Florence Henri, the first child of Jean Marie Francois and Anne Marie Schindler Henri, was born in New York City on June 28, 1893. When her mother died in 1895, her father sent her to live with relatives until 1902, when she attended a boarding where she studied music. Three years later, she settled on the Isle of Wight while continuing her education at Earl's Court Road Conservatory. After her father's death in 1907 (and subsequent inheritance), Miss Henri moved to Rome, where she became introduced to the Futuristic artistic movement that would have a profound influence on her life and career. After more travel throughout Europe, she was relegated to playing piano at a Berlin movie house during World War I.
At war's end, Miss Henri returned to Paris and studied painting at the Academie Moderne. During another trip to Berlin, she was introduced to several members of the Bauhaus art movement. When refused re-entry in Paris due to citizenship issues, she entered into a brief marriage to a Swiss laborer to acquire citizenship. In the summer of 1927, she became a student of painting instructor Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, from whom she was introduced to photography. Working with him and his wife Lucia, with whom she formed a close friendship, Miss Henri learned various techniques, including types of exposures, micro-photographs, montage, negatives, and photograms. She likely used Leica cameras for portraiture, which was Mr. Moholy-Nagy's camera of choice, and discovered she could use the camera as a means of avant-garde artistic expression, and could alter the lens's realistic gaze by manipulating perspective and space through the uses of framing and mirrors. Miss Henri began by photographing inanimate objects, but when she started photographing her artist friends, she applied the same methods to her portraits, with mirrors symbolizing self-reflection. Her portraiture featured subjective cropping and close-ups that conformed to the photographer's perspective and spatial determinations. Miss Henri developed her own unique style that was based on her photography training and influence of the Neue Sehen (New Vision) art philosophy that was popular in Europe during the 1920s. Her photographs were exhibited at the Fotografie der Gegenwart (Contemporary Photography) and Film und Foto (Film and Photo) in 1929, and Das Lichtbild (The Photograph) in 1931.
After losing much of her inheritance during the stock market crash of 1929, Miss Henri opened a studio in Paris, where she found a lucrative market in fashion advertising. She applied Modernist techniques to her clients' products to maximize their visual appeal, often utilizing photomontage sequences or geometric angling to achieve her desired effects. She also opened a photography school in her studio, where she taught several fledgling female photographers, including Gisele Freund and Lisette Model. During the Nazi occupation of France, any type of photography was prohibited, and after World War II, Miss Henri returned to her first love, painting. She lived in seclusion in France until she was contacted by Italian art archivist Giovanni Battista Martini, who sought to catalogue her extensive photographic archive. Eighty-nine-year-old Florence Henri died in La Berangeraie, Laboissiere-en-Thelle (Oise), France on July 24, 1982, but her avant-garde contributions to twentieth century photography continue to be appreciated by collectors and historians well into the next century.
1991 American Photo, Vol. II (New York: Hachette Magazines Inc.), p. 112.
1996 The Art of Reflection by Marsha Meskimmon (New York: Columbia University Press), p. 92.
2000 Art of the 20th Century, Part 1 by Karl Ruhrberg, Manfred Schneckenburger, Christiane Fricke and Klaus Honnef (Los Angeles, CA: TASCHEN America), p. 646.
2017 Artist Florence Henri by Anne Linehan (URL: https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/florence-henri?all/all/all/all/0).
2009 Cubism & Australian Art by Lesley Harding and Sue Cramer (Melbourne, Australia: The Miegunyah Press/Melbourne University Publishing Ltd.), p. 241.
2006 Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 690-693.
2017 Florence Henri (URL: https://www.oursphotomag.com/blog/florence-henri-1920).
2015 Florence Henri’s Pioneering Surrealism by Genevieve Fussell (URL: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/florence-henris-pioneering-surrealism).
2017 Smoke and Mirrors: Florence Henri, the Queen of Surrealist Photography – in Pictures (URL: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2015/feb/20/smoke-and-mirrors-florence-henri-the-queen-of-surrealist-photography-in-pictures
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