The Gehfotografen, literally ‘travelling photographers’, were active on the streets of cities and tourist resorts throughout Europe between 1927 and 1935. The profession became widespread during the Great Depression, when the New York stock market crash of 1929 heralded an economic crisis that afflicted the entire continent and whose resulting unemployment and poverty culminated in the Austrian Civil War of 1934.
In this situation commissions decreased, forcing professional photographers to look for new sources of income. This gave rise to what in the Anglo-Saxon context came to be known as ‘street photography’.
Cropped or folded, the pictures became currency between the photographer and the ordinary people who had the privilege of being immortalised. Passers-by were usually approached with a piece of paper bearing the name and address of the photographer along with the phrase: ‘You have been photographed’. Photos could be collected from local shops for 1.5 shillings each, at the time the cost of a lunch.
In the pictures, the way the passers-by dress suggests that the photographer was mainly active in autumn and winter (often on rainy days). He probably took advantage of the Graz Autumn Fair (and its many visitors), which from 1906 was an exhibition of samples and goods of Austrian manufacturers; when the amusement park was added, it turned into a public festival that attracted up to 60,000 people.
These photographs are the opposite of studio photography, where every detail is edited and staged. They look like snapshots that offer an authentic insight into what life was like on the streets of Graz. Chance and spontaneity seem to play a more important role than the style of the photographer, who has nevertheless emphasised certain parameters: central position, movement, sharpness, distance, the full figure.