The dandelion looks like a saint. The little umbrellas with which the seeds fly above the earth shine like a crown of rays around the base of the half-empty flower. Alfred Erhardt and Albert Renger-Patzsch, Koch’s famous New Objectivity contemporaries, photographed similar or sometimes even identical motifs. But if you compare the pictures, Koch’s photos are more brilliant and three-dimensional.

Grew up in an artist colony

The fact that the photographer has yet been forgotten is due to his premature death, but also to his photographic debut. Stefanie Odenthal, director of the Alfred Ehrhardt Foundation, painstakingly pieced together the biography of Fred Koch. Friedrich Eduard, known as Fred, according to the birth certificate, was born in 1904 into a bourgeois family.

“When he was two years old, he moved to Darmstadt with his family, to the Mathildenhöhe, which is characterized by life reform,” says Odenthal. “And his father founded craft workshops in 1908.”

The artists’ colony on the Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt was the center of German Art Nouveau at the time. When he was 18 or 19 years old, Fred Koch met the writer Ernst Fuhrmann, who first ran the publishing house Folkwang and then founded his own publishing house Auriga on Rosenhöhe in Darmstadt after the bankruptcy.

Image Archive Training

Fuhrmann considers that plants are also living beings, he calls his teaching biosophy. Initially, photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch managed the publisher’s image archive. When he goes to Berlin, Fuhrmann looks for a successor. “A simple photographer that I educate, who does not need money and who gets involved”, is how he describes his demands.

Seven in a boat: portrait of a pea pod by Koch© Dr. Hans Schoen

“And then he got Fred Koch,” says Odenthal. “He was the head of the photographic archive then. He had no previous training as a photographer. And I suppose he observed Albert Renger-Patzsch, perhaps traveled with him and learned the basics of photography there. photography.”

Factual eroticism

Fred Koch translates biosophy into images. It also includes an interest in plant sexuality. A rolled up rhubarb leaf looks like a phallus. Lilies and orchids recall the erotic references of modernist paintings by Christian Schad.

Koch takes various extracts from the flower of the broom. “For example, in the exhibit, we have a close-up where he took a picture of the whole flower. And then we have a detail where he’s really getting close to a petal. And you can still see the filaments, which then leave shadows on the petal and it looks like it is dancing.”

However, when Ernst Fuhrmann’s book “The Plant as a Living Being” was published with 200 illustrations in 1930, Fred Koch was not even mentioned as a photographer. The first photo under his own name dates from 1931 and shows the hard manganese ore, so artfully lit as if it were a sculpture. Koch went to Weimar to study photography and discovered the object at the Freiberg Mineralogical Institute.

crystal light play

“With crystals, he talks very strongly about light in his writings,” says Odenthal, “what light to use and how you have to light it to really bring out the sparkle of the crystals in the photograph.”

Brilliantly highlighted: gypsum crystals captured on a gelatin silver print© bpk-Bildagentur / Fred Koch

Fred Koch becomes a handyman who uses new possibilities in macro photography. But who obviously doesn’t feel like an independent artist until late. In 1934, he worked again with Ernst Fuhrmann.

In search of artistic recognition

“There are two agreements between Ernst Fuhrmann and Fred Koch from 1934 regarding the use of Koch’s photographs: that Fred Koch must also be named as the author of the image, as the photographer”, explains Odenthal . “Although we also know from the evidence that Ernst Fuhrmann unfortunately did not succeed.”

Koch then turns to press photography, settles in Berlin in 1943 and works for the regulatory police. Photo reporter, he was taken prisoner in Romania in 1944. In 1947, he was released. But he died in January 1947 on his way back.

The photographer is forgotten. The rediscovery of his fascinating work within the Alfred Ehrhardt Foundation caused a sensation in the history of art.