Keld Helmer-Petersen

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Keld Helmer-Petersen (20 August 1920 – 6 March 2013)[1] was a Danish photographer who achieved his international breakthrough in 1948 when he published 122 Farvefotografier/122 Colour Photographs, a collection of experiments with shapes inspired by Albert Renger-Patzsch and the poetic realism of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement. The book brought modernism to Danish photography and earned Helmer-Petersen a grant for a year's study at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1950. As a result, photography became his profession. In his Chicago series published in Fragments of a City, Helmer-Petersen became form's uncompromising proponent. He later developed interest in hidden figurative expression as in his series Deformationer (1976–84) and Frihavnen (1989).[2]

Professional career[edit]

Helmer-Petersen's career took off in 1948 with his 122 Colour Photographs. His aim was to make pictures that would only work in colour, and not in black and white. This he achieved by concentrating on the mundane and the everyday.[3] Thanks to the grant he received from the Art Institute of Photography he was able to study for a year under Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind.

In Fragments of a City, he explained he had been inspired by the German Neue Sachlichkeit movement, especially its concern for industry's new machines and architecture's characteristic new elements.[4]

Following the publication of his book, he worked for a short period for Life before returning to Copenhagen to concentrate on his architectural photography. There he photographed silhouettes of overhead cables, fire escapes and construction cranes against grey skies, producing a black-and-white effect. Or, in sharp sunlight, he would shoot full-frontal views of the facades of timbered houses and sheds in industrial plants, making them look like architectural drawings.[4]

In the mid-1960s, Helmer-Petersen — more than any other photographer — adapted the evolving trend of intellectual structuralism to the art of photography. The result was his exhibition Structurer (1965) with pictures of leafless tree branches set against a light grey winter sky or patterns created by partially snow-covered ice-floes on Copenhagen's lakes. Some of the photographs were enlarged so much that they bordered on abstraction while presenting a microcosm of nature's material structures.

Helmer-Petersen became the architects' photographer. From 1964 until 1990 he was lector in photography and form at the Royal Academy's School of Architecture while he continued to act as an architectural photographer for contemporaries such as Finn Juhl, Jørgen Bo, Jørn Utzon and Poul Kjærholm.[4]

Today his work is held by a number of institutions including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. His contribution to the development of colour photography is ever more widely recognised by the art world.[5]



  • Un autre monde, La Maison du Danemark, Paris (2014)
  • Keld Helmer-Petersen, Galleri Weinberger, Copenhagen (2009)
  • Winter Graphics, Rocket Gallery, London (2008)
  • 1945–1995, Rocket Gallery, London (2006)
  • Les Rencontres d'Arles, France (2005)
  • De tidlige år, Fotografisk Center, Copenhagen (2005)
  • Retrospektivt, Fotografisk Center, Copenhagen (2004)
  • Strukturer, Ole Palsby Galleri, Copenhagen (1965)


  • Helmer-Petersen, Keld, 122 colour photographs, Schoenberg, 1948, 130 pp.
  • Helmer-Petersen, Keld, Colour before the Camera, in: Pilkington (William J.) Pilkington on Colour Photography, etc. pp. 5–47., Fountain Press: London, 1952.
  • Helmer-Petersen, Keld, Fragments of a City. Chicago photographs, Hans Reitzel, 1960, 40 pp.
  • Helmer-Petersen, Keld, Frameworks, Photographs 1950-1990, Hans Reitzel, 1993, 304 pp, ISBN 87-412-3242-9.
  • Helmer-Petersen, Keld, Danish Beauty, Edition Bløndal, 2004, 27 pp, ISBN 87-91567-04-1.
  • Helmer-Petersen, Keld, Photographs 1941-1995, Christian Ejlers, 2007, 289 pp, ISBN 978-87-7241-282-5.
  • Helmer-Petersen, Keld, Black Noise, Rocket Gallery, 2010, 80 pp.
  • Helmer-Petersen, Keld, Back to Black, Rocket Gallery, 2011, 84 pp.
  • Helmer-Petersen, Keld, 122 Colour Photographs, Errata Editions (Books on Books 14), 2012, 136 pp, ISBN 9781935004271.
  • Helmer-Petersen, Keld, Black Light, Rocket Gallery, 2014, 80 pp.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Keld Helmer-Petersen : Dødsfald". navne. Retrieved 2013-08-26. 
  2. ^ "Keld Helmer-Petersen". From Den store Danske. (in Danish) Retrieved 20 February 2010.
  3. ^ Keld Helmer-Petersen: 122 Colour Photographs. From PhotoEye Auctions. Retrieved 19 February 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Tage Poulsen, "Mennesker og Mønstre", in Dansk Fotografi Historie, ed. Mette Sandbye (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2004), p. 271 et seq. ISBN 87-00-39586-2.
  5. ^ Everyday Colour. From BBC News. Retrieved 19 February 2010.