Although the relationship of photography to Josef Albers's work in other mediums has been regarded as tangential, it is now clear that for him it was an important means toward abstraction. Albers took up photography at the Bauhaus around 1928 and continued working with it until the end of his career. The medium permitted him to isolate particular phenomena—a time of year, an emotional state, a physical condition—which he would in turn extrapolate in his later nonobjective paintings, drawings, and prints. Albers argued that photography is the flattest of all visual arts: because of the monocular mechanics of the camera's lens, it does not render spatial illusion, making it ideal for certain aesthetic inquiries.
His early photographs reflect traditional Bauhaus concerns with form and materials, particularly with regard to quotidian objects. Untitled (Laundry on Clothesline) (1929) captures a moment when soft, lifeless clothing suddenly acquires volume through the otherwise invisible presence of wind. Another work that transforms the mundane into a study of contrasting properties is Let Hands Speak (summer 1930). This image takes as its subject the mannequin, a favorite icon of Dada artists, who considered it an ideal representation of mindless, characterless, bourgeois culture. But Albers found the mannequins to have a graceful, human quality that lent itself to studies in formal oppositions of hard and soft, straight and curved.
The compositional strategies of montage and collage were used by many Bauhaus artists as a means of rendering the frenetic nature of the modern metropolis. For Albers, these techniques were used to convey a singular concern for temporality and emotion, as evidenced in his portraits of friends and colleagues. Composed of multiple views that exploit the camera's ability to render a subject serially, Mrs. Lewandowski, Munich (1930) consists of four images of the wife of a colleague arranged to suggest the passage of time, as though lifted from a sequence of frames of a motion picture or a contact sheet. Scale is manipulated by altering the distance between the figure of the woman and the picture plane. This flattening of the subject was in keeping with Albers's increasing interest in planarity, which would manifest itself not only in photographic works but also in his celebrated abstract paintings of the following decade.