Kurt Hielscher (1881-1948)

Kurt Hielscher is a selfmade German photographer born in Strzegom/Striegau, today's Poland, Germany at the time. He was born the son of a ranger, but ended up in an orphanage at a young age in Bolesławiec/Bunzlau.

As a youngster he already liked to hike the mountains of Silesia. His studies gave him the opportunity to travel once a year and he got a taste for it. He became a teacher. In his first major trip abroad, he went to Spain. The following years he travelled from Scotland to the Caucasus and from Sicily to Spitsbergen. In 1914 he went to Spain for a second time.

When this study trip ended, Kurt Hielscher was surpised by the outbreak of the First World War while heading back home by steamer. The boat was forced to return back to Spain and he stayed there for more than five years. He used his involuntary stay in Spain by traveling around the country, by foot. He made the best of it and managed to make a living with exhibitions and lectures. He did not return home until after the war where he found his hometown in another country: Poland.

Kurt Hielscher had to give up his job as a teacher and decided to continue to lecture about "The Unknown Spain".  Now he also wanted a book! Four years after the war he released Das Unbekannte Spanien (1922). A new book form was created: the travel photobook and that did not remain unnoticed.

Now "the camera wanted me to make a same book for Germany" with which Kurt Hielscher wanted to show that Germany was not a barbaric country. The book became a huge success as well and Kurt Hielscher received words of thank from Reichspräsident Von Hindenburg. He received invitations from other countries: Italy, Yugoslavia, Austria, The Nordic Scandinavian Countries and Romania. He met rulers and kings, well-knowns wrote forewords for his books. Kurt Hielscher became a career photographer instead or next to the wanderer he was at the beginning. Nearly half a million copies were sold. Unfortunately all his negatives were destroyed at the end of the Second World War due to allied bombings. Kurt Hielscher's work fell into oblivion.

"I try to show the original face of a country and its people in my books. As witnesses of a sinking world, my photos will still speak when I have long fallen silent myself."

Kurt Hielscher in "Meister der Kamera erzählen", Wilhelm Schöppe, 1937

More about Kurt Hielscher, me and the origins of my project you can watch here at my lecture for the Geographical Society of Philadelphia on the 20th of November 2020.

Below: Coastline of the island of Rügen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, 29th of July 2020. Photo: Casper Molenaar. Kurt Hielscher made some nice photos here from the cliffs.

In the footsteps of  Kurt Hielscher