In 1933, John Gutmann left behind a promising career as a modern painter in Germany to come to the United States. A student of the German Expressionist Otto Muller, Gutmann had flourished in the dynamic cultural world of Berlin. But by 1933, as a Jew, Gutmann was forbidden to work, teach, or even exhibit his art. Encouraged by friends, he set out for the West Coast of the United States.
With a new portable Rolleiflex camera in hand, he was determined to make his living as a press photographer by reporting back to Germany on the news and events of the nation. Gutmann had considerable success in the field of documentary and commercial photography -- his pictures were published in numerous newspapers and magazines, and his work was exhibited in museums throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Soon after his arrival in San Francisco, Gutmann also began to teach. He secured an appointment at San Francisco State College in 1938 and remained active as an educator there until his retirement in 1973.
Although he continued to make photographs and films through the 1950s and 1960s, and intermittently published press photographs, there were no exhibitions or monographs of his work during this time. His early work was largely forgotten until the 1970s, when scholars and curators rediscovered Gutmann. Over the next three decades his work was shown in major exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1976 and 1989), at the de Young Museum (1995), and the Cantor Center for the Visual Arts at Stanford University (2000).
Based on documentary footage of interviews with Gutmann and material drawn from the photographer's personal photographs, My Eyes Were Fresh is an artistic biography, a critical appraisal, and a close reading of Gutmann's pictures and filmic documents. The title is taken from an interview with Gutmann, in which he describes his arrival to the United States, his sense of awe at the technological exuberance and social variety of everyday life.