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Introduction: Photography and Twentieth-Century German History

  • Elizabeth Harvey (a1) and Maiken Umbach (a1)

History conjures up an image of the past and transports it into our present. Photographs both facilitate and, at times, markedly determine this historical process, especially for the twentieth century. For better or worse, they have irrevocably shaped the way we imagine the characters and sites of modern history. From infamous dictators to mass political rallies, from radical protests to everyday leisure pursuits: photographs form powerful frames through which we historians represent the past to ourselves and to our audiences.

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1 Sekula Allan, “The Body and the Archive,” October 39 (1986): 6; Susan Sontag, On Photography (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979), 6.

2 John Tagg, The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988), 60–65; Susanne Regener, Fotografische Erfassung. Zur Geschichte medialer Konstruktionen des Kriminellen (Munich: Fink, 1999); Peter Hamilton, “Policing the Face,” in The Beautiful and the Damned: The Creation of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Photography, ed. Peter Hamilton and Roger Hargreaves (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2001), 57–107; Elizabeth Edwards, ed., Anthropology and Photography, 1860–1920 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992); Idem, Raw Histories: Photographs, Anthropology and Museums (Oxford: Berg, 2001); Christopher Pinney, Photography and Anthropology (London: Reaktion, 2011), 17–62.

3 Marianne Hirsch, Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 48.

4 David King, The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia (Edinburgh: Metropolitan, 1997); Edwards, Raw Histories, 8.

5 David Blackbourn and James Retallack, eds., Localism, Landscape, and the Ambiguities of Place: German-Speaking Central Europe, 1860–1930 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 4.

6 Penny H. Glenn, “German Polycentrism and the Writing of History,” German History 30, no. 2 (2012): 265–82.

7 David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley, The Peculiarities of German History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984). For a critique of recent resurrections of cultural continuity in German historiography, see Geoff Eley, Nazism as Fascism: Violence, Ideology, and the Ground of Consent in Germany, 1930–1945 (New York: Routledge, 2013), esp. 1–12.

8 See, e.g., Gerhard Paul, ed., Visual History. Ein Studienbuch (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006); Annelie Ramsbrock, Annette Vowinckel, and Malte Zierenberg, eds., Fotografien im 20. Jahrhundert. Vermittlung und Verbreitung (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2013); Diethart Kerbs and Walter Uka, eds., Fotografie und Bildpublizistik in der Weimarer Republik (Dortmund: Kettler, 2004); Rolf Sachsse, Die Erziehung zum Wegsehen. Photographie im NS-Staat (Dresden: Philo, 2003); Janina Struk, Photographing the Holocaust: Interpretations of the Evidence (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004); Ludger Derenthal, Bilder der Trümmer- und Aufbaujahre: Fotografie im sich teilenden Deutschland (Marburg: Jonas, 1999); Karin Hartewig and Alf Lüdtke, eds., Die DDR im Bild. Zum Gebrauch der Fotografie im anderen deutschen Staat (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2004).

9 On photographers’ careers spanning divides, see Klaus Honnef and Ursula Breymayer, eds., Ende und Anfang. Photographen in Deutschland um 1945 (Berlin: Deutsches Historisches Museum,1995); Sachsse, Erziehung zum Wegsehen. On snapshot or domestic photography, see Timm Starl, Knipser. Die Bildgeschichte der privaten Fotografie in Deutschland und Österreich von 1880 bis 1980 (Munich: Koehler & Amelang, 1995); Marita Krauss, “Kleine Welten. Alltagsfotografie—die Anschaulichkeit einer ‘privaten Praxis,’” in Paul, Visual History, 57–75; Hoffmann Detlef, “‘Auch in der Nazizeit war zwölfmal Spargelzeit.’ Die Vielfalt der Bilder und der Primat der Rassenpolitik,” Fotogeschichte 17, no. 63 (1997): 57, 61; Starke Sandra, “Fenster und Spiegel. Private Fotografie zwischen Norm und Individualität,” Historische Anthropologie 19, no. 3 (2011): 469. On illustrated periodicals, see Habbo Knoch, “Living Pictures: Photojournalism in Germany, 1900 to the 1930s,” in Mass Media, Culture and Society in Twentieth-Century Germany, ed. Karl Christian Führer and Corey Ross (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 217–33; Karl Christian Führer, Medienmetropole Hamburg. Mediale Öffentlichkeiten 1930–1960 (Hamburg: Dölling und Galitz, 2008), 161–270.

10 Modelling it on Richard Rorty's linguistic turn, W.J.T. Mitchell coined the phrase pictorial turn in Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).

11 Such readings are indebted to the iconographic method pioneered in the 1920s by art historian Aby Warburg, whose pictorial analyses crossed conventional boundaries between visual genres, periods, and “high” and “low” culture in search of “archtetypal” and recurrent visual tropes. Under the auspices of the Forschungsstelle Politische Ikonographie in Hamburg, a new generation of scholars has not only revived and adapted this method, but also produced new editions of Warburg's key and sometimes incomplete works. See, e.g., Manfred Warnke and Claudia Brink, eds., Der Bilderatlas Mnemosyne (Berlin: Akademie, 2000).

12 Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (New York: Verso, 1989).

13 David Welch, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion (London: British Library, 2013). For a critique of the traditional concept of propaganda, see Mühlenfeld Daniel, “Was heißt und zu welchem Ende studiert man NS-Propaganda? Neuere Forschungen zur Geschichte von Medien, Kommunikation und Kultur während des Dritten Reiches,” Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 49 (2009): 527–59; Wolfgang Reinhard, Die Geschichte der Staatsgewalt. Eine vergleichende Verfassungsgeschichte Europas von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (Munich: Beck, 1999), 308.

14 On the workers’ photography movement, the Communist Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung, and photography in the Social Democratic press, see Martina Schneede, “Kamera als Waffe,” in Vorwärts—und nicht vergessen. Arbeiterkultur in Hamburg um 1930, ed. Projektgruppe Arbeiterkultur Hamburg (Berlin: Fröhlich & Kaufmann, 1982), 276–96; Knoch, “Living Pictures,” in Führer and Ross, Mass Media, 226–28. On the NSDAP's Illustrierter Beobachter, founded in 1926, see Bernd Weise, “Pressefotografie als Medium der Propaganda im Presselenkungssystem des Dritten Reiches,” in Die Gleichschaltung der Bilder. Zur Geschichte der Pressefotografie 1930–1936, ed. Diethart Kerbs, Walter Uka, and Brigitte Walz-Richter (Berlin: Fröhlich & Kaufmann, 1983), 141–42.

15 For a comprehensive overview, see Sachsse, Erziehung zum Wegsehen. On illustrated magazines, see Karl Christian Führer, “Pleasure, Practicality and Propaganda: Popular Magazines in Nazi Germany,” in Pleasure and Power in Nazi Germany, ed. Pamela Swett, Corey Ross, and Fabrice d'Almeida (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 132–53. On exhibitions, see Pohlmann Ulrich, “‘Nicht beziehungslose Kunst, sondern politische Waffe’. Fotoausstellungen als Mittel der Ästhetisierung von Politik und Ökonomie im Nationalsozialismus,” Fotogeschichte 8, no. 88 (1988): 1731; Elke Harten, “Der NS-Regenerationsmythos in Museen, Ausstellungen und Weihehallen,” in Formative Ästhetik im Nationalsozialismus, ed. Ulrich Herrmann and Ulrich Nassen (Basel: Beltz, 1993), 49–55. On photographic propaganda during World War II, see Daniel Uziel, “Propaganda, Kriegsberichterstattung und die Wehrmacht. Stellenwert und Funktion der Propagandatruppe im NS-Staat,” in Die Kamera als Waffe. Propagandabilder des Zweiten Weltkrieges, ed. Rainer Rother and Judith Prokasky (Munich: Text & Kritik, 2010), 13–36; Daniel Uziel, The Propaganda Warriors: The Wehrmacht and the Consolidation of the German Home Front (Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang, 2008); Gerhard Paul, Bilder des Krieges, Krieg der Bilder. Die Visualisierung des modernen Krieges (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2004), 230–32.

16 Sarah James, Common Ground: German Photographic Cultures across the Iron Curtain (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013).

17 Milton Sybil, “Argument oder Illustration. Die Bedeutung von Fotodokumenten als Quelle,” Fotogeschichte 8, no. 28 (1988): 62.

18 For an argument emphasizing the crucial role of the caption, see Ranke Winfried, “Fotografische Kriegsberichterstattung im Zweiten Weltkrieg. Wann wurde daraus Propaganda?,” Fotogeschichte 12, no. 43 (1992): 6175; for comments and a response, see Hoffmann, “‘Auch in der Nazizeit war zwölfmal Spargelzeit,’” 58; Miriam Y. Arani, Fotografische Selbst- und Fremdbilder von Deutschen und Polen im Reichsgau Wartheland 1939–1945, vol. I (Hamburg: Verlag Dr Kovač, 2008), 228–31.

19 Tagg, Burden of Representation, 62; Peter Geimer, Theorien der Fotografie. Eine Einführung (Hamburg: Junius, 2009), 71, 80–81.

20 For the neologism actant in reference to actors irrespective of intentions, both in the human and material world, see Bruno Latour, Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1987). This notion is used in the contributions to Tony Bennett and Patrick Joyce, eds., Material Powers: Cultural Studies, History and the Material Turn (London: Routledge, 2010).

21 Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor–Network Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

22 Edwards, Raw Histories, 13–16.

23 Michael Ann Holly, Past Looking: Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996).

24 Alfred Gell, Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

25 Arjun Appadurai, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Edwards, Raw Histories, 13.

26 See Thomas Eller, introduction to Willi Rose, Shadows of War: A German Soldier's Lost Photographs of World War II, ed. Thomas Eller and Petra Bopp (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2004).

27 Alexander Freund and Alistair Thomson, eds., Oral History and Photography (London: Macmillan, 2011); Penny Tinkler, Using Photographs in Social and Historical Research (London: Sage, 2013), 61–78, 173–94. On ego-documents more generally, see Fulbrook Mary and Rublack Ulinka, “In Relation: The ‘Social Self’ and Ego-Documents,” German History 28, no. 3 (2010), 263–72.

28 See Patricia Holland, introduction to Family Snaps: The Meanings of Domestic Photography, ed. Jo Spence and Patricia Holland (London: Virago, 1991), 1–13; Hirsch, Family Frames, 5–9; Starke, “Fenster und Spiegel,” 462–65.

29 Sontag, On Photography, 7.

30 Milton, “Argument oder Illustration,” 61.

31 Richard Raskin, A Child at Gunpoint: A Case Study in the Life of a Photo (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2004).

32 “‘A Perpetrator Gaze?’ The Photographic Record of National Socialism and the Modern Museum,” conference, University of Nottingham, Dec. 17, 2013. See the description at At the event, which the guest editors of this issue organized, academics debated with Simone Erpel (Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin), Insa Eschebach (Gedenkstätte Ravensbrück), Suzanne Bardgett (Imperial War Museum London), Marek Jaros (Wiener Library, London), Judy Cohen (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), and James Griffiths (Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre).

33 Roger Hargreaves, “Putting Faces to the Names: Social and Celebrity Portrait Photography,” in Hamilton and Hargreaves, The Beautiful and the Damned, 16–54; Starke, “Fenster und Spiegel,” 448–52.

34 Knoch, “Living Pictures,” 218–22.

35 Elizabeth Edwards, The Camera as Historian: Amateur Photographers and Historical Imagination, 1885–1918 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 5, 23–24.

36 Tagg, Burden of Representation, 17–18; Don Slater, “Consuming Kodak,” in Spence and Holland, Family Snaps, 49–59; Starl, Knipser, 33–36, 45–50.

37 Diethart Kerbs, “Zur Geschichte der Berliner Pressefotografie im ersten Drittel des Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts,” in Kerbs and Uka, Fotografie und Bildpublizistik, 29–47. Also see Malte Zierenberg, “Die Ordnung der Agenturen. Zur Verfertigung massenmedialer Sichtbarkeit im Pressewesen, 1900–1940”; Annette Vowinckel, “Der Bildredakteur. Genese eines modernen Berufsbilds”; Ulrich Keller, “Fotografie und Begehren. Der Triumph der Bildreportage im Medienwettbewerb der Zwischenkriegszeit,” in Ramsbrock, Vowinckel, and Zierenberg, Fotografien, 44–65, 69–89, 129–74. On the rise of photobooks, see Rolf Sachsse, “Heimat als Reiseland,” in Ansichten der Ferne. Reisephotographie 1850 bis heute, ed. Klaus Pohl (Darmstadt: Anabas, 1983), 128–50.

38 Klaus Honnef, “Deutsche Fotografie—Spiegel deutscher Mentalität?,” in Deutsche Fotografie. Macht eines Mediums 1870–1970, ed. Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland et al. (Bonn: Dumont, 1997), 13.

39 Ibid., 14.

40 See Vowinckel, “Der Bildredakteur.”

41 Geimer, Theorien der Fotografie, 9. László Moholy-Nagy's comment is cited in Vicki Goldberg, ed., Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988), 339. Walter Benjamin also cited and glossed this comment; see his Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 3, ed. Helga Tiedemann-Bartels (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1972), 153.

42 On the tradition of critiques of the “Bilderflut,” see Geimer, Theorien der Fotografie, 154–59; Ruchatz Jens, “Bleiwüsten zur Austrocknung der Bilderflut. Susan Sontag und die Kritik an der fotografischen Reproduktion,” Fotogeschichte 32, no. 126 (2012), 1122.

43 Geimer, Theorien der Fotografie, 139–40.

44 See Holland, introduction to Spence and Holland, Family Snaps, 5; Klaus Pohl, “Die Welt für Jedermann. Reisephotographie in deutschen Illustrierten der zwanziger und dreißiger Jahre,” in Pohl, Ansichten der Ferne, 96–127.

45 Karen Strassler, Refracted Visions: Popular Photography and National Modernity in Java (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010); Terry Dennett, “Popular Photography and Labour Albums,” in Spence and Holland, Family Snaps, 72–83; Hirsch, Family Frames.

46 Starl, Knipser, 33–36.

47 Ibid., 42–44.

48 “‘Halt mal still!’ Martin Munkacsy und Renger-Patzsch über Amateur-Photographie” [1929], reprinted in Kerbs and Uka, Fotografie und Bildpublizistik, 247–54.

49 “Ihre Einsendungen—unser Urteil,” Die junge Dame 25 (1935): 22 [June 23, 1935].

50 According to Holland, “The ‘naïve’ conventions of the ‘private’ snapshot, deeply embedded through participatory usage, are drawn on by ‘public’ modes—in particular advertising and publicity photography—which, unlike the snapshot, aim to be understood by as wide an audience as possible.” See her introduction to Spence and Holland, Family Snaps, 5.

51 Sontag, On Photography, 11.

52 Prager Brad, “Leben heißt posieren. Bilder aus dem Warschauer Ghetto—mit Susan Sontag betrachtet,” Fotogeschichte 32, no. 126 (2012): 46; Linda Conze, Ulrich Prehn, and Michael Wildt, “Sitzen, baden, durch die Strassen laufen. Überlegungen zu fotografischen Repräsentationen von ‘Alltäglichem’ und ‘Unalltäglichem’ im Nationalsozialismus,” in Ramsbrock, Vowinckel, and Zierenberg, Fotografien, 296.

53 Ulrike Pilarczyk and Ulrike Mietzner, Das reflektierte Bild. Die seriell-ikonographische Fotoanalyse in den Erziehungs- und Sozialwissenschaften (Bad Heilbrunn: Julius Klinkhardt, 2005), 40–41; Conze, Prehn, and Wildt, “Sitzen, baden,” in Ramsbrock, Vowinckel, and Zierenberg, Fotografien, 271–73.

54 Edwards, Raw Histories, 12; Christopher Pinney, “The Parallel Histories of Anthropology and Photography,” in Edwards, Anthropology and Photography, 74–95.

55 On the “web of visibilities,” see Nikolas Rose, Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 73. On the historical relationship between visuality and governmentality, see Chris Otter, The Victorian Eye: A Political History of Light and Vision in Britain, 1800–1910 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); Maiken Umbach, German Cities and Bourgeois Modernism, 1890–1924 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 1–26.

56 On the wider topic of fancy dress and photography, see Verity Wilson, “Sartorial Artistry: Fancy Dress Recorded in Photographs, 1860–1970,” paper presented at “Professional Photography and Amateur Snapshots: Reconstructing Histories of Influence, Dialogue and Subversion,” University of Nottingham, June 2013.

57 Marline Otte, “Freundschaft als Spiegel eines anderen Bewusstseins. Amateurfotografie und emotionale Ökonomie in der DDR”, in Ramsbrock, Vowinckel, and Zierenberg, Fotografie, 253–69.

58 See Holland, introduction to Spence and Holland, Family Snaps, 1–13. See also Jonathan Carson, Rosie Miller, and Theresa Wilkie, eds., The Photograph and the Album: Histories, Practices, Futures (Edinburg: MuseumsEtc, 2013).

59 Edwards, Raw Histories, 14.

60 See Holland, introduction to Spence and Holland, Family Snaps, 3.

61 On the shifting identities and allegiances of middle-class German Jews during and after World War I, see Steer Martina, “Nation, Religion, Gender: The Triple Challenge of Middle-Class German-Jewish Women in World War I,” Central European History 48 no. 2 (2015), 176–98.

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