Constructed identities : the German photobook from Weimar to the Third Reich / by Leesa L. Rittelmann.
In 1926 photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy predicted the illiteracy of the future would be ignorance not of reading or writing, but of photography. Five years later theorist Walter Benjamin described the ability to compare facial types via the portrait photobook as a vitally important skill. As Germany endured a national identity crisis in the interwar years, the photographic book proved an effective alternative to traditional representation across the political spectrum. Nevertheless, its impact remains largely unexplored by an art historical discourse that privileges the so-called high arts over the “low” mass media. Although much attention has been paid to the purge of “degenerate” painting and sculpture under National Socialism, substantially less is known about the ideological function of Weimar photography and its fate in the Third Reich.This dissertation examines the relationship between national identity and the photographic book during Germany's turbulent transition from unstable democracy to totalitarian state. It analyzes the production and reception of several photobooks and demonstrates how they became the visual battleground over which a struggle for a coherent national identity was waged. The first two chapters introduce the emergence of neo-conservative photobooks in the immediate postwar years and an attendant emphasis on visual literacy in Dada photomontage and the illustrated press in the early twenties. The third chapter explores the influence of Bauhaus photobooks on increasing complaints of “photo-inflation” after 1929. Chapter Four analyzes books by Albert Renger-Patzsch and Karl Bloßfeldt which attempted to organize and regulate Weimar's chaotic visual sphere while the final chapter examines the application of physiognomic theory in portrait compendiums by August Sander, John Heartfield, Helmar Lerski and Erna Lendvai-Dircksen.More than innocuous collections of fine art photography, these books functioned as physiognomic guidelines for the representation of national identity for both progressives and conservatives. Their unique combination of text and image offered a kind of reassuring narrative authenticity perceived to be unavailable to more traditional media. By tracing the ideological function of the photographic book from 1919 to 1933, this dissertation introduces a neglected arena of modern publishing and challenges a German historiography that emphasizes rupture, rather than cultural continuity between Weimar and the Third Reich.
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