Erwin Blumenfeld was born into a German-Jewish family in Berlin on January 26, 1897. After an apprenticeship in a fashion shop and intense involvement with expressionism, he worked as an ambulance driver in World War I. After the end of the war, he emigrated with his wife to the Netherlands, and there he came into contact with the Dadaist Movement.
Erwin Blumenfeld painted, wrote, and made collages. During the years 1922-35, he earned his living by means of a business for leather treatment, but it finally went bankrupt. Around 1932, he began to take photographs professionally.
His works were political; in 1933, he produced an anti-Hitler photo collage with a skull. Ten years later, the picture was printed on millions of flyers that were dropped by the US Air Force on German cities.
In 1935, Blumenfeld moved to Paris, having decided to become a photographer; there he met the surrealists. He experimented with collages, solarization, multiple illumination, color photography and other photographic techniques. His portraits from this time period show strong surrealist influence.
Erwin Blumenfeld published in the surrealist journals "Le Minotaure" and "Verve". In 1938 he met Cecil Beaton, who helped him land a contract with "Vogue". Blumenfeld produced numerous fashion and portrait photographs in his completely unique style.
In 1940, Erwin Blumenfeld was detained in the concentration camps Montbard-Marmagne, Vernet at Ariège and Catus. Not until a year later was he able to flee to the US. He worked in New York for "Harper's Bazaar", "Look" and other magazines. Blumenfeld became successful very quickly; over 100 front pages by his hand were published. He belonged to the best paid photographers of his time, even though his pictures are quite close to experimental and art photography. In addition to his fashion photography, he is also known today for his nude photos.
Erwin Blumenfeld died in Rome on July 4, 1969.