John Gutmann – Photos and Artwork

About John Gutmann

John Gutmann was a prominent American photographer and painter known for his unique photographic style. Born in Germany, he fled from the country to escape Nazi persecution. Once in San Francisco, he started a career in photo-journalism and began capturing images of American culture during the Great Depression. Though self-taught, his photography reflects a distinct European avant-garde aesthetic that championed North American realities with fascination.

Gutmann’s work celebrated the energy of democracy and human expression. One of America’s most distinctive photographers of the 20th century, Gutmann focused on details that showcased American identity — whether it was street signs or billboards — providing insight into how people lived while highlighting their vibrant surroundings.

Before leaving Germany, Guttmann bought a camera and arranged to sell photographs of America to German magazines he had contacts at—a career built out of necessity became one driven by passion that lasted decades. His works have been exhibited worldwide in institutions such as MOMA New York and SFMoMA, amongst others.

In June 1998, John Gutmann passed away at home in San Francisco—leaving behind an extensive catalog documenting some of the most transformative times this nation has seen; however now it survives through his archives held at The UC Berkeley Bancroft Library Trust Archives and still inspires us all even to this day.

Photographs from John Gutmann

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