The Wadden Sea / The Curonian Spit, 1933 - 1937


The photographs of the intertidal mudflats in the Wadden Sea, Alfred Ehrhardt's most successful series, were taken from 1933 to 1936. At that time Ehrhardt lived in Cuxhaven, where he had started to work as an organist in 1933 after the National Socialists had dismissed him from the Landeskunstschule Hamburg. On extended walks in the "archaic landscape" of the mudflats between the islands Neuwerk and Scharhörn, he discovered the beautiful structures in the sand, formed by wind and water. He realized that with photography and film he could directly continue investigating his earlier artistic subject matter without getting into conflict with the NS doctrine of art. In 1936 he showed his photos of the mudflats for the first time in the Hamburger Kunstgewerbeverein. The exhibition was so successful that for one year it traveled through Germany. It was continued e.g. at the Museum Folkwang in Essen and at the Galerie Nierendorf in Berlin before it moved abroad to Paris, Copenhagen and Stockholm. The first photo book Das Watt followed in 1937 published by Heinrich Ellermann, Hamburg. Also in that year, Ehrhardt started shooting his first film in the mudflats of the Wadden Sea Urkräfte am Werk, which unfortunately is lost today.

As a lecturer in material studies Ehrhardt had already taught his students that inorganic matter is not dead, but a living element. The photographic detail was to bear the "organic whole" in it. Ehrhardt stresses the quality of the surface with bright lighting, emphasizes the movement and rhythm of the material structure and creates a contrapuntal tension between geometric order and dynamic lines. His abstract landscape details suggest a deeper relation between natural form and artistic form; the archaic signs of nature develop a life of their own, they become an ornament, a sculpture or a form out of fauna and flora.

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