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Berlin Modern: Yva's Leading Creativity

Read Time: 2 mins
Two couple dancingTwo couple dancingTwo couple dancing
Tansbar. Yva (Else Simon), circa 1930.

Pioneer of the German Avant-Garde

Like Tina Modotti, and working at roughly the same time, Yva's pictures pushed the boundaries of photography:

"In the 1920s and 1930s, Yva ran a flourishing studio in Berlin with several trainee employees, among them Helmut Newton. Her photographs were published in various well-known magazines and are still considered to have inspired the German avant-garde."—Jewish Museum Berlin

Yva started her studio at age 25, and was one of the leading photographers in Berlin by the early 1930s. Her creative vision was in high demand for advertising and fashion, and her pictures were published regularly in UHU, a magazine for young women, and the Die Dame, a fashion magazine.

Yva was banned from working as a photographer in 1938, arrested and deported to a concentration camp in 1942, where the was murdered in the Holocaust. Two thirds of her archives and effects were confiscated in 1943, and lost in a fire.


Here, we have a photo, circa 1930, of two couples dancing. Tanzbar means "danceable," "boppy," or "dance bar." Strictly speaking, I wouldn't call this picture avant-garde, but I think there are many hints of modernism in the way it is composed, in what Yva chose to include and exclude from her frame.

I love many things about this picture. First, the shapes. I love the combination of smooth tones and sharp lines: the hand on the shoulder, the swoop of the neckline. I love the texture, too: smooth skin, a rough coat, satin. Hair. I like the repetition of two couples dancing. Although all of our attention is focused on the pair in the foreground, the couple in the back give this picture space, dimension, and context. Yva's composition moves my eye around the frame in a wonderful way, never really stopping.

What I love most, though, is the feeling of intimacy and connection captured here. It's a photography of one place, one dance, and one embrace, but it's also so universal: it's every dance, all lovers, everywhere. What a terrific union of subject, photographer, and moment.

More About Yva

Dazed has a nice profile. Tanzbar is available from The Met. There's a great chapter about Ysa in Practicing Modernity: Female Creativity in the Weimar Republic.

More Photographers of Substance

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