Josef Breitenbach

(Last Updated On August 23, 2022)

Josef Breitenbach was born in Munich in 1896. He attended a technical high school and later trained as a salesman and a bookkeeper. He participated in the 1918 Bavarian coup, and became acquainted with the Munich art community during the time he served in the short-lived revolutionary government. Although he had no formal training in photography, he took it up as a hobby in 1927. In either 1930 or 1932 (sources differ) Breitenbach opened a professional photography studio in Munich.

Josef Breitenbach – Girl Wearing a Hat (1930s)

Breitenbach was a successful photographer of both portraits and artistic, sometimes abstract compositions. Josef Breitenbach is best known for his use of Surrealism, but also employed Modernism and Pictorialism. Clients included celebrities as well as people not widely known. Girl Wearing a Hat is typical of his portraits during this period. Breitenbach did not give a title to this photograph, or to most others in this article. I composed captions for the first ten photos appearing in this article. The last four photos in this article, all taken in Asia, are captioned with titles given to them by Breitenbach.

Josef Breitenbach – Girls on Swings (1950s)

Political activities of Breitenbach and his son, as well as the fact that he was Jewish, made life in Munich difficult for him, so in 1933 he moved to Paris. Paris was the hub of Photo-Surrealism, and Breitenbach’s photos were exhibited with those of Man Ray, Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eli Lotar and Roger Parry. Artistic nude images, which Breitenbach began making in Munich, were also among his Paris photos.

Josef Breitenbach – Girl on a Swing (1950s)

In 1942 Breitenbach moved to New York City, and became a U.S. citizen in 1946. He continued his work as a photographer in America, and also taught photography in college. Breitenbach continued his nude photography in America, often at naturist resorts. Among the 2739 Breitenbach photos in the archive at the University of Arizona Center for Creative Photography are many nudes, nearly all of the nude photos are female, and almost half are photographs of young girls.

Josef Breitenbach – Standing Girl (1950s)

The University of Arizona archive contains duplicate or near duplicate prints of many photos. Sometimes, but not always, the hair style makes it possible to determine if a child photographed from the back is a boy or girl. Breitenbach took close up photos of female external genitals which I was surprised to find online in a public university collection, and which would not be suitable for Pigtails. Since Breitenbach photographed at least one adult model with a shaved pubis, it is not always possible to determine if the pubic close up photos are of a woman or a young girl. As best as I could ascertain, there are 485 nude photographs (including duplicate or near duplicate prints) in the University of Arizona collection. Approximately 96% have only female models, 2% have both male and female in the same photo, and 2% are male only. Of the nude females, approximately half are adult women, and half are children and adolescents. After viewing his photographs, it surprises me that Breitenbach has not inspired more controversy. Could it be that because Breitenbach was an established art photographer, recognized as such by respectable society and by the United Nations, he could get away with edgy work that would mean trouble for less famous photographers?

Josef Breitenbach – Standing Girl with Long Hair (1950s)

The first two nude photos in this article, Girls on Swings and Girl on a Swing, show naturist girls enjoying recreation. Girls on Swings appears to not be formally posed, but not a random snapshot either. Girl on a Swing is more typical of Breitenbach’s carefully-posed photos. The swing is just a prop for the standing girl.

Josef Breitenbach – Girl in a Forest (1950s) (1)

Josef Breitenbach – Girl in a Forest (1950s) (2)

Most of Breitenbach’s nudes are either standing or lying, with significantly fewer sitting poses. Standing models were photographed from the back about as often as from the front. Representative examples of front and rear poses are shown in Standing Girl and Standing Girl with Long Hair. Girl in a Forest (1) and (2) feature the same model, the same background, and almost the same pose. By coming in closer in Girl in a Forest (2), and aiming the camera upward at an angle, Breitenbach was able to obtain a different effect.

Josef Breitenbach – Girl Sleeping Outdoors (1950s)

Josef Breitenbach – Nude Girl Sleeping Indoors (1957)

Josef Breitenbach – Nude Girl Indoors (1957)

Girl Sleeping Outdoors is an example of Breitenbach’s images of lying nudes. Girl Sleeping Outdoors may actually be asleep, but it looks like she may be posed and only feigning sleep. Nude Girl Sleeping Indoors also appears to be intentionally posed. The same model is in the next photo, Nude Girl Indoors. These photos were left untitled by the photographer, but another photo of the same model apparently from the same session is titled New York.

Josef Breitenbach – Nikko (1960)

Josef Breitenbach – Taipei (1963)

During the 1960s Breitenbach went to Asia to do photographic reportage for the United Nations. The last four photos are all from Asia in the period of 1960 to 1967. All have been given titles by Breitenbach, and all but the first, Nikko, were given titles that tell where the photo was taken. Nikko was taken in Japan. Korea, Seoul is unusual for Breitenbach’s work because it is in color. Breitenbach took a monochromatic photograph of a different Korean girl who, like the girl in Korea, Seoul was bare below the waist on a public street.

Josef Breitenbach – Korea, Seoul (1963)

Josef Breitenbach – India, Orissa (near Konarak),Wall Painting Made by Women (1967)

Josef Breitenbach died in 1984 in New York City. Since his death there have been at least 26 one-person exhibitions of his work in America and Europe.

30 thoughts on “Josef Breitenbach

  1. To Bob freely I got into it and used the nudes subheading and saw the Joseph breitenbach stuff along with other works…..thanks for the help

  2. I find it interesting that there is a moral need to repress what is always there under clothes (and nude bodies will always exist as our society is described as “human”), but even still, I am having trouble understanding the themes that Josef is trying to represent in his nudes: I can argue human form as an artistic expression, and in conjunction with all his images of the built and natural environment, it seems he is perpetuating that common idea that nudity is natural as human society and the nature itself, and that some idea of “eroticism” is imposed by standards that do not match nature, and therefore should not be a restriction in his career; him going to Asian countries and capturing a more cohesive representation of this theme proves my point. Is there some other idea he is trying to express here beyond that, however? I am trying to contextualize this artist’s work, but even still there is a sense that there is social control of photos like these that make it hard to realize themes beyond “nudity is natural.”

    • Hmm. instead of clicking on this link, try typing in this:

      and see if that works. Then follow my instructions for finding the pics in my previous post. Good luck, Bruce.

  3. Moko, you mentioned that there was (at least) one other picture of the girl that appears in “Nude Girl sleeping Indoors (1957)” and “Nude Girl Indoors (1957)”, and that the other picture is labeled “New York”. Do you know where I can see this picture? I tried to find it myself and didn’t have any luck. I’d appreciate a link to a site that hosts it. Thank you.

        • I just checked, and the link works for me. Be aware that the link is to the first page of Breitenbach photos. There are 172 pages in all, and the pictures in this article are on other pages. On the right side of the black bar over the photographs there are links to the other pages.

          • Here’s how to narrow down the search: Once you’re on the site, click on “Advanced Search”. This will take you to another page where you can type in the name of the artist whose work you’re looking for – type in “Josef Breitenbach”. Then scroll down and you’ll see a place to select the genre. Click on that and select “Figure Studies”. Then click “Submit”, and you’ll see 24 pages of his work, most of which will have at least one picture that is relevant. The “New York” picture, for instance, is on page 3. Other shots of the same girl are on pages 10, 11 and 12. Hope that helps.

          • Thank you for the advice in this comment, and also in the comment regarding downloading larger images.

  4. I browsed the UA-CCP collection, and I could save the same images in larger size (1050 pixels). It is easy to see that the pubic close up photos are all of women (or maybe teenagers), except one (near the end) that has both “children” and “genitalia” in its keyword list (you can search by keyword).

    • Thanks for the offer to save images in a larger size. I could not, but if you can we can replace the images I saved with better ones. Even if only one close up is a minor, I would not expect to see it posted by a public university.

      • You can get the larger version by going to the page with the normal-sized pic (by itself, not on the pages with thumbnails of other pics) and then click on “Enlarge Image” The shot will get larger. With your cursor on the big pic, press ctrl+s (control plus “s”). You will now save the entire webpage (if you do this for multiple pics, you will need to give each one a different name). After saving the pic, you will now have a folder in your files containing the larger pic, which you will have to extract. It’s a bit tedious but gets the job done.

        • On Firefox, in the page with the pic, open “Tools” / “Information on page”, there go to “Media”, scroll down to the image and copy the URL, then enter that URL in the browser, and it will ask you to save the file.

      • Yes, a coseup of a prepubescent girl’s genitals should qualify as lewd/obscene/lascivious by law.
        This is quite shocking to see

        • I believe that we should still distinguish between artistic pictures and pornographic pictures.
          It would be fair to label it lascivious only if, for instance, she were lying flat and the picture were a closeup of the entire vulva.

          • There are a lot of subtle differences which will take time to discuss with an eye to educate the lay public. One of those distinctions is the difference between erotica and pornography. Although intent is the main different, such intent manifests itself in predictable ways which can be used to make a case one way or the other. “Lascivious” is not a word that is clearly legally defined. That is a problem in the US because that is part of the definition of child pornography. It is not enough that one avoids the display of bare genitals, the display could be deemed lascivious even when a girl is fully-clothed. If any of the images on this site were lascivious, we would be exposed to legal trouble. The use of the term in US legal parlance certainly implies that the purpose of such display is to titillate. We are certainly keen on provoking people to think, but never to titillate. -Ron

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