Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Mann, Marc Chagall, J.D. Salinger and Chaim Weizmann were among the venerated subjects of photographer Lotte Jacobi (1896-1990). With her camera, she transformed them from untouchable celebrities into human beings during a time when the world of commercial photography revolved around the personae of its subjects. When asked about her artistic philosophy, Jacobi was known to proclaim, “My style is the style of the person in front of me.”
“Focus on the Soul: The Photographs of Lotte Jacobi” presents more than 80 vintage prints and includes strikingly candid portraits of artists, actors, writers and celebrities including Lotte Lenya, Peter Lorre, Käthe Kollwitz, Robert Frost, Berenice Abbott and Paul Robeson. It was organized by the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, N.H., with which Jacobi had a long association. She retired to the area in 1955, and the museum held her first major exhibition.
“It’s hard to say that any photographer has left a legacy, but Lotte carved out her own niche,” curator Kurt Sundstrom said. “She was able to do things that no one else was able to replicate. In that way she had her own voice, the intention of capturing the soul of the individual.”
The exhibit includes documentary photographs of theatrical productions in Weimar Berlin and scenes of 1930s Soviet Russia and Central Asia, as well as abstract images made in the darkroom without a camera.
“Lotte was never going to define herself by one subject matter,” Sundstrom said. “This exhibition shows she was able to sustain a high level of art as she jumped from landscape to portrait to abstract. It’s all exceptional work.”
The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave.; Feb. 6-Apr. 11; Sun.-Wed., 11 a.m.-5:45 p.m., Thu. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; $10, $7.50 students and seniors, free children under 12 and members, pay what you wish Thu. 5 p.m.-8 p.m. (212-423-3200 or www.thejewishmuseum.org)