Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Photographers You Should Know: Fritz Henle, Mr. Rollei

Nievis, Mexican model for many painters.

Who was your first major influence in photography?

Mine was Fritz Henle, a German-born American who was considered one of the greatest photographers in the world in the 1930s through the '60s and even into the '70s. He was so identified with the Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera that he was known as "Mr. Rollei." With his TLR he took on an amazing range of assignments: magazine photography for clients such as Life and many, many others; fashion, travel, industrial, advertising, landscape, fine art, and more. He also produced 20 books of his photographs, beginning in 1937 with This Is Japan and culminating in 1975 with Casals.

My interest in photography began with the birth of my son Don in the summer of 1968 with a cheap Kodak Instamatic camera using 126 film cartridges. By spring of 1969 I had advanced to a cheap TLR, the Ricoh 66. (Notice the repetition of the word "cheap?" What can I say -- I was living on a private school  teacher's salary!) The Ricoh died before its time, but it had a sharp lens and negatives I made with it still scan well.

At the Louvre, Paris, 1938

Speaking of scanning, during those early months of 1969 I was scanning the photography books section of the Miami Public Library when I came across a thin volume of photographs by Henle -- A New Guide to Rollei Photography, published by the Viking Press of New York in 1965. Leafing through the book, I nearly shouted for joy as many of the photographs touched me so deeply. For the first time I began to understand what photography can be. 

Texas Cowboys, 1956

Although I have most of Henle's books, including some rare and valuable ones, the New Guide to Rollei Photography is the one I return to again and again. Originally published as a compilation of monthly columns written for Popular Photography magazine in the late 1950s and early '60s, it is indeed a guide to photography with a twin-lens reflex, or any camera for that matter. Henle's simple but complex pictures are straightforward in technique (of which Henle was a master), yet display classic composition, of which he was also a master.

In fact, most of what I know about composition I learned from Henle's photographs. From him I learned to find ways to frame my point of interest, to use leading lines to emphasize the subject, and to balance near-far relationships. In fact, he sometimes used all three techniques in the same photograph. And he was a constant advocate of the square format, although he could depart from it when necessary.

Net-Thrower, Hawaii, 1951

"For years," he wrote, "I have waged a small private war in defense of the square format. . . What we learn from the twin-lens discipline is that values can be added to the picture by filling the square. We can think of the horizontal and vertical as squares to which something has been added at the sides or top and bottom."

(Photographs copyright Fritz Henle Estate, 2020)

Soli Deo Gloria


  1. As someone who started out in square format, shooting square will always feel like going home. Thanks for tipping me off to someone who mastered the format!

  2. Yes, I hadn't know about Mr. Henle until I read your post. Thank you for the introduction. I'm going to see if there are any affordable copies of his books around.

  3. Thanks, Jim. I'm actually inspiring myself to take out my Minolta Autocord and shoot it more!

  4. Marcus, prices on Henle's books are all over the map. Some are ridiculously expensive. The best deals I could find on Amazon are "Holiday in Europe" and "Photography for Everyone."

    I got most of my Henle books by searching used book stores, however Amazon and ABE Books have put many of them out of business.

    1. I had a disappointing search for a decent book, but many of his photos are on the Fritz Henle website for free.

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  6. Marcus, I will talk more about Henle's books in Monday's post, but meanwhile check out "Fritz Henle: In Search of Beauty." It is by far the most comprehensive book about Henle, and if you can afford it, the best book to own.

    1. Thanks for the information. I'll have a look. I'm looking forward to Monday's post.