By on September 21, 2013

A photograph of a driver sitting at side of the Nürburgring course, reading a newspaper, his Bugatti racer next to him. Zoltan Glass c. 1931.

Zoltan Glass was an amateur car racer and professional photographer who shot many of the major racing events in Germany in the 1930s as well as shooting commercial photography for automotive clients like Mercedes Benz, Horch and Auto Union.

Glass, however, was Jewish so things started getting difficult for him after the National Socialists came to power in 1933, though he doggedly worked on, ironically doing advertising photo shoots with cars sitting next to Nazi planes, and covering races and motoring events partially sponsored by the party. After the Nuremberg laws were passed in 1936, severely restricting the civil liberties of Jews, an associate of Glass’ from the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, Peter de Peterson, helped Glass move his base of operations to London, from where he managed his Berlin based photographic agency. Glass continued to travel to Germany to shoot advertising for his clients. After the widespread organized violence against German Jews broke out during Kristalnacht in 1938, and Jews were prohibited from running or owning businesses, Glass permanently relocated to London, taking all of his photographic negatives with him.

He struggled for a while but eventually got established working for ad agencies and magazines. Many professional photographers who would later find notable success started off using his studio in exchange for royalties on the photos they created there. He ended up mentoring a generation of British commercial photographers. His work for a risque British magazine also led to a lucrative side career in “naturist” photography. Surprisingly, Zoltan Glass never took up an interest in British motorsports and his commercial work in the UK had almost nothing to do with cars. Glass died in 1981 and left his archive of negatives to the British National Media Museum, which has digitized the photos. You can see more of his work at the Museum’s web site, but I’ve included a nice selection of his racing and automotive advertising work in the gallery below.

Zoltan Glass was a superb photographer. Looking over his photos one notices that very few of his photographs of cars were of the cars alone, nearly all of those photos include people and he had a deft touch capturing their humanity.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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8 Comments on “The Automotive Photographic Art of Zoltan Glass...”

  • avatar

    I’m constantly amazed how many great artists, designers, and photographers came out of such a small country like Hungary at the first half of the 20th century. Robert Capa, Andre Kertesz, Marcel Breuer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Brassai etc… I never even knew of Zoltan Glass. If you add all the scientists, entrepreneurs, Nobel winners to the list, it was quite the little factory of talent. I wonder where the country would be now if Hilter and his buddies didn’t chase everyone out of Europe.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    That motorcycle spill shot is impressive for its detail. I’m assuming it was a daylight flash which caught it.

    The suited man among the stacks of fenders is perfectly evocative of the spirit which drove the style of that era.

    • 0 avatar

      “I’m assuming it was a daylight flash which caught it.”

      I think so… flat, shadowless light from an overcast and the only highlights are directly in line with the photog.

      Considering ’30s tech, impressive photo.

  • avatar

    Interesting story. When I taught technology I always taught something about the race cars of that era. Big fan of the pictures.

  • avatar

    Truly a gifted man ! .

    Those Mercedes Coupes are the shiznit .


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    What a treat; thanks for sharing with us, Ronnie.

    His sense of timing and perspective are fascinating. I liked the photo of the woman in the racing car, which is unusual for any era.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    The joys of black and white photography with a Leica! Wonderful stuff, Ronnie. Thanks for bringing it to us.

    • 0 avatar

      Ever seen Rene Burri’s work?

      Iconic B&W Leica available light photography with postwar coated lenses. The depth of the blacks and gleam of the highlights… you can just fall right into those photos, feel their surfaces with your mind.

      Hard to find, but his book titled Die Deutschen has a few of the most voluptuous car photos I’ve ever seen in 30 years of obsession with B&W.

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