Just after my exam at the Staatliche Höhere Fachschule für Fotografie in Cologne I applied for a job at Braun in Frankfurt in 1955. I was interviewed by a Dr. Eichler, by whom I was welcomed with a friendly smile. My picture portfolio also included some theater exposures from Bochum and Cologne, and within a short time we were entangled in an intensive and interesting discussion about the theatre.
Fritz Eichler talked about his studies in dramatics and history of art and the children stage direction of "Lottie and Lisa". We exchanged our experiences with directors, actors and performances. After some time that felt like thirty minutes, he asked unexpectedly: "How much do you want to earn?"
We quickly reached an agreement and I accepted. What had I got into? It was clear that I had not been hired as a theater photographer, but that I should represent photography in an advertising department that was still to be established. However, advertising photography wasn't entirely new to me, because I had already done fashion, architecture, and object photography during my time as a student.
The Start at Braun
On June1,1955, I met my very nice colleague Ursula Sehring in a workroom with a small darkroom in Rüsselsheimer Straße in Frankfurt/Main. Ursula Sehring willingly explained all the tasks she had managed until then. They included photography throughout the company, portraits, and documentation for the corporate magazine.
Furthermore, there was the so-called design team in another room with Karl Ruch and Wolfgang Schmittel as a freelancer. Soon after, the architect Dieter Rams joined this small group; at first, he sat with the designers and his task was to plan the furnishings of Erwin Braun's private and office rooms.
The new Concept
At first, there were no official meetings that would inform about a new advertising concept. Dr. Fritz Eichler came by and said that the two brothers Artur and Erwin Braun wanted to do away with their high-gloss phono furniture – wood enclosures with fabric applications interwoven with gold – and replace them by new devices for a modern lifestyle.
The brothers Artur and Erwin Braun were young and enthusiastic. They had developed new corporate concepts being well aware that this was a challenge without a safety net. For them, it was primarily about redesigning the devices at first. For this purpose, they hired Wilhelm Wagenfeld and later on Prof. Hirche from Stuttgart.
The cooperation with the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm was a decisive step. There, the ideas of the well-known Bauhaus were revived. Dr. Eichler together with Artur and Erwin Braun had initiated the connection and, thus, the ideas of the famous Bauhaus became alive for us as well. 1)
The 1955 Electronic Exhibition in Düsseldorf
Erwin Braun and Fritz Eichler had the ambitious aim to present the new design of their devices at the Electronic Exhibition in Düsseldorf in September 1955. But then of course the respective advertising material also had to be produced under improvised conditions. The events came thick and fast, the models were finished just at the very last moment and as a matter of course it was expected that the photographs had been taken two days earlier.
Photography had to switch to the production facilities of Braun, because a monochrome background had been requested and we required a necessary distance to be able to photograph the devices in front of it. This means that we could only get to work after the galvano department had left off work. Dieter Rams supported us with selecting the backgrounds and with the view on the devices.
At first, Fritz Eichler was only available as a guest consultant. He shared his ideas rather casually, but in a concentrated manner, his intensity and enthusiasm for the new development was infective and we were quick in learning. When the hectic pace and stress strained our nerves, he often entered the room unexpectedly, he managed to ease the situation with only a few words and saved us from narrowing our horizon.
The first results were pretty impressive. The devices of the Braun company were a sensational success at the Electronic Exhibition – obviously they were able to meet the expectations of many modern-thinking customers.
The Concept and Its Director
When talking about the Braun design success story, the focus is primarily on product design. But that the entire advertising concept also created a new direction and defined milestones with factual advertising is little known. This is also due to the fact, that the names of the originators were usually not mentioned. Wolfgang Schmittel was an exception, because as a freelancer he insisted on his name appearing on the brochures as the one responsible for the graphic design. All other persons had to accept a simple "Max Braun Design Department" or no mentioning at all. Only once did I succeed in naming myself as the originator of the photography of the Braun device for a two-page advertisement in the Fotomagazin.
After the initial success in 1955, advertisement planning became more structured. The consumers as responsible beings were meant to be informed and not manipulated – they should make their purchase decision based on sound information about the product. The product, therefore, had to be presented as factual as possible in print ads, brochures, and manuals with respect to photographs, text, and graphic design. For the conception to be consistent and comprehensible, constant communication among those involved is a prerequisite. 2) And it was Fritz Eichler who shaped it.
The new way required considerable investment, not only into production but also into advertising. Slowly but surely Fritz Eichler implemented his ideas. In order to strengthen the exchange, a meeting was organized in Bad Nauheim bringing together the entire design department, all other department heads, and the general management for one weekend. The participants exchanged and discussed problems, working methods, aims and success stories. Fritz Eichler once again proved himself a competent discussion partner who would never even think of demonstrating his vital position. Also in this context he knew how to develop the employees' capacities. Everybody had to engage in the overall concept. It required active involvement and team work was indispensable for it. Subjecting all advertising material to one reference concept – developed by Otl Aicher at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm – was sometimes problematic, because not all motifs fitted this concept.
During an advertising department "excursion" to Ulm we were able to experience the Bauhaus reception and discovered that the professors and students of the Ulm Hochschule also appreciated to party after they had finished their work.
The Internal Development
The radio, electronic, and photo departments were assigned to responsible advertisement teams. Albrecht Schultz pulled the strings and organized the technical and operational procedures. The contact to the head of production and the production team was intense, however, I sometimes got the impression that we had made "more progress" in accepting the concept than production. The new design was something they had to get used to – and Fritz Eichler once again proved his talent to convince others. Our eagerness – we were a very young team – was compensated by the caution and understanding of Mr. Eichler, who was about twenty years our senior.
The design was able to emancipate itself faster than expected. In 1956, the 'SK 4' was launched on the market, which went down in design history. A white metal enclosure with two wood faces and a Plexiglas cover. Hand Gugelot and Dieter Rams were responsible for the design. Dieter Rams now concentrated on design drafts. Fritz Eichler did actually design the modern radio receivers 'SK 1' and 'SK 2' in 1954 together with Artur Braun, however, his work as the initiator and coordinator of the entire design department is in my opinion of a higher significance for the success throughout the first years than his work as a designer.
Fritz Eichler occupied one of the guest rooms in Rüsselsheimer Straße, and often it was there that he met with Hans Gugelot and Otl Aicher for informal discussions. Sometimes we were asked to join to "collect" impulses for new ideas. His instructions were often reduced to the remark that something should be tried out like this or that so that we were rather free to implement our own photographic possibilities.
Fritz Eichler was a quiet man with a distinct sense of humor and subtle irony. He convinced his fellow men in a very subtle manner with charming eloquence. They hardly noticed that they adopted his opinion as their own. He was able to pass on his own enthusiasm with a smile and never lost track of his comprehensive concept.
For a Modern Lifestyle
But Braun not only required us to focus our work on a modern lifestyle, the company also provided us with corresponding furniture. The exchange of thoughts about modern architecture, design, photography and graphic design continued in private circles in the evenings. Every occasion was used as a reason for a small celebration and Fritz Eichler often participated. One big event was a mardi gras celebration for all employees which was of course also attended by all general managers.
But the photography department also had the want to present itself independent of a reference concept. We organized an exhibition and displayed what we had photographed in our spare time. For the opening in our new studio we installed a cabin with the slogan "und des Festes größter Witz – mit Braun Hobby selbst dich blitz" (and the biggest fun at the party – take your own picture with Braun Hobby). This invitation was very successful as you can tell from all the exposures. The atmosphere was relaxed and cheerful, but did not prevent us from seriously getting to work the next morning.
The new team got along pretty well, treated each other friendly, and encounters with "Bürger Eichler, Dr. Fritz", as we would call him unofficially, were a pleasant change. Always, interesting discussions would develop that often covered issues beyond the orders.
Photography as Visual Information
Photography, in accordance with the new advertising concept, should use no special effects. It was to convey a visual impression of the object or show the product in use. For the picture, this implied a uniform background which was usually white, i.e. neutral, and showed no background line whenever possible. The angle from which the pictures were taken – the most important characteristic of a photographic exposure – was slightly from above and very often head-on. The light was consistent and without shadows. 3) Bernd and Hilla Becher would have been delighted. Cliché retouching was frowned upon, therefore, the exposures themselves had to represent the corresponding lighting contours.
In addition to the object exposures, the devices should also be shown in their corresponding environment to document the modern lifestyle. This was no easy task back in the fifties, because cone-shaped lamp shades and kidney-shaped tables were less what we were looking for in this context. The first photographs, therefore, were taken at Knoll International Agency in Wiesbaden.
Then, some companies joined in so-called cooperative advertising and our studio was comfortably furnished with Knoll International furniture, Rosenthal chinaware, Gral glass, WMF cutlery, and carpets of the Bremer Tauwerkfabrik. With these props we tried to stage a milieu impression. Our task was to avoid overlaps and to clearly structure the views. Primarily, we staged a bleeding environment, because the focus was on the presentation of the products.
We were well equipped with cameras and disposed of a Linhof Technika 13x18 and 9x12 and two Hasselblad. The first black and white photographs were quickly followed by color photographs that confronted us with new challenges. We tested Kodakchrome (13x18) color emulsions and if they could be used without a filter, we bought them. Studio 13 in Stuttgart provided for reliable developing.
Again, it became obvious that the advertising concept demanded certain characteristics. The color highlights needed to blend well without looking gaudy. For the brochures – of which we knew the number of pages and the purpose – the appearance of the photographs was important. If they were for example intended for one page, consistency had to be considered.
One major challenge was Interbau in Berlin in 1957. The show apartments, equipped with Braun devices by architects from inside and outside Germany, could be photographed. I convinced Mr. Schultz of the fruitful cooperation that used to exist with Ingeborg Kracht and so we could put her to the test in Berlin for two weeks. She became a new employee afterward. One year later, in 1958, we visited the world exhibition in Brussels. At the German pavilion, radios and other devices from Braun were presented and this was a chance to picture the acceptance of the new line. From our experience we knew that we had to change the constellations and used the hours during which the exhibition was closed to visitors. The result are a number of "milieu photographs" that were used in many brochures.
I really like to think back about these starting years at Braun, which were not only characterized by professional challenges but also by personal contacts that have endured until today. It was exciting to be involved in creating a new concept and it was impressive to experience communication that was accompanied by human gestures – despite all challenges. Dr. Fritz Eichler succeeded in incorporating these qualities.
I can recall some very pleasant reencounters with Fritz Eichler on the occasion of Braun anniversaries and with Dieter Rams. And we always realized that the "old days" had been pretty successful and that we had really started something good.
Schnelle-Schneyder, M.: Bürger Eichler, Dr. Fritz. In: Jatzke-Wigand, H.; Klatt, J.: The Development of the Braun Design. In: Design+Design zero, Hamburg December 2011, 1. Auflage, 64-75