Johanna Alexandra Jacobi, known popularly as Lotte Jacobi, is recognised as one of the 20th century’s leading portrait photographers of major cultural personalities, as well as for capturing ordinary people in both her country of origin and adopted homeland.
Jacobi was born in 1896 in Prussia, in a region that is today part of Poland, to a Jewish family. The Jacobis established a long tradition in photography, with Lotte’s great-grandfather setting up a studio that developed Lotte’s interest in the profession from an early age. She studied photography at the Bavarian State Academy of Photography before taking over the family’s studio in 1927. She went on to construct such a well-regarded career in Germany that she was offered honorary Aryan status by the Nazi regime.
Jacobi rejected the offer and fled Nazi Germany in 1935 to the United States, where she spent the rest of her life. She set up a studio in New York and photographed major figures of the time including other notable emigreés, such as Albert Einstein and Marc Chagall. Her first solo exhibition was held in New York in 1937 and she was featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1942 exhibition “Twentieth Century Portraits.”
Her artistic style changed in the 1950s when she moved away from portraiture to produce abstract images and landscapes. It was in this decade that her ‘photogenics’ were cameraless photographs, in which she utilised pieces of glass positioned above photographic paper to create her work.
Jacobi’s legacy is evident. In 1973, she was awarded an honorary doctorate in Fine Art by the University of New Hampshire. The photographs and negatives that she survives paint a picture of the social fabric of world leaders and the ordinary people of the US and Europe. Jacobi passed away in 1990 in New Hampshire, USA.