Before Alfred Ehrhardt began working in photography in 1933, he had already been a practicing artist for a number of years. In 1924 he was hired as an art teacher at a boarding school. In 1928/29 he studied for a semester at the Bauhaus in Dessau and subsequently held a teaching position at the State Art Academy of Hamburg, where he promoted the ideas of the Bauhaus.
Ehrhardt’s painting reveals how extensively his work was shaped by his short time at the Bauhaus. The influence of Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, and Lyonel Feininger is apparent. In retrospect it becomes clear that his photography and films were closely linked to his artistic practice prior to 1933. His painting and photographic oeuvres equally demonstrate a core interest in abstraction, archaic imagery, form, material qualities, structure, and rhythm. Drawing on the work of Wassily Kandinsky, Ehrhardt subscribed to the aim of evoking the spiritual resonance of materials. His work also demonstrates parallels with Paul Klee’s notion of art, in which the study of nature serves as the essential point of departure for the creation of form. Numerous works indicate a sense of formal composition that is related to Oskar Schlemmer’s iconic typology of forms. For Ehrhardt, abstraction served as a means of freeing the inspirational source of nature from everything inessential. The contours of his “Urtier” (Primal Animal) drawing are later transmuted into the “Urformen” (primal forms) of his photography—found in the structures of the watt, crystals, and mussels.