Portrait of a young girl in a courtyard, Tunis, circa 1910
Lehnert & Landrock is the name of a photographic duo active in North Africa in the early 20th century, consisting of: Rudolf Franz Lehnert & Ernst Heinrich Landrock.
Lehnert (1878-1948) was born in Bohemia, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Landrock (1878–1966) in Reinsdorf, Saxony.
In 1903 a walking tour across Europe led Lehnert to Palermo and from there to Tunisia. Overwhelmed by the beauty of the country he began what would become a lifelong career as a photographer. On his return to Europe Lehnert met Landrock in Switzerland and showed him his photographs. The two men returned to Tunis together where in 1904 they started their photographic atelier and business, publishing their works as: by “Lehnert & Landrock”.
Although the photographs they produced were signed with both their names, it was Lehnert who was the photographer and Landrock the businessman who made them possible. Landrock ran the studio in Tunis, managed the laboratory, organized Lehnert’s caravans into the desert, and marketed their products.
“People will still talk about my photographs after 200 years!” Lehnert used to say to his friend, when impatiently accuses him for his two months long desert safari in Tunisia. The photographs, which published in Leipzig, Germany, bring the expected success and reached worldwide fame.
There are several distinguishing features in Lehnert’s photography. Desert scenes are simple, but formally composed reflecting his early training as a painter and art student. Lone figures dwarfed by sand dunes forming one of his favourite motifs, the power of the desert over man.
There is also a large body of female nude work and of eroticized male adolescent images. These nude images often say more about the fantasies and culture of the photographers than about the portrayed cultures. From the 1860s onwards photographs of people with different cultural values and sexual morality became popular for artistic and erotic reasons.
In 1914 Lehnert starts another caravan trip; he rents camels to carry his heavy photographic equipment, dresses himself like the Bedouins, lives according the strong rules of the desert. When he returns to Tunis, he is shocked. In the meantime, the outbreak of the First World War took place, their shop was confiscated and Landrock, according to the German-French agreement, is interned to Engelberg in Switzerland. Lehnert, because of his Austrian citizenship accused of espionage and jailed in Algeria and Corsica. Thanks to the efforts of Landrock, later he interned in Davos, Switzerland until his release.
After the war, Lehnert and Landrock married Jenny Schmitt and Emilie Singer-Lambelet, respectively.
In 1919, Lehnert changed his citizenship to Czech, as Bohemia became part of Czechoslovakia (allied with France) and he get all his photographs back.
In 1924, Lehnert and Landrock re-established their studio in Cairo.
In 1930, Lehnert moved with his family to Tunisia and opened a photo studio in Tunis. Landrock continued in Cairo and in close partnership with his son-in-law Kurt Lambelet, overseeing the transformation of “Lehnert and Landrock” into a centre for fine art prints.
In 1938, Landrock sells his share to his stepson and returns to Germany. The company then firmed under the name Lehnert & Landrock – K. Lambelet.
In 1939 Lehnert retired to Carthage and when his wife died in 1944, he settled with his daughter and son-in-law at the Tunisian oasis of Gafsa, where he died in 1948.
Landrock never returned to Egypt and in 1966 he died in Switzerland.
The family of Kurt Lambelet expanded the business in Cairo, focusing more on books and art prints. Kurt Lambelet passed away in 1997 at age 92. His son Edouard Lambelet is now owner of the Lehnert & Landrock Bookshop and Art Gallery in Cairo.
There have been numerous articles and monographs about Lehnert & Landrock work and increasingly are becoming recognized as one of the best studios of its time.
Sources/More to Read:
Wikipedia: Rudolf Franz Lehnert
Wikipedia: Rudolf Franz Lehnert (en français)
Wikipedia: Ernst Heinrich Landrock
Luxor – West bank: The history of the two “Ls”
Deutsche Welle: The dangerous job of selling books in Cairo
Boudoir-Cards.de: Oriental (Erotic) Postcards