Emil Heilborn

A diagonal view of industry. Par Rittsel. 

No one used the stürtzende Linien of Alexandr Rodtjenko or the Bauhaus typography bolder or more consequent in Swedish photography than Emil Heilborn during the 1930s. He was not alone; Arne Wahlberg, Sven Järlås, C G Rosenberg and (later) his son C E Rosenberg dared to tilt their cameras or line up objects in striking patterns.

Heilborn was a schooled engineer, who worked a number of years in Detroit, designing car body parts for Ford Motor Company, and in Sweden for General Motors. He turned to photography and never let the dramatic angles distort the clear, precise engineer's view of industrial processes and machines.

He was a small, stubborn man, who always worked alone, and he lived to be 102 (1900-2002). He documented industries as AGA, Bofors, Electrolux, LKAB, Motala, Sandviken and Uddeholm. He did advertising photos for Barnängen, Falu-Ättika and Läkerol, and eventually turned to film making for his traditional customers as well as entering new areas as museum documentation and new projects as documenting the building of the Arlanda airport.

He played the accordion, the xylophone and the saw – with a bow. And he won the 1936 archery world championship.

(my photos)

The 1930's style:

^ Emil Heilborn: Västerbron, Stockholm 1934.

Willy Prager: Hugo Preuss Brücke, Berlin (Deutscher Kamera Almanach 1932.^

The bridge Västerbron in Stockholm was built 1931–35 and some of Heilborn's pictures appeared in a municipal booklet, published in connection with the inauguration in November 1935. Only the aerial photos are credited to a photographer (Oscar Bladh), among the rest at least a few can be attributed to Heilborn. One of his classics to be is seen as a small illustration:

Here it is slightly enlarged. The problem with pictures like this, is that they seldom are credited. This is a small (A5-sized) book written by municipal engineers and published by the city's port authority.
The pamphlet shown above was published by an engineering  industry – and printed by the large printing house Esselte (with its own graphic studio) that seldom cared about photo bylines.
Even C G Rosenberg found his pictures without due credit.
The same problem applies of course to advertising photographers.


The industrial photographer. From a pamphlet published by Motala Verkstad 1946. Layout and print by Esselte.

Fotografer: Emil Heilborn, Sven Järlås, Gunnar Sundgren, Arne Wahlberg. Moderna Museet /Fotografiska Museet 1977, catalogue.
Emil Heilborn. Raster förlag, 2003.
(In this book, Heilborn is held as a unique pioneer without any peers. As I said, other Swedes did similar things, and of course a lot of inspiration came from abroad, very often from German year-books as Das Deutsche Lichtbild and Detutscher Kamera Almanach. 

Even the press photographer Karl Sandels gets his share of uniqueness by Leif Wigh, quoted in the the book "Stock- holmsbilder" (2009): "Sandels was ahead of modernity around 1930. He was alone in using geometry. I say that with definetness. You can see other photographers adopting modernism 1934."

Ahead of modernity!