John Gutman’s Burlesque on Broadway, San Francisco, 1934

John Gutman
12.75×10, framed, uneditioned, signed on verso


This image by legendary street photographer John Gutman exemplifies his appeal to the mysterious, and what was considered socially peculiar. You can see how Gutman’s work influenced Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, and Sol Lewitt.


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This classic Gutmann image was taken in 1934, the year Gutmann arrived in the US after fleeing Germany and the rise of the Nazi regime. As he adjusted to his new home and American culture, he often photographed signage. His documentation of the written word in the street was also driven by his need to acclimate to a new language and culture.

Born in Breslau, Germany, Gutmann studied to be a painter under Otto Mueller before turning to photography shortly before he emigrated to the United States, where he became known for his vivid images of popular culture. Gutmann brought a foreigner’s view to the streets of California, where he saw with fresh eyes such astonishing (to him) phenomena as multiracial crowds, drive in movies and restaurants, drum majorettes, car parks and golf links, beauty contests, tattoo parlors, and movie marquees. He was fascinated by the status of the car as an American icon and photographed unusual license plates, decorated dashboards, decals, and hood ornaments. He also took a notable series of New York City in the 1940s. In Germany he worked as a photojournalist for Presse Photo before his arrival in the United States, when he worked as a photojournalist for Pix, Inc. (1936 1963). A professor at San Francisco State University from 1938 to 1973, Gutmann won a Guggenheim fellowship in 1978. His work has been published in major periodicals and is held by such collections as those of the Amon Carter in Fort Worth, San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Seagram Collection in New York.