Posts Tagged ‘Photography’

My Teacher Knew Bertolt Brecht

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

I was looking for a name for a character in my novel when I thought about Ellen Auerbach, a therapist/teacher who worked with me at New York’s Educational Institute for Learning and Research in the ’sixties. I was surprised to find this article about her in Jewish Women’s Archive because I had no idea she was such an important figure, one of the great photographers of the Weimar Republic, partner of Grete Stern in the innovative Berlin studio, Ringl & Pit:

The life of Ellen (Rosenberg) Auerbach was a constant journey of self-discovery and, in her photographic work, a search for the essence that lies behind people and things. Her curious mind, her keen and intuitive eye and her sense of humor permeated her photography, which was re-discovered in the late 1970s, along with that of other avant-garde photographers and artists of the Weimar Republic. Auerbach belonged to the generation of New Women who sought to break with traditional female roles and become independent through their work… At the age of sixty Auerbach embarked on a new career: until 1984 she worked as an educational therapist with children with learning disabilities at the Educational Institute for Learning and Research in New York. She photographed only occasionally. Even though she had no training as a psychologist or therapist, Tate Schmidt, the institute’s director (whom Ellen had met briefly in Palestine), gave her training and opportunities. She used her keen insight and intuition to work with the children to find ways to cope with their problems and had a very high success rate despite the lack of formal training. She crafted a space where children were able to explore themselves and find out about themselves in ways that they never had before. Years later many of the children would come to visit her and remained friends.

Here’s a comment I left for the article’s author, my tribute to Ellen Auerbach, one of the most influential people in my life:

Thank you for this fascinating article.  As a child I had the good fortune of working with Ellen Auerbach at the Educational Institute.  I was having difficulty in school and my parents sent me there for a couple of years in the late ’60s.  She was a wonderful woman.  She let me drink Yoo-Hoos and shared her Edam and pumpernickel sandwiches with me.  She encouraged me to write and draw and took me on a field trip to MOMA.  As a gift, she compiled my poems, stories, and artwork and bound them in a book.  In the back was an “author’s” blurb with a portrait of me that she took.  In the blurb she correctly predicted that I would someday become a writer.  What she didn’t know was that, like her, I would also become an education specialist.  I never knew she was a famous photographer, finding out only after researching her for a novel (she is the inspiration for one of its characters, a magical teacher who flees Germany to teach in the United States.)  She was a great inspiration and a warm and friendly presence.  How was I to know that the lady sitting across from me taking my picture was such an important artist?  I only knew that she made me feel special, capable and smart.