Obituary Stefan Moses
He set up a mirror and chair in such a way that Theodor W. Adorno could photograph himself, yet Adorno’s self-portrait is also very much the work of the photographer Stefan Moses, who died on 3 February 2018 at the age of 89. A larger-than-life figure in the world of photography, he himself was famed for capturing personalities, from Willy Brandt and Alexander Kluge to washerwomen and labourers. The winner of multiple awards was the first photographer to be accepted into the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts.
He was held in great esteem by many, having worked for publications such as Stern magazine during its heyday between 1960 and 1975; and it only took until 1967 for the Federal Republic of Germany’s graphic art scene to recognise him as one of the greats. This was the year in which he brought out his poetic pictorial narrative “Manuel”, a restrained yet generation-spanning storybook that captured a year in the life of his eponymous young son, who was also known as Lups and Mani, through a series of photographs. Here the reader not only sees but truly feels a child’s delight as they play with cat masks reminiscent of Saul Steinberg’s line drawings, and their grave disappointment when a much-coveted drum is nowhere to be found under the Christmas tree. There’s much in this book that seems highly contemporary, from Braun’s “Snow White’s coffin” to Manuel’s mother’s bikini and Leon Uris’ Exodus in the parental bookcase. The latter is bound to remind graphic artists of Saul Bass’s opening titles for the film “Exodus”, from that same period, although it is also a subtle nod towards Moses’ German-Jewish heritage. At the same time, “Manuel”, the work of Moses as a Munich-based citizen of the world, who himself appears in a photograph of a distorted mirror in the book, was more than later generations could stomach. As such, a new edition of the text by the undeservedly unsung author of the text, Reiner Zimnik, saw the description of a musician’s haircut changed from the childish description of “Bietel” to “Mopp”, while copies of the original version are occasionally defaced in public libraries, at least in Frankfurt, due to distaste at its inclusion of frontal images of a naked boy; scissors are deployed and pages torn out.
It is a bitter fate, yet it was one that Stefan Moses shared with the Twen magazine graphic designer Willy Fleckhaus, who found his reputation tarnished due to his association with Will McBride, whose sex education book “Show Me!” was subject to similar censure. But an obituary should not end with moral zealots or those who slaver over salacious details, the types who wilfully misunderstand #MeToo – seen all to clearly in the fate of Gomringer’s “Avenidas”. Instead, I would like to give the final say to the professional judgement of the late, great, and ever-inspiring typographer Hans Peter Willberg. Willberg rated “Manuel” as one of his favourite books, writing in his 2000 work “Typolemik/Typophilie” that “[…] this book taught me how to tell stories with pictures, how pictures can enhance and heighten what is on the page, and lead the reader through the hours and days of a young boy’s life, one page at a time.
It is a curious thing: the pages seem to be arranged according to freestyle choreographic rhythms. They abide by a simple grid, three spaces wide by three spaces high, with a white, enveloping edge around the outside, resulting in both small and large formats. But that’s not quite the whole picture: some images extend to the edge of the page, while some spread across to the opposite page, dispensing with the white rim. Fleckhaus was not blindly obedient to his grid if the pictures demanded otherwise. Yet when you leaf through this book, you do not notice the grid at all; the pictures appear to be subject to no formula whatsoever.
You cannot simply look at these pictures, you find yourself experiencing them. I have never known anyone to look at this book without it making them smile.”