New Womanhood and the Bauhaus: The Avant-Garde Photography of Lucia Moholy

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During the years 1922–1928, Lucia Moholy operated as an independent photographer at the Bauhaus School in Germany, capturing images of students’ and masters’ art objects, inventively recording the defining architectural elements of the school, and pursuing her own experiments in portraits and photograms. Immersed in the dynamic, radical environment of the Bauhaus, Moholy explored the potential for modernist representative photography. From images capturing the avant-garde building designs of the Bauhaus to portraits sensitively exploring the phenomenon of the New Woman, Moholy’s oeuvre demonstrates her innovative engagement with contemporary artistic and cultural concerns. This dissertation seeks to reclaim Moholy’s place as the foundational figure for photography at the Bauhaus and argues for the radicality and unrestrained modernity of her artistic output.

Given the continued effacement of Lucia Moholy’s significant contribution to German modernism, this dissertation serves as a historiographical correction. Asserting Moholy’s central importance to the development of a photographic discipline at the Bauhaus, I demonstrate her impact as a pioneering female professional photographer in a field dominated by men. Moholy’s portraits and architectural photographs serve as testament to her unique experience of the Bauhaus and celebrate both the institution’s and her own modernity, and the free lifestyle each advanced. For younger female photographers who would matriculate at the Bauhaus, Moholy served as a powerful exemplar for considering the world through a multivalent female perspective, unrestricted by the domineering masculinity of the Bauhaus. In reconsidering Moholy’s oeuvre, I also situate her contextually within the German avant-garde and consider the individual interpretations of New Womanhood by Moholy and her contemporaries.

Moholy’s photographs possess a rich multiplicity of meaning, revealing layers upon layers. They are simultaneously experimental portraits of people and buildings, grounded in Weimar avant-garde expression, and memorializations that build a concrete history and contribute to the Weimar cultural archive. Arguing for Moholy’s innovation, her engagement with avant-garde trends in 1920s Europe, and her creation of a representational modernism, this dissertation interrupts the canon of Modernist scholarship and prompts a rethinking of Lucia Moholy’s contribution to photographic experimentation at the Bauhaus.