Ernest Bloch: A Composer’s Vision

Movies with Bloch’s

Photographs and

Music on You Tube:

Schelomo 1916

America 1926

Sacred Service 1931                                                            


New Book on Bloch’s


                                                            Mushroom Lady, Satigny Switzerland, 1912                                   

2012 News:

Eric Johnson’s new article on the Alfred Stieglitz and Ernest Bloch connection is now available. What was the story behind Bloch seeing music in Stieglitz’ Cloud photographs in 1922? See it here:

The Jewish Community Library in San Francisco hosted a lecture by Eric Johnson on Ernest Bloch’s photography on May 8, 2012. Attended by members of Ernest Blpch’s family including his four grandchildren Ernest Bloch II, Joni Metolius, Sita Milcev and Pencho Dimitroff.

2011 Update:  With the major exhibition titled “Ernest Bloch: Framing a Vision of the World,” at the Oregon Jewish Museum in Portland this year, Bloch’s photographs, scores, letters and other memorabilia have been brought together for the first time. Thanks to the amazing efforts of Director Judith Margles and Bloch’s grandson Ernest Bloch II, the varied creative abilities of this man were able to be seen in the same place at the same time. Musical events and video interviews as well as the videos using his photographs that I made were included. It was a wonderful exhibition. Inspired by this exhibition I produced a new book surveying Bloch’s photography. Re-working a title to my original Aperture article from 1972 the book is titled “A Composer’s Vision: The Photographs of Ernest Bloch” and is available at Blurb. 80 of Bloch’s photographs have been brought together in one publication for the first time.

“Ernest Bloch: A Composer’s Vision” was the title of the article I wrote for Aperture magazine in 1972 on my discovery, printing and research of Ernest Bloch’s photography. The article is attached as a PDF in my “other work” tab. Below is a brief story about how I unearthed this vast photographic output of over 5,000 negatives by one of the great 20th century composers. It is a story that includes W. Eugene Smith, who listened to Bloch’s music and said “somebody needs to find out about his photographs;” Alfred Stieglitz, who in 1922 was very pleased that Bloch saw music in his photographs of clouds; Minor White, who saw the connections between music and photography and made it possible to publish my article; Paul Caponigro, who helped teach me how to print to get the most out of Bloch’s negatives; Bernard Freemesser, my undergraduate instructor who said “you should do the footwork;” and Suzanne, Ivan and Lucienne Bloch-Dimitroff, his wonderful children who were so generous and supportive of me. And it was Ansel Adams who made it possible for the archive including a large selection of prints I made from Bloch’s negatives, to be placed in the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ.

How I Found Ernest Bloch’s Photographs by Eric B. Johnson ©2008

Between 1970 and 1979 I researched, edited and printed from Ernest Bloch’s’ photographic archive. In 1972, Aperture magazine published my article titled “A Composer’s Vision:  Photographs by Ernest Bloch.”  This archive and a set of 40 prints I made from Bloch’s negatives are in the collection of the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ.

I was encouraged to investigate Bloch's work by my professor as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon in 1969, Bernard Freemesser. He had heard about the work from W. Eugene Smith who had in turn heard about it from Ivan Bloch, Bloch’s son who lived in Oregon. Smith printed to Bloch's music. This makes sense when one sees the darkness and drama of Smith’s prints. I contacted Ivan and met him in Bend in 1969. He directed me to his sister Lucienne Bloch-Dimitroff in Gualala, California, near Mendocino. I made contact and was encouraged to come see the collection and my senior year of undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon, 1970-71, was spent on an honors college project with many trips to Gualala focused on Bloch's work, his music and his photographs. One of my advisors was Robert Trotter, then Dean of Music at U of O. I set up a makeshift darkroom in Lucienne's outbuilding and began to explore his photographic archives. Most of his thousands of images were in the form of negatives with contact prints and no enlargements. I read from his books on philosophy and music and art. His books had many hand written notes in the margins from many different readings. I listened to his music constantly and immersed myself in Bloch's expressive and intellectual mind and work for most of a year. I was 22 years old.

Basically, the prints you see of his work are the prints I made in his spirit. They are, as Ansel Adams would say, a performance of his score; that is, the negative is the score and the print the performance. I visited in New York a couple of times to see Suzanne Bloch, his other daughter, who taught Lute at Julliard. I made contact with Aperture magazine and the article “A Composer’s Vision: Photographs by Ernest Bloch” was printed in November of 1971. I was later to meet Minor White in 1973 as well and discuss the connections between music and photography.

One of my more memorable experiences was printing Bloch’s pictures of a teenage violinist named Yehudi Menuhin. Suzanne encouraged me to send Menuhin a copy and he was kind enough to respond with a hand written thank you note. Ansel also wrote me about Bloch, and I met and talked with him several times along with the great impresario Merle Armitage. Bloch shot most of his pictures on the Leica, so I went through plenty of 35mm material as well as a large number of 4x5 glass plates. He actually started taking pictures as a teenage violin student around 1897. The biggest find of all was when Suzanne found the letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Bloch in her files from her father’s correspondence in 1971 when I was working on the project. I had reminded her that Stieglitz had written about Bloch's response to his cloud photographs in 1922. That letter from Stieglitz was really pivotal in making all the connections between Bloch's response to Stieglitz’ cloud photographs and his appreciation of the response. At the University of New Mexico grad program I worked with Beaumont Newhall and Ven Deren Coke while they were teaching. I reprinted many of Bloch's negatives again while a grad student with better technique and emphasis on tonal range. I remember spending time in Paul Caponigro's darkroom in Santa Fe where he would tutor me on the printing technique from a Bloch negative. I mounted a show of the prints at the University of New Mexico in coordination with the music department, where his music was also performed. Lucienne and Steve Dimitroff came down in 1977 and spoke on Diego Rivera, for whom they assisted, as well as Ernest Bloch. This was also about the time that the Center for Creative Photography was contacted. Ansel Adams actually made the connection. This would be a few years before he died. The Center in Tucson acquired the entire archive in 1978. The collection, including over 40 prints I made from his negatives, is now in that archive.

So, Ernest Bloch and I go way back. He had a profound impact on me, my career, my understanding of music and emotion. Indeed, I can say that I felt then and now a deep kinship with Bloch and the emotional depths he was able to navigate. I am forever grateful that I was the one who found his work and brought it to public awareness.

2009, the fiftieth year since his death, has been an extraordinary year of remembrance of Bloch’s music and contribution. I am very happy to have made a contribution with my donation to the Library of Congress.

see Ernest Bloch Legacy Site

All contents ©2011 Eric B. Johnson ----consent must be given for any reproduction, electronic or otherwise.


Self Portrait, Director Cleveland Institute of Music 1922

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