László Moholy-Nagy used this setting on the balcony of the Casa Fantoni in Ascona, Switzerland for four pictures taken on the same day. One features Oskar Schlemmer, a painter and leading figure in German experimental theater, who was teaching at the Bauhaus when László Moholy-Nagy arrived there in 1923.(84.XP.124.2) Moholy-Nagy and Lucia Moholy had joined Schlemmer’s family for a vacation in Ascona. Relaxing on a towel in the sun, Schlemmer becomes a design element in Moholy’s camera study of light and form. The shadows of the railing produce a kind of photogram on Schlemmer’s clothing, and the angle from which the picture was taken denies traditional perspective, flattening out the composition.
In this image Moholy placed two dolls on a piece of paper in the same location as Schlemmer, imitating his position. Without Schlemmer’s body filling the frame, the composition is even more successful in its palpable textural and tonal quality. It is also a more dramatic and menacing picture, with the dolls lying naked and helpless on the backs, trapped by the shadow grid of the railing, giving them a somewhat disturbing, Surrealist quality. Moholy-Nagy also photographed Schlemmer’s two daughters—undoubtedly the owners of the dolls—in this pose and made another variation with just one doll. The Getty collection has two other prints of the image of the two dolls (see 84.XP.124.3 and 84.XM.997.65).
Katherine Ware, László Moholy-Nagy, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), 48. © 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum.