FRITZ HENLE WAS A GERMAN PHOTOGRAPHER, KNOWN AS "MR. ROLLEI" FOR HIS EXCLUSIVE AND CREATIVE USE OF THE ROLLEIFLEX CAMERA. CALLED "THE LAST CLASSIC FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER", HE HAD A CAREER SPANNING MORE THAN 60 YEARS, DURING WHICH HE COLLECTED AN ARCHIVE OF MORE THAN 110,000 NEGATIVES, REPRESENTING IMAGES OF EUROPE, INDIA, JAPAN, HAWAI, THE UNITED STATES, MEXICO AND THE CARIBBEAN.
Henle was born in Dortmund, Germany on 9th June 1909 in a rich, Jewish family. As a teenager he showed great interest in photography and built himself a darkroom in his parents’ basement. When he applied to attend photography school at the Bavarian Institute of Photography in Munich, the faculty were so impressed by his portfolio that they allowed him to join as a second-year student.
Then Fritz Henle traveled through the Italy, India, China, and Japan in pre–World War II 1930s, documenting those travels with his trusted Rolleiflex. But during the rise of the Nazi Party, he left the country for an assignment as a documentary photographer in the United States in 1936 and did not return.
Henle became first an exellent freelance photojournalist, working for Life beginning in 1937, then a top fashion photographer in New York and a well traveled documentarist whose work took him to Asia, Mexico, Paris and to the Caribbean during the 40s and early 50s. He also photographed mundane objects requested by his clients, but he was able to compose them to produce attractive images, and his business grew. He established himself as an independent photographer after the war and became known as “the last classic freelance photographer” thanks to his own style. Recognized for the clean and sharp elegance of the photographs, Henle’s art, in fact, was unrestricted by convention or popular trends.
Henle published nineteen books of his work. In particular, his first “This is Japan” in 1936 helped to establish him as a creative visionary with an exceptional technique, a keen sense of striking composition and a determination to capture the beauty in life.
Fritz Henle’s got a peculiar style as photographer. He always used Rolleiflex cameras, which generate large, high-quality negatives. Besides, his mastery of photo composition allowed him to take well-balanced pictures of any subject.
He was able to take a photo of tecnically perfect imagines with just one shot. Henle’s instructions were clear: “Don’t over shoot”, but you should try to see what you want and be at the moment with that. In his projects he chose colored and black and white photographs both. He often brought two cameras with him: one for black and white and the other one for colored pictures (sometimes he brought three).
However, his very peculiar style comes from using the square format (2.25’’x 2.25’’), which according to Henle provided one of the brightest and clearest screens for composition, detail, flexibility and creative expression. While Henle’s subjects and assignments remained diverse and complex, he always managed to capture the meaning and passion an image’s true forms could reveal and convey.
He chose this format (with you can use 120mm or 240mm films), which uses a square (1:1), instead of a rectangle (4:3) of the traditional photography. Henle thought it was just beautiful. That form was the perfection, which let him to find and see the wonder in every things. In fact, he has the abits to look things through the camera’s glass, even to take an important photo. His look was always down: through the camera he could see the real beauty of the world.
Henle died in Saint Croix as a american citizen on 31st January 1993, leaving to the world this quote: “One thing an artist can do in this world is to remind people that there is so much beauty that you only have to see it.”
text by Giulia Lopopolo