Last week, I filmed my latest course for In, Graphic Design History: The Bauhaus. I discuss all aspects at the Bauhaus from the modernist philosophy to Walter Gropius and Johannes Itten’s personal differences. But, while working on it, I kept returning to the images of life at the Bauhaus. The students and masters (“professors” in Bauhaus talk) working, eating in the canteen, sleeping on tables, and just hanging out. They all look so carefree and hopeful. They have the same vibrant and enthusiastic energy I see in design students today working, eating in the cafeteria, sleeping on tables, and hanging out.

But, we know what was to come. By 1933, the Bauhaus was closed. Many of its students and masters fled Germany to escape persecution as Jews, artists, intellectuals, homosexuals, and radical thinkers. Some were trapped and died either in the camps or as enlisted German soldiers. Others, like Marianne Brandt ended up on the wrong side after World War II, in East Germany under a Soviet-controlled government. Fortunately, some immigrated to the United States like Marguerite Wildenhain, Herbert Bayer, Josef Albers, and Mies van der Rose, bringing Bauhaus modernism to run through the American filter.

It is the nature of photography to capture a moment in time and create a personal relationship between the viewer and subject. Looking at a photograph has that small sense of voyeurism as if we are seeing the details too closely. 

The images of life at the Bauhaus are especially haunting. It is not possible to separate what we know when we see Bauhaus students enjoying a sunny afternoon on the balcony. We have the terrible truth of knowing their future. Perhaps it is difficult to look at these images without the sense of tragedy because they remind us too much of today. We question, “will someone in the future see similar photographs of today and think the same?”

These people believed in a future of good design for happy people living in peace. The photographs speak of the unexpected, sudden change, and fleeting small moments in life.