Front / Recto
- Title Seconds before Landing from the series I Photograph Myself during a Parachute Jump (Ich fotografiere mich beim Absturz mit dem Fallschirm) (Sekunden vor der Landung)
- Negative Date 1931
- Print Date 1931
- Medium Gelatin silver print
- Dimensions Image 8 1/16 × 5 9/16" (20.4 × 14.1 cm)Sheet 9 1/2 × 7 1/16" (24.2 × 17.9 cm)
- Place Taken Berlin
- Credit Line Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
- MoMA Accession Number 1849.2001.11
Photojournalist Willi Ruge was well known in the twenties and thirties for his aerial reportage and experiments. Oscillating between documentation and entertainment, this image, along with twelve others in the Thomas Walther Collection, depicts a parachute jump made by Ruge in May 1931 from the Staaken airfield, near Berlin. These thirteen prints were culled from at least three separate photo-sessions. The first series, made by an unknown ground photographer, shows Ruge and his entourage before and after the big jump. Ruge himself made the second series during his descent. The third group was made in the air from a second airplane. Precise paper thickness measurements divide the prints into these same three groups. Curiously, the fiber content of these thirteen photographs ranges from 90 percent to 50 percent cotton and bast rag, which is typical of photographic papers made in the 1920s, suggesting that the paper may have been outdated at the time the images were made. Although this could account for the processing stains visible in the borders of every print, the discolorations could also be vestiges of a rough history.
Using a camera strapped to his belt, Ruge made four self-portraits during his descent. A 1929–30 portrait not from this series (MoMA 1850.2001) shows a shadowy figure holding an aerial camera identical to World War I German models. Those innovative German cameras had a fixed focal length and a mechanized negative plate system; for Ruge this would have been one less technicality to think about while hurtling towards the ground. Ruge owned other plate cameras, and the exact one used in 1931 remains unidentified.
The most visually striking images are those Ruge himself produced, and they were also the most often published. Made in the air but not aerial views, these images echo many of the concerns and topics put forward by New Vision photographers: a search for a more personal and almost amateur approach, an appetite for unusual dynamic vantage points, a taste for unexpected cropping, collagelike images that challenge the viewer’s perception, and, particularly in this case, the exaltation of a modern sporting heroism. Seconds before Landing is probably one of the last pictures Ruge took in the air: a few seconds later he would find himself “with a shattered shinbone between tables and garden chairs” (the title of a subsequent picture in the series, MoMA 1849.2001.13), items that can indeed be seen in the background of the image.
The Berlin-based press agency Fotoaktuell placed this and several other images from the series in a variety of magazines, first in Germany (Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung) and then in Great Britain (Illustrated London News and Weekly Illustrated London). Later, in 1953, four were also included in Franz Burda’s book Fünfzig Jahre Motorflug (Fifty years of engine-powered flight), for which Ruge acted as scientific advisor.
—Quentin Bajac, Lee Ann Daffner
 For more on the photographer and his press agency, see Ute Eskildsen, “Willi Ruge and Fotoaktuell: Adventures for the Press,” on this website.
Back / Verso
- Mount Type No mount
Marks and Inscriptions
Label affixed to sheet verso, center, with text printed in black ink: Ich fotografiere mich beim Absturz mit dem Fallschirm./Der Fotograf springt mit dem Fallschirm ab./3) Die gefährliche Situation über der Hochspannungsleitung wurde/gleichzeitig von 3 Fotografen erkannt und im Bilde festgehalten./Obgleich mir die Gefährlichkeit der Situation nicht ver-/borgen blieb, machte ich einige Sekunden vor der Landung/diese Aufnahme. Ich selbst glaubte, dass dies die letzte/sein würde ./Copyright by Fotoaktuell GmbH./Berlin SW. 68, Markgrafenstr. 87.
 "I photograph myself during a parachute jump. The photographer jumps with a parachute. 3) The dangerous situation above the high-voltage lines was recognized simultaneously by 3 photographers and captured in pictures. Although I was not unaware of the dangerousness of the situation I took this photo a few seconds before landing. I myself believed that this would be the last one." Inscribed in pencil on sheet verso, bottom left: 115.
The artist, Berlin; to Vertrieb für Pressephotos (Christoph Netzle), Zurich, probably 1931 ; to Freudenberg GmbH (Hans Guggenbühl and Guido A. Pozzi), after 1930 and possibly in summer 1945 ; to Internationale Bilderagentur (Dr. Heinz Müller), Oberengstringen, Switzerland, 1945–47 ; to Dr. Roland Müller, Brugg, Switzerland, possibly February 1971 ; sold through Christie's New York (sale 8982, lot 272) to Michael Shapiro Gallery, San Francisco, October 6, 1998 ; purchased by Thomas Walther, 1998 ; given to The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001.
 Roland Müller, e-mail to Simon Bieling, April 16, 2005.
 Ibid. This series was acquired in a lot comprising one to two hundred thousand photographs.
 MacGill/Walther 2001(4), p. 12; and Shapiro Gallery invoice no. 98-158, October 9, 1998. The series was purchased from Christie's by the gallery on behalf of Thomas Walther.
 Shapiro invoice.
- Format Metric
- Weight Single weight
- Thickness (mm) 0.18
- UV Fluorescence Recto negative Verso negative
- Fiber Analysis Softwood bleached sulfite 28% Hardwood bleached sulfite 2% Rag 67% Bast 3%
- Material Techniques Developing-out paper
This work was determined to be a gelatin silver print via X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry.
The following elements have been positively identified in the work, through XRF readings taken from its recto and verso (or from the mount, where the verso was not accessible):
- Recto: P, S, Ca, Zn, Sr, Ag, Ba
- Verso: Al, Si, S, K, Ca, Zn, Sr, Ag, Ba
The graphs below show XRF spectra for three areas on the print: two of the recto—from areas of maximum and minimum image density (Dmax and Dmin)—and one of the verso or mount. The background spectrum represents the contribution of the XRF instrument itself. The first graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the lower energy range (0 to 8 keV). The second graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the higher energy range (8 to 40 keV).
Ruge, Willi. “Ich fotografiere mich beim Absturz mit dem Fallschirm.” Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung 40, no. 21 (May 24, 1931): 845 (as Ich fotografiere in 200 Meter Höhe meine eigenen Füße).
“Por primera vez en el mundo, un fotógrafo se lanza con su cámara en paracaídas,” Caras y caretas, no. 1,721 (September 26, 1931) (as A pocos metros de la tierra, el fotógrafo dispara su obturador para reflejar en la gelatina la impresión de la caída suavizada por el paracaídas).
“Parachute Jumper Photographs Himself While Falling.” Popular Science, October 1931, p. 44 (as When Death Was Near).
“Photographs Self during ‘Chute Jump.'” Modern Mechanics and Inventions, November 1931, p. 103 (as A remarkable self-photograph taken by Herr Willi Ruge as he descended by parachute near deadly high-tension cables, and Though I saw the danger, I took this picture a few seconds before landing, expecting it to be my last!).
“He Photographed His Own ‘Chute Jump.'” Weekly Illustrated London, April 20, 1935.
Beltzig, E. K. Hals Über Kopf: Geschichten vom Fallschirm und was man davon wissen muß, p. 43 (as Die Erde schießt herauf!). Stuttgart: Franckh’sche Verlagshandlung, 1936.