Nurnberg, Walter 1907 - 1991


Born in Berlin in 1907, Walter Nurnberg grew up in a Germany traumatised by the First World War and its consequences. However, from 1925 to 1929 the German economy, boosted by massive American loans, grew rapidly and began to return to some of its prewar prosperity. It was in this climate that Nurnberg began training as a banker, although he was deeply interested in the arts and had considered a career in music.

Nurnberg's serious interest in photography began when he visited the Reimann School of Art in Berlin as a management consultant and happened to see a class led by a former Bauhaus student, Werner Graeff. He was so inspired by what he saw and heard that he gave up his financial career and enrolled in the school to study with Graeff. A feature of 'new objectivity' photography was the use of cinematographic lighting techniques. Photographers at the Bauhaus and the Reimann School were quick to exploit the potential of this powerful new artificial lighting. A prominent exponent was Helmar Lerski, whose style was to have a profound influence on Nurnberg.

Nurnberg's new career was rudely interrupted in 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor. The period of Jewish persecution and cultural repression that followed soon forced him to leave Germany. He moved to England, where in 1934 he used his photographic skills to establish a successful advertising practice in London. During the Second World War, he served with the Pioneer Corps in the British Army. When peace came, Nurnberg found returning to the world of advertising photography a distasteful prospect. Influenced by his photographic heritage and the prevailing mood of the times, he became increasingly interested in the changing industrial scene presided over by the new Labour government.

In 1937, when the Reimann School was driven out of Germany by the Nazis, it re-established itself in London. Here, Nurnberg became a part-time teacher. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Nurnberg enlisted in the

army pioneer corps where he served until he was invalided out in 1944. He became a naturalised British subject in 1947.

In the post-war period, Nurnberg decided to concentrate on industrial photography and soon began to earn a reputation. The list of companies commissioning his work during the years that followed reads like a contemporary roll cal1 of the giants of British industry and included ICI, Mullards, British Steel, Alcan Aluminium and English Electric.

A key feature of Nurnberg's work is the dramatic lighting of his subjects and this is undoubtedly due to his German training. Nurnberg brought cinematographic lighting techniques to his advertising work in London and later adapted this to his work in industry. He often used large numbers of powerful angled spotlights and massive flash equipment. In the 1940s Nurnberg produced two authoritative books on lighting, Lighting for Photography and Lighting for Portraiture. Both became standard texts in Britain and abroad with reprints still being issued in the 1970s.

In 1968 he became head of the Guildford School of Photography, later part of the West Surrey College of Art and Design. Later he taught at Polytechnic of Central London and among his students were the likes of Chris Cook in 1974.

On his retirement in 1974 he was awarded an O.B.E. for his services to photography and industry. Other achievements included the Honorary Fellowship of the British Institute of Professional Photography, the Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society and the Hood Medal, awarded in 1960 for outstanding advances in photography for public service.

Walter Nurnberg passed away at the age of 84 on 19th October 1991