Helmut Erich Gernsheim studied art history at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. He took up photography in 1934 at the urging of his brother who thought it a more practical profession, and graduated from the State School of Photography, Munich, after two years' study.
Helmut Erich Gernsheim started working as a colour photographer using the German Uvachrome process before going to Paris for an exhibition of his work and then to London to work on a commission from the National Gallery, London.
At the outset of World War II, Helmut Erich Gernsheim was deported on the Dunera and interned as a "friendly enemy alien" for a year at Hay in New South Wales, Australia along with other German nationals. While interned, he lectured other internees on the aesthetics of photography and wrote his critique on photography, New Photo Vision, which was published in 1942 and led to his becoming a friend of fellow critic and historian Beaumont Newhall.
He earned his release from internment by volunteering to work for the National Buildings Record, returning to London in 1942 to photograph important monuments with a view to revealing their artistic merits. These photographs became the basis of two more books.
Helmut Erich Gernsheim was granted British citizenship in 1946 and continued to live in London for most of his life. He continued a positive interest in photography, vigorously supporting the establishment of photographic galleries and museums in the USA and Britain, including The Photographers' Gallery under Sue Davies in 1971 and the National Museum of Photography Film and Television under Colin Ford in 1983.
Helmut Gernsheim died on 20 July 1995.
Helmut Erich Gernsheim joined The Royal Photographic Society in 1940.
Alison Gernsheim died on 27 March 1969 and Helmut Gernsheim remarried in 1971 to Irène Guénin.