Michael Friedel

Helmut Newton

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980€  *
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    Helmut Newton 1968 in his studio in Paris during a fashion shooting.

    Digital Archival Pigment Print. Crane Museo Silver Rag Paper. 30 x 45 cm.

    Library No. 600495. This print is number 1 from an edition of 15

    Signed and dated by the photographer in pencil on the back of the work.


Michael Friedel was born in Berlin on 5th June, 1935. After the artist finished high school, he wanted to travel, he wanted to take photographs, and most of all he wanted to choose his own subjects. The many years he spent studying Latin and English later helped him to communicate in six languages. He learned photography on the job. It started with a year as a lab assistant in the Amann professional photo-laboratory, which served leading Munich publishers. It was there that Michael developed the negatives and enlarged the prints of some of the best international press photographers, many of them in the Magnum organisation, such as Ernst Haas, Erich Lessing, and Herbert List. The renowned Henri Cartier-Bresson once spared the time to look at Michael’s images and gave him some crucial tips.


Next came a course in salesmanship at Agfa in Munich. It was a good training, and at the end of it he felt fully equipped; so in the spring of 1953 he set out with his Rolleicord camera on a solo trip – to Italy. It was his first “photo-expedition”. Those Italian images won Michael the 1954 Photokina Prize. It was the launch of a remarkable career as a photo-reporter, which would take him all over the planet. The following year, 1955, Friedel hitch-hiked once again down to Italy – where he photographed Sophia Loren while she was filming La Bella Mugnaia. It was his first headline story for Germany’s STERN magazine. In 1956 he flew to the USA at his own expense, stayed there six months and took pictures of Elvis Presley in New York. It was Friedel’s first front cover for the German news weekly, DER SPIEGEL. He was just twenty-one. The following decades took him, chiefly on assignments for STERN, to the crisis zones of the Middle East. He also travelled around South America and the Soviet Union. He portrayed German diplomats as well as young people in East and West. It was through his photo-reportage for STERN that Friedel put the Maldives, the Seychelles, Mauritius, the Dominican Republic and the Yucatán on the world tourist map. One of Friedel’s lead stories in STERN made the miniscule “tanga” bikini into a worldwide fashion trend. Commissioned by GEO magazine, he lived for two years among primitive peoples on five continents. He spent time in Polynesia and on the Xingu Indian reservations in Brazil. Many such expeditions can be life-threatening; that is unavoidable, and Friedel comments ironically: “ It goes with the territory. But I always keep very alert. After all, I would like to be present at my own death.” The legendary figures of German journalism, Henri Nannen and Rolf Gillhausen, were among his earliest collaborators. In Africa he was accompanied by the author Erich Kuby, and in Asia by the poet Peter Rühmkorf. That was the way he achieved such an extraordinary career – a career that took him to more than a hundred countries in all five continents. For sixty years Michael Friedel has worked as a photo-journalist, taking pictures of people and the natural world. His images tell stories, some bizarre, some  richly comic, others astonishing, gripping, inspiring, nostalgic and sometimes even sad. But they are always rooted in life, and they could only be created because someone who loves life imbues them with that wit that makes them so vivid.


Almost all his travels and stories stemmed from his own initiative. For STERN he worked as a “permanent freelance”; GEO and the other international magazines were supplied with material by Michael Friedel as an independent operator. Of course, not every story was based on his own ideas, but if he had the feeling that a subject had no potential, or did not suit him, he could turn down any assignment. In 1968, when STERN wanted to put him on their payroll, he rejected the offer with the words: “I don’t want to be an official photographer. I don’t want to lose my independence.”  From then on he worked for the Hamburg magazine as a freelance photographer. And he chose the subjects. The Spanish philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, once said: “Freedom is being forced to make up one’s own mind.” He knew what he was talking about; after all, he came from a family of journalists. Michael Friedel, one of the greatest photo-reporters of our age, has always made up his own mind: in favour of independence, against being compelled to take the “safe” option, and in favour of self-determination, without which creative decisions and a critical, unbiased viewpoint are simply not possible. Personal freedom has been and remains the oxygen for his soul. And for his work.

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