Herbert Tobias (1924–1982) was the enfant terrible of the German photographers after WW II.
In the 1950s, he shot glamorous fashion pictures for magazines that made him a star photographer in Europe, and yet, he always remained a non-conformist. In the mid-1960s, he walked away his lucrative career. His name is mostly forgotten, but his pictures remain well-known: portraits of the young Klaus Kinski and the singer Nico (it was Tobias who gave Christa Päffgen the name “Nico”), shots of Berlin in ruins, and erotic photographs of men. In 1982, Tobias died in poverty at just 57-years-old. He left behind a fascinanting oeuvre.
Tobias was a remarkable photographer. A true artist, he used photography as an outlet for his obsessions. His pictures are filled with melancholy and longing. Yet, he could be a choreographer of great performances, a narrator of mysterious tales or a designer of dramatic tableaux. His work is queer; his images of men, his central theme, show him to be a master of erotically charged looks and poetic sensuality. In the prudish era, when being gay was still punishable by law, he was making a political statement just by taking these pictures.
He grew up in a bourgeois family and began to take photographs even as a child. He wanted to become a professional actor, but in 1942 he was call-up for military service. He took his first photographs on the eastern front during the war. After the war, Tobias attended acting school for one year and traveled with a touring company.
He came out of the closet in 1951, when he and his boyfriend moved to Paris, where he published some of his own pictures for the first time. He returned to Germany in 1953 and became famous after winning a title-page competition for the Frankfurter Illustrierte.
In 1954 he moved to Berlin and became successful professionally. Tobias worked for several fashion magazines while also producing photographs of city views, portraits of prominent people and images of men.
In the 1960s, at the height of his career as a photographer, he tried to to work again as an actor and singer; he also began to do a lot of drugs. In 1969 he moved to Hamburg, designed album covers, and worked for gay magazines.
In early 1981, he was rediscovered after being given a show at a Berlin Gallery of new prints of his photographs from the 1950s and 1960s.
Tobias was taken by the plague in the summer of 1982, one of the first to go.
All pictures courtesy of Berlinischen Galerie