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On Our Collections

Klara Langer 1912-1973, Hungary

Gael Newton AM, May 2024



I have always been fascinated by miniature worlds whether dioramas, tableaux, Christmas window displays and even the occasional amazing train sets. This interest from childhood through to the present has obviously influenced my collection choices in an area of photography known as’ table top’ photography with figures and objects arranged in scenes or narratives.

Yes, I admit to a professional weakness in being easily drawn to all manner of well-produced and captivating table top photographic works. The method of telling stories with figures and miniature sets is well established in children's books with a classic being the American author photographer Dare Wight’s Lonely Doll photo book series that began 1957.

Animations and of course advertising also use small figures to tell stories. We happily suspend disbelief with photo based stories as much as we generally do with all forms of theatre and storytelling. Not surprisingly there are a few photo tableaux works in our collection and I will be writing these up over the next little while.

Many years ago at the Vintage Galeria stand at a Paris Foto run by a then young Hungarian Attila Pozce, I was captivated by a 1940s hand coloured photograph of small figures of sea creatures on a beach by Klara Langer (1912 – 1973). The animals are coloured and the water possibly real is rolling in gently to the sand. The figures have friendly faces drawn on and the placement has made the scene quite lively. The image was presumed to be an advertisement as a stamp on the back has the name of Hungary’s state-run advertising agency Magyar Hirdető.

I have Hungarian antecedents so it seemed good to have a Hungarian woman photographer’s work. I bought a few modern women photographers over the next few decades. Most have now been re-homed (sold or donated). Despite all efforts to reduce our collections, and to downsize, I could not part with a few favourites.

Róza Klára Langer was born in Budapest 23 January 1912 and died 23 May 1973. She is buried in Kozma Street Jewish Cemetery. Langer studied painting and commercial art but graduated in photography in Budapest in 1930. She promptly joined the Socialist Artists group and from 1938-38 worked in Paris for left wing newspapers.

Back in Hungary in 1945, Langer worked for Magyar Foto agency from 1950-54. Sadly much of her reportage appears to have been lost. She was active in photographers associations in later years and was awarded a Hungarian order of merit as an artist. Langer dedicated much of her career to recording the socially disadvantaged.

Among her works are a number of fun 'table top' images created using small figures including a young woman with spiky blonde hair arched eye brows and bow lips that look like Langer herself, doing housework dated to 1940s but the hip woolly sweater and short skirt look 1950s.


Langer’s still life studies and commercial work show modernist geometric design for which there was a strong tradition in middle Europe pre and post WWII. The scenarios for these table top figure works remain elusive. The black dolls that appear in some have now lost their political point.

With the print I own, it is more fun not to know what if any job it was for. As an image it invites memories of childhood seaside holidays but also as little creatures crawling out of the sea onto land - it is an evocation of human species evolution from the sea.

I fell in love with it on first sight!

Langer’s table top still life and tableaux pieces have energy and poignancy. It’s a jolt to acknowledge how much horror and inhumanity Klara must have seen and wonder at what losses her own family suffered. One can only conjecture how she responded to the the Soviet crushing of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution against Soviet authority.

There is not a lot of information about her life in general let alone post 1956 but there are portraits of artists in the 1960s. There is a catalogue Anna Oelmacher Langer Klára munkássága Corvina Kiadó 1973 but I can’t read it so I salute her skill and my good fortune to have such a joyous work.

In the end works are what we make of them so have many lives.



here's a few images - with links below for more...

link to the book - here


Kids 1938


Hajohinta 1937


Miners 1950s


Shadows, Brushes and Eyelashes






more images - click here      and    also here


more of Gael Newton's Essays and Articles


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