Grete Stern (born in Wuppertal, Germany in 1904) came to Argentina in 1935, in exile from the nazi regime. By then she was a graphic designer and an accomplished photographer, formed at the School for Applied Arts, in Stuttgart, and at Walter Peterhans's workshops privately at first, then at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Most of Grete's work in Germany was carried out at the ringl + pit studio she had set up with her friend Ellen Auerbach, and has recently been enthusiastically appraised by European and American critics, as well as by scholars. But the bulk of her production - both as to importance and quantity was carried out in our country over nearly fifty years of uninterrupted activity. Her work, remarkable in quality and variety of genres, had not previously been collected into book form nor described and reviewed, as undertaken in this volume. Grete Stern, formed in the refined, creative European vanguard of the twenties, is an essential artist in modern Argentine photography, and she has contributed decisively to founding it.

In 1948 she received an original proposal: supplying photographs to illustrate a section of Idilio magazine, published by Abril, entitled "El psicoanálisis le ayudara" (Psychoanalysis will help you). Edited by sociologist Gino Germani under de penname of Richard Rest, it conveyed psychoanalytical views on the dreams of its women correspondents. Grete proposed illustrating the dreams with photomontages. Her collaboration lasted around three years, in the course of which over one hundred and fifty pieces were published. To our knowledge, this is the largest and most important series of photomontages made in our country.

It is an acknowledged fact that modern photomontage, developed in Germany after the First World War, was applied to political propaganda, advertising, and experimental photography. Grete imbibed it first during her apprenticeship as a graphic designer and then as a photographer. As already mentioned, it was a creative procedure she found attractive and inspiring. Up to the time of her Idilio series, Grete's photomontages in Argentina had been few and occasional.

The texts describing the dreams to be illustrated by Grete were provided by Germani. Usually, they strictly reproduced the letters sent in by readers. Grete and Germani used to talk over the letter's intended interpretation, and he would request that the layout show certain characteristics, that flowers or animals be depicted, or unstable shapes, or some figures performing certain actions. Thence Grete would develop her combinative creation and her own point of view on the subject, which resulted in pieces of fairly free invention.

Each photomontage was published with a title:"Ambition dreams', "Mask dreams", "Dreams of discontent", and so on, plus a comment written by Germani. The comments referred to the image composed by Grete as though it were a literal illustration of the dream described by the reader; based on it Germani produced interpretations and recommendations.

The leading character in the photomontages was of course Idilio's reader - Germani's correspondent - who belonged to the lower classes in our country, especially the rising middle class of President Per6n's first years in office. That female character is present in the images, either explicitly or implicitly: she takes part in her own dream or "looks on through the viewfinder, as happens in subjective movie footage.

The subject matter originated in the dreams Germani found to be the most interesting for his analyzing, and among these main lythe ones emphasizing anguish and conflict. Grete's idea of female independence was very strong, and her critical attitude with respect to dominant values constraining and limiting it was a part of her idiosyncrasy. The possibility of expressing her viewpoints on these issues through her photomontages therefore came natural to her.

Practical requirements were met with domestic resources: Grete's actors were friends, relatives and neighbors, while the complementary images - landscapes, backgrounds, objects, secondary characters - came from her own files. It meant hard work, as she had to produce one photomontage a week - which left little time for correcting or retouching it. This explains why at least four photomontages were altered after publication, so that there are two renderings of each of those dreams: the one published in Idilio and the one in the photographer's archives. In all cases the latter is the better.

Grete's dream woman is an anguished, oppressed being. Her pleasures are as pathetic as her frustrations; when she is shown to be active and dominant, she is as cruel as the world that burdens her. Her ambitions mirror soap-opera and melodrama utopias: social success, wealth, long gloves, lame. Bottled up on the seaside, her destiny is uncertain and hazardous, no matter whether she has been washed ashore by the tide after a long journey, or the trip is yet to begin. An unknown hand has tossed - or will toss - her into the sea, for an unknown, uncertain hand to pick her up. The message is desperate: a moan or a scream arising from solitude for someone to hear it. Nevertheless, she smiles as she looks up atthe sky. She also smiles upon being wrapped up in the net her lover has thrown in by the window. She looks transported, enraptured, as her beautiful hair turned into paintbrush bristles is driven by the hand of her man (who else's could it be?) in order to daub paint on a wall. And then, proud of her figure, she poses statuette-like to serve as a night-lamp bottom on her man's night-table. A service object, decoration object, useful object: in any case a predicament that pleases her without wounding her. Her dismembered body, maimed, or made manifold, frequently appears in the series, and even if there is something comical about the surreal tone of the two hands emerging from the water to grab her flesh, the overall sense of consentedto and enjoyed manipulation in which the image is set renders it dramatic. In children's images beauty and peace may arrive. The baby blooming in the lily against a bucolic background is held by the hand of the leading character in the series. The latter is looking at the baby and enjoying it - much as we are - through the viewfinder. Another peaceful area in the collection is made up of compositions with a metaphysical trend. There the female character's maimed body dismisses its physical rotundness and is changed into a transparent, diluted sketch, almost a variegated sky - one among other heavenly bodies.

In my opinion, the series of photomontages for Idilio has been the first - and the most important - photography work radically critical of the oppression and manipulation endured by women in Argentine society over that time, and of the humiliating consequence of consented-to submissiveness. Grete's gaze, mocking and sarcastic, does not rest at being compassionate towards the victim: it goes further on into the alienating results of her resignation. The fact that this material was presented in the leading romance magazine published in the country adds a touch of humor and irony to it.

The dreams set shows Grete as a true artist and vanguard woman. In her friendly, quiet style she has conducted her life in a spirit of independence, both radical and coherent, with respect to dominant values and habits -the same spirit shown in her photomontages. Within the entire work produced by Grete, the dreams represent the chapter where her opinions on the subject at hand are more clearly present in the invention of the image. This does not entail a rationalist invasion of the compositions. Her montages do not illustrate prior ideas, and their capacity to persuade is always plastic. However, their effect at once leads us to reflections of a moral order on the subject-matter, proving in an indirect if certain way that similar thoughts have prompted them.

In spite of their being published weekly for nearly three years, the photomontages failed to raise any comments during that period. Probably the want of intellectual prestige of magazines such as Idilio had to do with it. Besides, photography reviewing in the mass media did not exist, and montage lacked the artistic prestige that might have moved art critics to review the dreams. As a matter of fact, they were not reviewed even in 1967, when they were exhibited at the Foto Club Argentino salon. The truth remains that Grete's photomontages have meant original work among the Argentine photographic activity of the time, even if a k unprejudiced gaze was required to be able to see this.

Grete's dreams were for the first time presented as independent photographs by the end of the fifties at the Faculty of Psycho of La Plata University. They were first displayed in Buenos Aires in 1967, with the collaboration of poet Elva de Loizaga. From then up to 1982, when they hung at the great FotoFest show at Hous U.S.A., only art collector Jorge Helft took notice of them. FotoFest their prestige grew sharply, to the extent that they now rated at their original and true significance.

Fragments from Luis Priamo at: Grete Stern: Obra fotográfica en la Argentina, Fondo Nacional de las Artes, Argentina, 1995.