Now who’s wearing the trousers?

Pioneering photographer Annemarie Heinrich (1912-2005) had hard mountains to climb but her persistence eventually paid off. The daring Argentine artist, who moved to Argentina with her family to escape the Nazis, lived at a time when photography was considered a lesser cultural form in Buenos Aires.

To complicate matters further, Heinrich liked to experiment with photographing nudity. She kept this a secret which, given that society even disapproved of her habit of wearing trousers to work, was probably wise.

A comprehensive retrospective of the German-born photographer’s work at the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (MALBA) — which ended earlier this month — uncovered her passionate, and very private, experiments with photography.

Heinrich photographed many stars of the cinema, theatre and ballet in the 1930s and 1940s, when Argentina cinema was experiencing its Golden Age. In this era, Buenos Aires – dubbed the ‘Paris of the South’ — was a magnet for foreign performers who relished the rich cultural life of the city. The resplendent Colon Theatre is still considered one of the world’s most impressive opera houses to this day.

A different set of images reveal Heinrich’s unconventional stance towards both life and work (indeed it is practically impossible to separate the two, in Heinrich’s case). This is where we enter Heinrich’s private world, in which women decidedly ruled the roost.

Heinrich’s progressive values take a literal representation, as men in her photos are often side-lined. In Mother and Son (1944), the male figure is left passive in the background, behind his strong-looking mother. In Untitled (1933), the man becomes the passive object once more, and his hair and face are prettified in a traditionally feminine way.

Women on the other hand, play active, feisty roles in many of these photos. In Self-Portrait with Ursula (1938), Heinrich photographs herself playing with her daughter, in a somewhat unfeminine pose for the time. The Argentine film actress, Amelia Bence, who appeared in many films of the Golden Age of Argentine Cinema, is pictured looking glamorous and liberated in Amelia Bence (1943). In Summer in the city (1959), a woman lies on top of a building wearing traditional male garb. Once again, traditional gender roles are reversed.

Heinrich’s attitude to gender roles was highly unusual for the time. Buenos Aires, a city of immigrants, was slow to adopt European trends. It was only in 1953 that the first independent group of photographers in Argentina geared to discussing members’ work was founded. The so-called Carpeta de los Diez was made up almost exclusively of men – mainly of European extraction. Heinrich, who joined in 1953, was the only woman present.

To continue reading about Annemarie Heinrich, read the July/August issue of The Kurios. 

Photo: Self Portrait with Ursula (1938). Courtesy of MALBA.