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Light in the night



Willy Zielke

Poland, Germany

1902 - 1988


The cinematic and atmospheric work of the new-objectivity stills photographer Willy Zielke owes much to his interest in filmmaking which he pursued in the early 1930s. His award-winning film on the German Railways, ‘Das Stahltier’ (‘The beast of steel’), was subsequently banned by the National Socialists and Zielke confined to an insane asylum. The persuasive powers of Leni Riefenstahl found him released to produce the prologue to her film ‘Olympiad’ in 1936. He studied at the Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Photographie from 1921 to 1927 and after graduating was appointed a master teacher. After the Second World War he pursued industrial filmmaking under the pseudonym Victor Valet. Along with other photographers in this chapter, such as Kesting and Kretschmer, Zielke was included in the groundbreaking 1929 exhibition ‘Film und foto’ in Stuttgart.

Zielke’s cinematic and theatrical eye is evident in the striking composition of ‘Light in the night’. This richly printed photograph has the full subtlety of depth, tone and light that one would expect from a highly technical approach to the image, yet the analytical and technical prowess only adds to the drama of the scene. Shot at night after rain, the moon, which is off frame, shares its light across the house and street, emphasising the reflection of the lit window in the centre puddles. Known for his carefully constructed still-lifes and studies of plants and glass, Zielke’s oeuvre became a study in the use of the new vision perspective and composition that was a product of the Bauhaus. The combination of precision and order with well-crafted, light-filled yet dynamic compositions found great respect with the new vision of German photography.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007


Alternative title

Licht in der Nacht



Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph, vintage


17.5 x 17.4 cm image; 17.2 x 17.6 cm sheet

Signature & date

Signed verso, pencil "Willy Zielke". Not dated.


Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors' Program 2003


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Willy Zielke

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 3 publications


Donna Brett, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'The surreal aesthetic', pg.113-129, Sydney, 2007, 122 (illus.).

Kunsthaus Lempertz, From Bauhaus to Fotoform: vintage photographs from the 1920s to the 1950s - from a German private collection, Cologne, 15 Sep 2001, 126, 127 (illus.). lot no. 203

Jacqueline Strecker (Editor), The mad square: modernity in German art 1910-37, Sydney, 2011, 201 (illus.).