Karl-Hugo Schmölz

Photographic retro

Roberto Rosselini’s classic neorealist film “Germania anno zero”, in which 12-year-old Edmund Köhler stumbles through the apocalyptic ruins of ravaged Berlin in 1948, draws a devastating picture of post-war Germany: The wounds are still too fresh after years of war, suffering defeat and, not least, struggling with feelings of guilt.

Karl-Hugo Schmölz’s architectural photographs taken just a few years later present a country in a phase of economic recovery, freed from rubble and debris. His pictures of organically winding staircases, graceful cinema auditoriums and opera houses, elegant administration buildings, shopping galleries, car showrooms and office lobbies mostly in and around Cologne point to a society that has exchanged its piles of detritus for a well-formed belief in progress: Bank branches, administrative offices, broadcasting studios and publishing houses of the day had to be brightly lit and spacious. Artistically designed neon signs hang on facades, while the building interiors are adorned with chandeliers and hallway lamps that jut boldly into the room. Flowing lines and pleasing surfaces, tall glass facades and portals as well as predominantly light colours lend the buildings a perceptibly ethereal and elegant feel, giving the economic boom during the “Wirtschaftswunder” in West Germany a modern architectural style.

The boom brought Schmölz assignments that required a new, more optimistic look: He made his name as an exceptional freelance photographer for industry and advertising, above all thanks to his conceptual maturity and the technical perfection of his commercial photographs; his clients included famous furniture manufacturers like Interlübke and Thomé. Schmölz not only took photos of fine furniture, but also of the new buildings for their owners and architects: They are dignified portrayals of authority, consumption, entertainment and progress. His architectural photographs owe their quality, among others, to strategic planning and his masterly, almost cinematic light arrangements.

Today, we look at these photographs with a slight feeling of nostalgia; after all, they suggest a renewed loss. Because similar to the signs of guilt and dishonour in Rosselini’s leaden piles of rubble, these buildings also stand for radical change: Many of the edifices built in Germany in the 1950s are gradually disappearing from our cities and being replaced with new buildings that impart a different zeitgeist. As in many other areas of life, a sense of the need to preserve the past is lacking. And so Karl-Hugo Schmölz’s aesthetic photographs perform a very traditional function of photography: They document what has been.

Biographical information

1917

born in Weissenhorn, Germany

1930s

begins training as a photographer in the workshop of his father, Hugo Schmölz

1938

after his father’s death, he continues the tradition of the photographic studio under the company name of Hugo Schmölz

1939

becomes a member in the Deutscher Werkbund and the GDL – German Society of
Photographers

1946

after returning from military service and captivity as a war prisoner, begins extensive photographic documentation of the destruction of the City of Cologne

1956

marries the fashion and advertising photographer Walde Huth (1923-2011) and, together with her, founds a studio for furniture and interior architecture and design under the name of schmölz + huth

1982

together with the author Rolf Sachsse, he publishes the monograph Fotografierte Achitektur

1986

dies in Lahnstein, Germany