Pioneer of Modernist Photography

Ferenc Berko's life story molded his artistic appreciation for formal aesthetic elements rather than photographic commentary. Growing up in the 1930s in Europe encouraged Berko's ceaseless exploration of the details of the everyday world, finding new information and perceptual rewards everywhere. As a pioneer of abstract color photography, Berko's lifetime of "seeing" distinguished him as a visionary, and as a lasting contributor to art historical debates.


Born in Nagyvárad, Hungary

1921 – 1932

Berlin and Frankfurt, Germany

Passion for photography begins. Inspired by the Bauhaus movement and mentors.

1932 – 1938

London, England and Paris, France

Berko finishes studies in philosophy. Dedicates himself exclusively to photography – reportage, abstraction, and the female form. Makes short, abstract and documentary films.

1938 - 1947

Bombay, India

Documentary film director for the British Army. With attention to both abstraction and humanism, Berko captures street scenes and unusual details from Madras to Kashmir to Sikkim. Opens Berko Studio with focus on portraiture. Photographs leaders of the Indian Independence movement and government.

1947 – 1949

Chicago, Illinois

Professor of photography at the Chicago Institute of Design, formerly the New Bauhaus.

Pioneers new vision through color photography – approaches urban and rural landscapes with novel attention to shapes, patterns, reflections, and silhouettes.

1949 – 2000

Aspen, Colorado

Official photographer for the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival & School.

Extensive world travels refine Berko’s abstract compositions and ability to discover the natural beauty of both familiar and foreign settings through both black and white and color photography.


Deceased in Aspen, Colorado

Born in 1916 in Hungary,

Berko moved to Germany in 1921. At twelve, he was adopted by foster parents in Berlin. Their home was infused with the progressive, modernist ideals of the Bauhaus. Berko spent his adolescence surrounded by great artists such as László Moholy-Nagy, Walter Gropius, and Marcel Breuer. They encouraged him to take up photography and inspired his compositional instinct for spare geometric combinations of form and tonal values. While a high school student in Frankfurt, Berko met his future wife, Mirte. 

Ferenc Berko Biography
Ferenc Berko Biography

In 1933,

as the Nazi agenda became more threatening, and Berko left Germany to pursue his studies in philosophy in London. Mirte soon joined him and they were married. Because of visa complications the couple moved between London, where Berko made short films and became ensconced in photography (mentored by Otto Emil Hoppé), and Paris, where he continued his visual experimentation with seeing urban contexts and their inhabitants from different, always questioning perspectives.

From 1938 to 1947,

Berko lived in India. He first worked as a camera man for an Indian motion-picture company, and later opened a photography studio and made films for the British Army. During this time Berko further refined his eye for the human form, both in isolation and in different environments. He concentrated on universal themes and unusual juxtapositions of shape, shadow, and line. Having thoroughly explored black and white photography, Berko was now eager to experiment with color.

Ferenc Berko Biography
Ferenc Berko Biography

In 1947,

Berko's longtime friend and mentor, László Moholy-Nagy, invited him to teach photography and film at the Chicago Institute of Design. Berko's photographs from this period depict the harsh beauty and details of an industrial cityscape and demonstrate a distinct shift toward the abstract.

In 1949,

Berko was invited by Elizabeth and Walter Paepcke to Aspen, Colorado, as the photographer for the Goethe Bicentennial. Enamored with the small mountain town and its photographic potential, the Berkos decided to make Aspen their home. This period is marked by Berko recommitting himself to content and focusing on abstract form. To Berko, value did not dwell in the object, but in how it intrigued the imagination of the eye.

Ferenc Berko
Ski Action Series, 1 - Ferenc Berko

Capturing Aspen’s history

became Berko's day to day occupation. He documented Aspen's growth as both a cultural and ski community. In the summers, he was the official photographer for the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies (which became the Aspen Institute) and for the Aspen Music Festival which gave him the opportunity to photograph many prominent figures and artists. In the winters, he ran his on-mountain ski photography business.

These jobs gave Berko the freedom to also do commercial and portraiture work around the country and to pursue his passion for abstract color and documentary photography.

In 1951,

Berko organized the Aspen Photography Conference. He invited the foremost American photographers of the century (Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan, Charles Eames, Laura Gilpin, Dorothea Lange, Wayne Miller, John Morris, Nancy and Beaumont Newhall, Eliot Porter, Frederick Sommer, Edward Weston, and Minor White) to Aspen for a week of lectures and workshops. 

Maroon Creek Road, Pyramid Peak - Ferenc Berko
Ferenc Berko Biography

In 2020,

Berko passed away at the age of 84. He is recognized as one of the 100 most important photographers of the 20th century. His work is collected in major national and international museums and private collections, he published two books, and his work appeared in major photographic magazines beginning in the late 1930.

An enduring legacy.

Today, astute collectors of twentieth century photography own a lifetime Berko print and his work continues to be featured in exhibitions, books, articles, and scholarly works.

Ferenc Berko Biography
Ferenc Berko Biography

A man of images not words,

when Berko discussed his lifetime work he framed it as a "collection" to inspire next generations to “see” and observe the world through its subtle and compelling details. In slowing down to be perceptive of one’s environment, Berko felt one could develop a deeper respect for humanity and for the natural world, in all of their diversity, complexity, dichotomy, atrocity, and also beauty.

As steward of the Ferenc Berko Archives, Mirte, Berko’s granddaughter, celebrates this vision by annually selecting images for reproduction and for exhibition.


Bibliothèque Nationale

Paris, France

Canadian Centre for Architecture

Montreal, Canada

Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

George Eastman House

Rochester, New York

Hallmark Cards Inc.

Kansas City, Missouri

Historical Society of Aspen

Aspen, Colorado

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College

Hanover, New Hampshire

Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Heiting Collection

Houston, Texas

International Center of Photography

New York City, New York


Zurich, Switzerland

Musée de l'Elysée

Lausanne, Switzerland

Museum Ludwig, Gruber Collection

Cologne, Germany

Museum of Modern Art

New York City, New York

Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York City, New York

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

San Francisco, California

Toledo Museum of Art

Toledo, Ohio

University of Texas, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Gernsheim Collection

Austin, Texas


1947 Bronzes of Southern India

Victoria and Albert Museum. London

1967 Berko: 75 Color Prints

Cincinnati Museum of Art. Ohio (Toured USA.)

1968 Beauty Perceived. Pat Moore Gallery

Aspen, Colorado

1970 3 Color Photographs. Neikrug Gallery

New York City, New York

1971 Berko: Retrospective

Institute for Humanistic Studies. Aspen, Colorado

1972 Color Photography by Berko

Amon Carter Museum. Fort Worth, Texas

1976 Images of Nature

Amon Carter Museum. Fort Worth, Texas (Toured USA)

1978 30 Years Ago

Color photographs by Keld Helmer Petersen (Copenhagen) and Ferenc Berko (Aspen, Colorado) photokina Exhibition Òlnische Kunstverein. Ó Cologne, Germany

1979 50 Color Photographs

Institute for Humanistic Studies. Aspen, Colorado

Ferenc Berko/ Franco Fontana/ Victor Gianella

University of Texas at Austin. Texas

1980 Ferenc Berko / Anton Bruehl

Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona

1981 Ferenc Berko

New Gallery for Contemporary Photography. Cleveland, Ohio

Ferenc Berko

5th Avenue Gallery of Photography. Scottsdale, Arizona

Selected Photographs 1937 - 1979

Aspen Art Museum. Aspen, Colorado

1983 Retrospective

Unicorn Gallery. Aspen, Colorado

1984 Aspen Portraits

Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. Colorado

1985 Aspen Portraits

Modernage Gallery. New York

1988 Ferenc Berko: Vintage Prints

Fotographie Forum Frankfurt. Frankfurt am Main, Germany

1991 The Discovering Eye

Six Decades of Photographs by Ferenc Berko. Recontres Internationales de la Photographie. Arles, France

Der Fotografierte Schatten

Galerie Rudolf Kicken. Cologne, Germany

1993 Berko: Photographs

Musée de l'Elysée. Lausanne, Switzerland

1995 Ferenc Berko

Budapest, Hungary

2003 Ferenc Berko: Seen and Seen Again

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. Hanover, New Hampshire

Ferenc Berko: Seen and Seen Again

Aspen Art Museum. Colorado

Berko: Abstracts

David Floria Gallery. Aspen, Colorado

2005 Details: The Aspen Institute and Beyond

The Aspen Institute. Colorado

2005 Berko: Abstracts

The Aspen Institute. Colorado

2006 Eye on India

The Aspen Institute. Colorado

Group Exhibitions

1939 Third Indian International Salon of Photographic Art

Bombay, India

1954 Subjektive Fotographie 2

Saarbrÿcken, Germany

1955 C. S. Association Travelling Exhibition of International Photography 1955-57

Burnley, England

1959 Photography of Mid-Century

International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House. Rochester, New York

1961 Photography in the Fine Arts III

Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Minnesota

1962 National Invitational Photo Exhibition

De Cordova Museum. Lincoln, Massachusetts

1976 Images of Nature

Amon Carter Museum. Fort Worth, Texas (Toured USA)

1964 Santos of New Mexico

Amon Carter Museum. Fort Worth, Texas

World Exhibit of Photography: What is Man?

Stern Magazine travelling exhibition

1968 Photography USA

De Cordova Museum. Lincoln, Massachusetts

2nd World Exhibit of Photography: Woman

Stern Magazine travelling exhibition

1980 American Portraits of the 60's and 70's

Center for Visual Arts. Aspen, Colorado

1984 Subjektive Fotografie: Images of the 50's

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (Travelled to the University of Houston, Texas;Museum Folkwang, Essen; Vasterbottens Museum, Umea; Kulsturhuset, Stolkholm; Saarland Museum, Saarbrÿcken; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels)

1985 Das Aktfoto

Fotomuseum im Stadmuseum. Munich, Germany

'Points of View'

Benteler Galleries. Houston, Texas

1986 50 Years of Modern Color Photography

Photokina 86. Cologne, Germany

2000 Colorado Photographers

Denver Museum of Art. Colorado



  • 60 Years of Photography: The Discovering Eye (Stemmle, 1991)
  • Berko: Photographs 1935-1951 (Graphis, 1999)

Photographic Magazines

  • 5280 - December 2008 (downloadable pdf)
  • American Photographer
  • ASPEN HOME - Summer 2008 (downloadable PDF)
  • ASPEN MAGAZINE - Holiday 08/09 (downloadable PDF)
  • ASPEN PEAK - Summer/Fall 2007
  • ASPEN SOJOURNER - Holiday 07/08 (downloadable PDF)
  • Camera
  • Color Foto
  • Contemporary Photographers
  • Creative Camera
  • Das Deutsche Lichtbild
  • Form
  • Format
  • Foto Magazin
  • Foto Video Popular
  • Hemispheres Magazine
  • Leica Fotographia
  • Lilliput
  • Minicam
  • Modern Photography
  • MOUNTAIN HOME - December 2007 (downloadable PDF)
  • Newsweek
  • Photokina
  • Photo Design and Technik
  • Photo Technik International
  • Photographers Encyclopedia International
  • Profi Foto
  • U. S. Camera
BERKO Publications