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Photo by Craig F. Walker


Clemens Kalischer was born in Lindau, Germany on March 30, 1921. He died in Lenox, Massachusetts on June 9, 2018.  He spent over seventy years as a photojournalist and art photographer. 


As the Nazi Party gained power in Germany, his family fled to France via Switzerland (1933) and then to the United States via Morocco (1942).  He was taken prisoner in France in 1939 and survived three years of forced labor in eight different work camps (1939–1942). He was reunited with his father in the last camp (Albi) and his family escaped to the U.S. with the aid of Varian Fry, Anna Freud, and Princess Marie Bonaparte. In 1944, he was admitted to Cooper Union and studied art. Kalischer was hired as a copy boy at Agence-France Presse in New York. One day, when a photographer didn't show up for work, an editor handed him a camera and told Kalischer to take pictures of the SS Normandie, a luxury ocean liner converted to a troopship and destroyed in a 1942 fire. The ship was being towed away for scrap from a New York pier. He had no training and fiddled with the buttons on the camera. He returned with a moody image that impressed his editor.  His life had been upended by the war and numerous displacements.  The encouragement of the editor started him on a life-long passion with photography. He met Berenice Abbott in a photography class she taught at the New School for Social Research, and was able to use the darkroom at the Photo League, a cooperative started by Abbott. He spent his first years documenting the streets of NYC.  His series of photographs of Displaced Persons arriving in New York from DP camps, taken in 1947 and 1948, has been his most recognized work. Many are included in "Clemens Kalischer," edited by Denis Brudna and Norbert Bunge (Hatje Cantz). 


Clemens’s work soon gained the attention of The New York Times, other publications, and museums. His work was included in in "The Family of Man," a collaboration of Carl Sandburg and Edward Steichen.  He was, however, uninterested in the search for fame and wanted a quiet life in the countryside where he could focus on photographing the issues that mattered most to him.  In 1951, Kalischer moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  In Stockbridge, he opened The Image Gallery and Image Photos.  The Gallery exhibited up-and-coming modern artists, many of whom went on to have successful careers.  The Image Gallery is still open and showcases the photos of Clemens Kalischer.


His freelance work focused on music (The Marlboro Music Festival, The Lenox School of Jazz, South Mountain Music Festival, Tanglewood, and many more), the arts (Black Mountain College, Pilobolus, The Flaherty Film Seminar, The Berkshire Theater Group, and many more), architecture, farming (CSA's, Italian Piedmont, slow-food movement, Vermont, and more), nature, portraiture, images form the U.S. south, urban and rural areas of the U.S., images from Europe, India, Cuba, and Israel. Kalischer sometimes took photographs staged by Norman Rockwell, which Rockwell then used to create his illustrations.  Most of his work centered on finding things by accident.  He followed his interests, and sometimes that led to a paying job.  He was often called the “Invisible Photographer.”  He spent time with his subjects and really got to know them.  People felt comfortable with him, and this allowed him to capture moments that were not posed.  With over 70 years of images, his work documented people and places around the world.  His gift for capturing moments in life, was equaled by his extraordinary gift for printing his own images. 


Clemens was a member of ASPP (American Society of Picture Professionals); a member of One by One (an international dialogue group between survivors and perpetrators of the Holocaust) and worked as a freelance photographer for the New York Times, Newsweek, Life, Fortune, Du, The Sun, Yankee, Coronet, Country Journal, Moment, Vermont Life, In Context, Jubilee, Yes, Orion, Ploughshares, Common Ground, Architectural Forum, Places, Urban Design International, Progressive Architectural, and Time magazine.  


Work Held in Public Collections:

  • Tate, London

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 

  • Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY

  • Library of Congress (Master Photographers), Washington, D.C.

  • Lawrence Art Museum Williams College, Williamstown, MA

  • Museum of Modern Art, New York

  • Bavarian Museum, Munich

  • International Museum of Photography, New York

  • The Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis

  • Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York

  • Diaspora Museum, Tel Aviv

  • International Center of Photography, New York

  • Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

  • Maison Robert Doisneau, Paris, France

  • Sal Oppenheim Collection, Munich, Germany

  • Colby College, Waterville, ME

  • The German Emigration Museum, Bremerhaven, Germany

  • Museo Nazionale della Montagna, Torino, Italy

Solo exhibitions

  • Durham Art Center, North Carolina

  • Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield 

  • McCullough House, Bennington, VT

  • Washington Art Association, Connecticut

  • Black Mountain College, North Carolina

  • ZONE, Springfield, MA

  • Brattleboro Museum, VT

  • La montagna dell'esodo. Racconti fotografici di Clemens Kalischer, Museo Nazionale della Montagna, Torino, Italy 1996

  • Argus Fotokunst art gallery, Berlin, Germany 1998, 2002, 2006

  • Photography Gallery Prospekto, Vilnius, Lithuania 2006

  • Estey Organ Co., Estey Organ Museum, Brattleboro, VT 2007

  • Retrospective, Maison Robert Doisneau, Gentilly, France 2007

  • KunstHaus Potsdam, Germany 2007

  • Displaced Persons: Photographs by Clemens Kalischer, Holocaust Museum Houston, Houston Texas 2010

  • Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp 66th Anniversary of Liberation, Nordhausen, Germany, Displaced Persons exhibit 2011

  • Holocaust Museums South Africa (Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg) 2012-2013

  • The German Emigration Museum, Bremerhaven, Germany 2014

  • The Lichtenstein Gallery, Pittsfield, MA

  • The Bennington Museum, Bennington, VT 2017

Group exhibitions

  • In & Out of Focus, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1948

  • The Family of Man, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1955

  • Man Alive, C.S. Exhibit, Wales

  • Camera as a Witness, Montreal Expo, Montreal, 1967

  • Exposition de la Photographie Francaise, Paris

  • Decordova Museum, Lincoln, MA

  • Carl Siembab Gallery, Boston

  • Photo Vision '75, Boston, 1975

  • Portrait of America, Smithsonian Institution

  • The Photographer and the City, Smithsonian Institution

  • Brattleboro Museum, Brattleboro, VT

  • FotoFest, Houston, TX, 2002

  • Willy-Brandt-Haus, Berlin, 2002

  • Altonaer Museum, Hamburg, 2002

  • Pilobolus, Hood Museum of Art Hanover, NH

  • Life is Stranger Than Fiction, Albertina Museum, Vienna, Austria, 2007

  • Rock'n Roll 1939-1959, Cartier Foundation, Paris, France, 2007

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