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From the Outside In: A Visitor's Guide to the Windows

Introduction

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Ruhr Miner, Fritz Henle, 1967

Coal miner

This photograph from the windows of the Harry Ransom Center shows a coal miner from the Ruhr Valley in Germany resting next to a window after a long shift. The sunlight from the window contrasts with the miner's face and clothes, still blackened by coal dust. The white container in his hand holds a quart of cold milk which each miner was required to drink after his shift was over. The image can be likened to Migrant Mother in the adjacent window, particularly in their rugged self-reliance and the excellent tonal reproduction on the faces.

Fritz Henle was born in 1909, the son of well-to-do Jewish parents. 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 the portfolio he brought along that they allowed him to join as a second-year student. He finished the program at the top of his class. He always used Rolleiflex cameras, which generate large, high-quality negatives, and his mastery of photo composition allowed him to take well-balanced pictures of any subject.

Henle established his career in pre–World War II Germany, but during the rise of the Nazi party he left the country for an assignment as a photojournalist in the United States and did not return. He rapidly established himself as a documentary photographer working for the U.S. Office of War Information during the difficult war years. He photographed mundane objects requested by his clients, but he composed them to produce attractive images, and his business grew. He established himself as an independent, commercial photographer after the war, produced thousands of images on numerous assignments, and became known as "the last classic freelance photographer."

Ruhr Miner was taken late in his career. The light in the picture, apparently coming from an open window, is sufficiently diffused so that the shadows are not completely blacked out but greatly enhance the grimy atmosphere of the photo as a whole. For the best effect, this window should be viewed with as dark a background as possible.

Henle himself wrote 20 books on photography, which can be found in his archive at the Ransom Center. Much of the information in this description has been drawn from the Ransom Center's Senior Research Curator of Photography Roy Flukinger's book Fritz Henle: In Search of Beauty.   —Alan Herbert

Fritz Henle Collection