Home Feature Articles Lotte Eckener: Late fame for an almost forgotten German photographer

Lotte Eckener: Late fame for an almost forgotten German photographer

Image shows future Lotte-Eckener.Schule at Konstanz, Germany
This building at Konstanz, Germany, has always been a school. But a system change brought a new model of education behind these venerable walls – and opened the window to give a new name to the new school in the old house.

She had a famous father, but her own work was almost forgotten. But Lotte Eckener is now receiving belated recognition. In Konstanz, where she died in 1995, a school is to be named after her. Because she was a role model in more ways than one. Read more about her in one of the first reviews of her life ever published in the English language.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that a photographer has been honoured with the naming of a school here in the state of Baden-Württemberg (11 million inhabitants). But it’s a very appropriate choice, and I’m sure the city council of Konstanz will agree with the proposal. The school itself has already given its approval.

Lotte Eckener, who was born in 1906 and died in 1995, was not only an accomplished photographer before and after the Second World War but also a remarkable publisher. The profile of the newly established but as yet unnamed school is based on practical and artistic skills, which makes the choice all the more sensible.

Lotte Eckener’s father was Hugo Eckener, the aviation pioneer

Far better known than Lotte Eckener is her father, Hugo Eckener (1868-1954). He was a pioneer of aviation and continued the work of Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin (1838-1917), the inventor of the airships that were to be named after him. Both are the unofficial patron saints of my home town of Friedrichshafen (guess what, I attended the Graf-Zeppelin Gymnasium). Eckener continued the Count’s work after his death and laid the foundations for the — transient — commercial and technological success of airship transport and travel. As we know, it all came to an end in 1937 near Lakehurst, an incident also known for its iconic photographs.

The human was always in the centre for Lotte Eckener

Lotte Eckener took documentary photographs at the Zeppelin factories in the 1930s with a keen eye for the industrial aesthetics of these huge aluminium and fabric structures. She often included workers in her images to put things in perspective. And I think she just had an interest in people (sadly, I can’t show any of these images here due to copyright restrictions). People who met her described Lotte Eckener as a very kind, sensitive and interested person. She soon took up portrait photography. She had a number of film stars of her time in front of her camera, but also the famous writer Carl Zuckmayer (“Der Hauptmann von Köpenick”, the “Captain of Köpenich”). He wrote to Lotte Eckener: “One likes to be photographed by you”.

After the war, she was one of the first female publishers in Germany

After the war, Eckener concentrated more on art, landscape and architectural photography and published several books. The Bodensee region, where she was married to a local dentist, Paul Simon, was one of her subjects. Lotte Simon, née Eckener, remained in Konstanz for the rest of her life, well away from public and media attention. Over the years, her own photography gradually receded behind her editorial work. She founded a book publishing house, Simon & Koch. It was probably the first in post-war Germany to be run by women only. She retired in the 1960s and died in 1995. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet her.

Finally, interest in Lotte Eckener is back

More than ten years after her death, new interest arose in this remarkable person. Dorothea Cremer-Schacht and Siegmund Kopitzki, two renowned regional art writers, began to work on a book about Lotte Eckener. In 2021, visitors could see exhibitions of her work near Konstanz and in Flensburg, her father’s home town. Many visitors, including myself, were quite surprised at the treasure that the curators had unearthed. Really remarkable.

Gear seems to have been not so important

There are a few photographs of Lotte Eckener at work. In one, she is cheerfully operating a medium format camera (probably a Zeiss 6×9) on a wooden tripod. Another, taken in Berlin in 1930, shows her holding a small rangefinder camera; I think it is a Leica. In any case, we do not know much about Lotte Eckener’s equipment. It’s her work and her life that have made an impact, not the cameras she used. 

Lotte-Eckener-Schule: It’s also a gender statement

The naming of the school in Konstanz not only honours the photographer and editor but also has a feminist aspect. I can’t say that Lotte Eckener was what we would call a women’s rights activist, but she took a stand, for example, by publishing books written by women. And many of her photographs show a deep interest in the feminine, including her masterful images of medieval sculptures of the Virgin Mary. The works of art as well as the photographs of them, have a beauty of their own and tell the story of a sensitive photographer with a strong sense of aesthetics.

Image shows future Lotte-Eckener.Schule at Konstanz, Germany
Lotte Eckener again with “her” school. I hope they will make some kind of commemorative plate in the building to explain who is honoured.

Will the boys and girls of the future Lotte-Eckener-Schule discover photography?

I personally do hope that the youngsters attending the future Lotte-Eckener-Schule will learn something about the woman who gave her name to their school. Lotte Eckener is certainly a role model for future generations (boys and girls) with her emancipation from her father, her work as a publisher and as a photographer. It would be a beautiful idea to start a photography club for the students. This would give them their own personal way of connecting with their school’s namesake.

Did you ever hear of Lotte Eckener? Do you think it is a good idea to name a school after her? Do you know any other school which is named after a female photographer apart from Leipzig’s Gerda Taro Gymnasium, which commemorates Robert Capa’s partner, the “Girl with the Leica”? Which photographers should be given a comparable honour, especially in relation to young people? The comments section is yours! 

Read more about Lotte Eckener (sorry, all in German):

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  1. Just to make it complete: The City Council of Konstanz has, as expected, agreed to the new name of the school. It is now officially named “Gemeinschaftsschule Lotte Eckener Konstanz”. In the last moment, a debate came up because some of Eckener’s photos from the 1930s show the flag of Nazi Germany (with the Swastika). Experts could prove however that Lotte Eckener was in no way politically involved during the Third Reich.

  2. That was meant to be a reply to Peter Lott’s message: “It’s crazy that I, as a German, have to find out about Lotte Eckener.”

  3. It’s crazy that I, as a German, have to find out about Lotte Eckener on this extraordinary English website. I have never heard of this photographer before. Thank you very much for this contribution, Jörg-Peter. Learned something again.
    Peter aus Mittelfranken

    • You’re welcome, Peter. Macfilos is full or surprises, or at least we contributors are doing our best to provide articles that might come unexpected for the one or the other reader. Best wishes to Mittelfranken (man soll Gott…) – Jörg-Peter

  4. Thanks Jörg-Peter for your article. I’ve discovered a photographer I had never heard of. There’s a primary school not far from home named after the French photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand. There is also a photography and film direction school named after Louis Lumière. Most high school or middle schools are named after painters or sculptors or poets or philosophers here in France. I had a look on the net.I like her images from New York great archtectural shots.

    • Thank you, Jean for adding to the list of “schools named after photographers”. Would be interesting to know, globally or on a smaller scale, how many of them exist as opposed to schools named after painters, politicians or high military officers (let alone “war heroes”). I am sure that the importance of images for all our lives is not represented in such figure. JP

  5. Thanks for bringing this to us! I liked the portrait of the dancer — it seemed to me part of a style in post-war 1920’s Europe, but I can’t quite put a name to it. If I read the German correctly (doubtful) she worked in the same studio as ‘von’ Sternberg. Again, it reminds me of some of the cinematography of his ‘Blue Angel’.

    If I read correctly, she turned to nature photography after the next war. Quite a pioneer in her time!

    • Oh yes, Kathy, the 1920s signature is very obvious, and there might be links to Marlene Dietrich. Another photo that cannot be published here shows Anny Ondra, a famous actor of the period and wife of Germany’s most famous boxer ever, Max Schmeling. During her work in the studio “Atelier Bilder” Lotte Ecker almost certainly met all the famous film people of the late 1920s. After WWII she turned to photographing nature, architecture and art (mainly sculptures), but her greatest accomplishment in theses years was founding and running a small but good publishing company. JP

  6. Hi Joerg-Peter, thank you for sharing this fascinating story. It’s encouraging to hear of underappreciated figures receiving overdue recognition. Often these are scientists or writers, the majority of whom are women. Thank you for bringing the work of Lotte Eckener, whom I had not heard of, to our attention. It’s good to see historically important photographers highlighted in Macfilos, especially on the occasion of a major event, such as an anniversary, or in this case the naming of a school. If named after a person, most of the local schools here in the US carry the moniker of judicial, political, or historical figures. But, I did a quick search for Ansel Adams School, since he is arguably the most famous Californian photographer, and indeed there is an Ansel Adams School in the town of Lodi, in the Sierras of Northern California. It was opened in 2004. All the best! Keith

    • Dear Keith,
      thank you for your feedback. In fact, it’s often the women which have not received the public acclaim and attention they had deserved. Only the post-modern questioning of canons has surfaced many of their achievements, and I am thankful for this. And I absolutely agree with you that Macfilos is a good place to make important photographers known. – Ansel Adams will never need this, but it’s nice to read that a school was named after him. He was, in some ways, a role model for sure, and he shaped our perception of the US’ natural heritage like no other. Let aside is impact on the aesthetics of photography.
      All the best, JP


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