Fred Zinnemann

Fred Zinnemann (Austrian-American, b. 1907—1997)

Before becoming the Oscar-winning director for which he is known, and whose body of work included 22 feature films (High Noon, From Here to Eternity, Oklahoma!, Julia, The Nun’s Story, A Man For All Seasons, and others) and 19 documentary shorts, Zinnemann was a photographer first and foremost.

At the age of twenty, and despite parental disapproval, Zinnemann insisted on his own destiny and set off for Paris to study film and photography (his photographic training helped him see films chiefly in visual terms). Arriving in New York on the day of the stock market crash in 1929, Zinnemann unsuccessfully sought to join the cameraman’s local union. Despite this setback, he almost immediately started taking photographs. After a spell in Hollywood, he returned to New York, in 1932, to work on a film on Long Island, and on Sundays he took pictures, with the ultimate goal of producing a book.

The book never materialized—another victim of the Depression. He viewed that desperate time with a milder eye than contemporary photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Paul Strand, with whom Zinnemann worked on the 1934 film The Wave.

Zinnemann grew up in Europe, where it was the most miserable after the First World War, plagued by enormous inflation that followed. Zinnemann, in an interview, mentioned that he “admired the optimism that came out of that era in America—the wonderful buildings, the energy, and the colossal difference to the psychology of having free speech . . . There was clearly a feeling of the future, whereas in Europe the future looked very gloomy.” His photographs revealed this notion of the “future”, as some depict skyscrapers rising and the crowd waiting in Times Square for news of the 1932 Presidential Election. Zinnemann continued to photograph throughout the Depression and, in 1989, donated a large collection of his prints to the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.