as a photographer and film cameraman. Suschitzky collaborated as a cameraman and Director of Photography on some 200 documentary and feature films.

Grant: There has been a lot of debate and discussion over the past few years concerning the cross over between photographers and filmmakers with both engaging in each other’s practice thanks to technological advancements in camera manufacture. But this is nothing new to you.
Wolf: I started out as a photographer. I went to school in Vienna in the 1920s for three years and mainly learnt how to touch up a negative, to get the wrinkles out, that sort of thing, which I never used later. The aesthetics of photography were never discussed only the technical side. In the first year we were taught by a lovely old man, named Kaiser. We were not allowed to use any artificial light. Mainly we did reproductions of woodcuts on an 8”x10” negative which had to be sharp from one end to the other and the old man said “Suschitzky will be a good photographer because he can put things sharp in the focus.” When I left I married a Dutch girl who I had met at the photographic school, we married in London actually where my sister also a photographer named Edith Tudor Hart was living. I had to leave Vienna because we had Fascism in Austria before Hitler and being of Jewish origin but not religion and coming from a Socialist family (Wolf’s father had the first socialist bookshop with his brother in Vienna, which Wolf was born above) I had to leave. We came to London in 1934 but I couldn’t get a working permit so we went to Holland because my wife had dual nationality. We tried taking portraits of children to make a little money but luckily after a year she left me for another man. I say luckily because I wouldn’t be alive today if I had stayed in Holland. I had to find a job quickly so I took a job photographing for postcards, which was interesting because I got to go all around Holland. I had to go to the local newsagents and ask them what views they wanted and then go and take them on a wooden camera with plates that were only blue sensitive.

That lasted a few months then I came back to England in 1935. My sister helped me for a few weeks and I helped her if she had a bigger job, she had some biggish assignments like the opening of a woman’s hospital in South London. I did portraits and children, which didn’t need a working permit but my good fortune, I’m a very lucky man really, I got an introduction to the leading documentary filmmaker at the time Paul Rotha. He said “I can’t pay you anything but if you want to learn, you could be an assistant” he then assigned me to a man who had made some very good 16mm films about London and he was engaged on a series of zoo films, this was up my street because zoology was always an interest of mine. Sometimes they would make a hole in the fence for our lenses and other times they would let us in with animals that would not hurt us and we got some good film work. I always had a camera with me a still camera and I the director would let me have ten minutes to take my pictures. Rotha produced these films and he soon assigned me as a cameraman on my first film, which was in Scotland and called Children of the City. It was about neglected war-time children. It was also the first film for the director Donald Alexander who was part of Rotha films, until he left and founded the first filmmaking co-operative ever called Data. I then became part of Data because I was familiar the co-operative movement, which I thought and still think is a good thing.

Grant: You were working as a film cameraman but your still images where appearing in magazines. How did that come about?
Wolf: I worked for Illustrated magazine, which was a rival to Picture Post . I went to see Stefan Lorant the founding editor of Picture Post and showed him some of my London photographs, he looked at them and said that they were lovely photographs but that I was not a photo-journalist. I didn’t use a minature camera, I had a 6×6 Rolleiflex then I think. When I thought about what he said later, I thought he was right, I created single photographs I did not tell stories.

© Grant Scott 2012


You can read the rest of this conversation by purchasing our In Conversation e-book with Wolf Suschitzky.

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Wolfgang Suschitzky - The United Nations of Photography

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