“The Site of Reality".
introduction of a new technology is typically accompanied by a public
discourse which reveals the social and political attitudes and cultural
values that shape the climate of acceptance. Such climate, however, is
frequently enough manufactured by those who organize and control the public
sphere, and who hold, in effect, what C. Wright Mills called the "power
of initiation" ( 1956, p. 117).
Constructing Photojournalism in Weimar Germany, 1928-33.” Communication
Review. 1:3, 1996, 373-402.
This study addresses the introduction of press photography in Germany
during the late 1920s. It is grounded in a cultural materialist perspective
from which photographic practices appear as products of cultural and political
processes of a specific historical moment. At that time, the newspaper
press responded with its own ideological constructions of photojournalism
based on political allegiances and on the commercial potential of images
confirmed by the success of picture magazines. Simultaneously, individual
or collective understandings among photographers of the need to produce
a version of social reality were to reflect aesthetic preferences and
political tendencies of media ownership.
Photography operates within a system of representations and as part of
the cultural and political apparatus of society. Enhanced by what Victor
Burgin called its capacity for "resemblance" (1982, p. 11),
photography is a means of communication within a theory of culture and
communication that locates the media within a society conceived of as
a complex relationship of activities and institutions. Photojournalism
as a signifying system is closely tied to the economic and political order
and may be involved in the reproduction or transformation of the dominant
structures. It also functions as a distinguishable new language of journalism
which challenged traditional text-based notions of facts or objectivity.
This study is located at the boundaries between those regimes of representation,
at a time, when the change from word to image or image/text in the public
sphere came to represent a shift in cultural practices. Photographs decomposed
traditional narratives and created a new awareness of the availability
and the potential of visual experiences among photographers and editors.
In this context, it is also a study of how the press reacted to the fast
and efficient reproducibility of events and the creation of reality through
The introduction of press photography stands at the beginning of a modern
encounter with images, including moving images, the promise of their contribution
to public enlightenment, and the fear of their destructive powers; it
has reached a point, where "the fantasy . . . of a culture totally
dominated by images has now become a real technical possibility on a global
scale (Mitchell, 1994, p. 15). At this juncture in the development of
visual communication, the study may also be taken as a response to Raymond
Williams' (1980) invitation that "the main result of a restated theoretical
position should be sustained historical inquiry into the general history
of the development of means of communication" (p. 54). Its purpose
is to explore the dynamics of social and political practices within the
formations of the press that guided or promoted the introduction of photojournalism
in the context of different social and political agendas.
While there has been considerable work on the politics and culture of
Weimar Germany in recent years (e.g., Barnouw, 1981, 1994; Eyck, 1962/63;
Friedrich, 1972; Frisby, 1986; Gay, 1968; Laqueur, 1974; Pachter, 1982;
Stern, 1965; Willett, 1978, 1984), including discussions of avant-garde
contributions to photography (e.g., Coke, 1982; Lavin, 1993; Mellor, 1978;
Neumann, 1993; Pachnicke & Honnef, 1992; Phillips, 1989), research
on the emerging role of press or magazine photography in Weimar Germany
as a modern means of communication, a new language of journalism, or a
contributor to the rise of photojournalism elsewhere, has been limited
(e.g., Freund, 1980; Gidal, 1972, 1993; Hardt, 1989; Ohrn and Hardt, 1981;
Although some attention will be paid to the contemporary intellectual
critiques of images and photographic practices in Weimar Germany, this
study is less interested in tracing the critical reception of photography
by German readers. Instead, it concentrates on the construction of press
photography within the institutional and political boundaries of the print
media and in the context of external cultural and political conditions
which informed the evolution of press and magazine photography in Weimar
Germany. The latter, in particular, provided American publishers, like
Henry Luce, with invaluable insights and reveals the relationship between
the German experience with magazine photography and the rise of picture
magazines in the United States. For instance, the conceptualization of
magazine journalism after 1933, as accomplished by the LIFE organization,
among others, benefited significantly from contributions by German émigré
editors and photographers (Smith, 1986, Hardt, 1989).
AND THE CULTURAL CONTEXT
The cultural context of photojournalism in 1920s Germany was particularly
enhanced by an expanding, free flow of ideas from abroad following World
War I. In its path, the potential of photography as a documentary and
journalistic tool, was demonstrated with the rise of new aesthetic visions
and the course of political developments. They occurred in the Soviet
Union and Germany, in particular, and in the United States, where technology
and democracy had become synonymous expressions of freedom. Underlying
considerations of photography was a recognition of the factual as a
central issue concerning functionalism and a need to struggle against
the distortion of realism by photographic images. Photography was also
recognized as a social and political instrument; it allowed participation
and could be used by large numbers of people. Anatoly Lunacharsky, Lenin's
commissar for education in 1920, once said that "besides his pocket
watch, every progressive Soviet citizen must also own a camera"
(Günter,1977, p. 97).1
More specifically, the experience with photography in the Soviet Union
had resulted in the rise of documentary expression. It was discussed
and implemented by Dzigo Vertov in his Kinoglaz activities, involving
the production of newsreels and the "decoding of life as it is"
(Michelson, 1984, p. 49) and by Alexander Rodchenko who expanded the
traditional use of the camera eye. Vertov rejected the Hollywood version
of film as fictional production and insisted on the primacy of the documentary
approach. His use of the documentary form demonstrated the impact of
a social or political theory of revolution on visual expression. Rodchenko
also maintained that social transformations must be expressed in a change
of form and content and argued for new possibilities of the photograph,
not only to describe the world, but to see it from different points.
With the rise of the new photography he criticized and confronted the
traditional, century-old, authoritarian perspective of a "psychology
of the navel" (Khan-Magomedov, 1987, p. 222). Along with others
Rodchenko developed photographic practices that emphasized the defamiliarization
of objects, in an effort to confront preconceptions, and noted the danger
of conventional photography with its tendency to reinforce habitual
ways of seeing through repetition (Watney, pp. 155-66).
Both men stressed the importance of producing images based in fact whose
documentary values supported the goals of the revolution and the interest
of educating people in the spirit of Socialism. In fact, other Soviet
photographers associated with the magazine Novyj LEF (Left Front of
the Arts), recognized that the new challenges of daily life required
a new form of representation. They problematized and conceptualized
the relationship between the development of new social structures and
their visual presentation and decided that the camera represented the
most adequate medium for the reproduction of revolutionary matter in
a revolutionary manner. As Herbert Molderings (1978) observed, "The
Russian revolution, which liberated all productive forces, also for
a time liberated the art of photography" (p. 91), when technology
became the hope of society and camera technology satisfied the need
for documentation. But there were significant differences noted between
bourgeois and proletarian photography. Writing about the struggle between
creative and constructive photography, Walter Benjamin (1977) cited
the accomplishment of Russian film, based on the goal of its photography,
which was not "appeal and influence, but experiment and instruction"
Max Alpert and Arkady Shaikhet who worked for the Soyusfoto agency (founded
in 1926), among others, dominated photojournalism in the Soviet Union.
They raised the level of professional performance and created expectations
about the role of photography that pushed beyond charges of formalism
to express their commitment to the cause. One result, which influenced
the work of German photographers, was the creation of serialized images
in the form of picture stories, including, "Twenty-four Hours in
the Life of the Filippov Family." About 80 photographs depicting
the typical life of a Russian worker and his family toured Vienna, Prague,
and Berlin in 1931; the story was republished in Willi Münzenberg’s
weekly picture magazine, Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ), a very
successful publication of the left founded in 1925 (38/1931). The project
inspired a German version, "Die deutschen Filipows," produced
by a workers' collective in Berlin that was published in the AIZ (48/1931).
Its form and function became a new and alternative type of photographic
practice in the service of political propaganda.
The success of Soviet photography in Germany spread through exhibitions
and books; it also suggested that the rise of a new technology under
conditions of development and the direction of specific ideological
interests, informed the work of others whose aesthetic sensibilities
rather than political convictions responded to the challenge of a new
photography. One did not have to be a Communist to understand the potential
of photography as a new way of seeing the world or to join in the experimentation
with images and texts, in an effort to challenge the authority of conventional
practices. Thus, considerations of Soviet photography were also part
of a more general intellectual and creative exploration of the post-war
culture which surfaced in German journalism of the 1920s. It involved
increasing demands for facts and objective presentations of the world.
Information became a central force behind movements in literature and
journalism signaling the end of a social and political era and emphasizing
the power and attraction of immediacy and actuality of experience as
a journalistic event.
The primacy of the factual, or objectivity, also reflected an admiration
for the United States with its technological progress and democratic
tradition, and constituted a shared feeling beyond the political boundaries
of the Soviet Union, or even Weimar Germany. As Grigori Konsintsev and
his Soviet colleagues (1988) suggested, "Yesterday -- the culture
of Europe . Today -- the technology of America. Industry, production
under the Stars and Stripes. Either Americanization or the undertaker"
(p. 58). These sentiments were reflected in Weimar Germany, where despite
the recent war, "Americans were welcomed as the best of friends"
(Villard, 1933, p. 16). Germans were informed in 1926 that an "intense
yearning for America" could be answered with chewing gum which
"is the cheapest way to Americanize oneself" (Lorsy, 1994,
p. 662). But the popularity of American culture and its influence on
Weimar Germany must also be placed in the context of specific technological
developments. For instance, the rise of broadcasting in the United States,
closely monitored by German authorities, was celebrated by radio amateurs,
who hailed the idea of "freedom of the air" in their publications
(Lerg, 1980, p. 65).
There was also an increasing transmission of cultural productions, including
films and photographs, with the establishment of U.S. distributors and
press agencies. For example, a 1927 content analysis of the Berliner
Illustrirte Zeitung" observed an American influence in photography,
which wants to be a means of grasping visual reality" (Büssemeyer,
1930, p. 47). In addition there was the expedient translation and publication
of U.S. literature, and the cultural mobility of idols, like Charlie
Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Indeed, Thomas Saunders (1994)
considered the popularity and criticism of Hollywood films, in Weimar
Germany, a form of Americanization. There was also an affinity with
American press practices of separating fact from opinion. They were
identified and sometimes imitated, particularly by the liberal German
press, representing a desirable accommodation of commercial interests
and societal responsibilities (Hardt, 1989). The print media, especially,
adopted U.S. journalistic practices in content and layout. They included
human interest stories, sensationalism, and the frequent use of illustrations,
especially photographs, which punctured the layout of newspapers and
spread across the pages of magazines. For instance, the concept "yellow"
press was applied to the Ullstein press in 1932 by Carl von Ossietzky
in the Weltbühne (Koszyk, 1972, p. 256), while "Americanisms"
became a concept in Max Weber's anticipated social scientific study
of the German press (Hardt, 1979, p. 172).
Neither the influence of Soviet or American cultural practices were
universally welcome. However, there was a climate of reception in a
general atmosphere of experimentation and creativity in Weimar Germany,
which supported the flow of ideas across political and cultural boundaries.
Photography became a cultural practice of the popular press.
Specific developments of photojournalism were problematized and legitimated
by a more general discussion of the role of language and the power of
images; they were most dramatically captured by the Dada movement and
the political photomontages of John Heartfield. There was also the appeal
of the photo book as a creative statement and a prominent and important
source of social and political information that represented yet another
form of documentary expression. In addition, intellectual debates about
language and images by individuals ranging from Martin Heidegger (1962),
Benjamin (1969), and Siegfried Kracauer (1977) to Hugo von Hoffmannsthal
(1921). They addressed the cultural demands of a democracy following
a long period of censorship, that had ended after World War I. At that
time, demands for news and entertainment spread to new and vast audiences
of socially and economically deprived individuals. The commercial media
responded with a flood of inexpensive reading materials, including serialized
novels in existing newspapers and magazines, dime novels, paperbacks,
and picture magazines.
The Weimar press reflected the specific cultural milieu and reacted,
as will be shown below, to the consequences of a photojournalism that
profited from the political practices and commercial applications in
the Soviet Union and the United States. On a more practical level, photographs
delivered powerful statements; they also produced readers and, therefore,
guaranteed increasing revenues. The latter was an important consideration
for all sectors of the press, regardless of their political affiliation,
CONDITIONS OF THE WEIMAR PRESS
Photojournalism in Weimar Germany was the supplier of visual information;
an increasing picture coverage of events at home and abroad aimed at
satisfying the curiosity of readers. It also helped reintegrate post-war
Germany visually into the world community. Photojournalism demonstrated
access to visual resources, regardless of origin, and promoted the idea
of a liberated and, therefore, unobstructed gaze. It also reinforced
a notion of the reader as observer and participant in the world, while
the coverage of traditional German social and cultural practices reaffirmed
the past and validated the power of history. On the other hand, the
uses of photographs by the political press of the left or right, for
the purposes of enlightenment and propaganda, served to control or counteract
visual statements by the popular press and directed readers towards
a different kind of truth. Rather than redirecting attention away from
the social and political conditions of everyday life in Weimar Germany
by focusing on the exoticism of distant realities, these institutions
insisted on returning to the "real" conditions of contemporary
Photographs catered to the need for facts, reinforced the professional
ideology of objectivity, and became sites of reality in the world of
Weimar journalism. More specifically, editors treated photographic images
in their publications as objective representations of people and events.
Photographs were assigned the power to establish the real conditions
of society, either in the form of middle class conceptions of tradition
and survival, or in the provocative style of social criticism in its
attacks on the social and political establishment. Photographs served
to document different truths and different understandings of everyday
life and assumed an increasingly important role in the conceptualization
of news and news coverage; they were products of the "camera eye"
that observed and recorded under the creative guidance of a "lensman,"
who was recognized for "taking" pictures everywhere and under
the most imaginative circumstances.
Thus, photography in Germany was energized by the social and political
conditions in the post-war era and emerged as a "new vision,"
built on an awareness of the new technology and its aesthetic potential.
Magazine photography, in particular, celebrated the new vision under
the leadership of editors like Kurt Korff and Stefan Lorant; photographers
such as Laslo Moholy-Nagy, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Erich Salomon and
Felix Man helped articulate the autonomy of photography vis-a-vis art
and its possibilities as a technological means of representation. Through
series of photographic expressions that ranged from the experimental
uses of the camera technology to straightforward realism, they addressed
artistic/philosophical issues of space and time as well as the concrete
conditions of social change. It was the glorification of the object,
in particular, that was the product of Neue Sachlichkeit photography
as well as the application of constructivist ideas, emerging from the
work of Rodchenko, that reappeared in the documentary or journalistic
work of German photographers, published in the magazines of liberal
bourgeois publishing houses, like Ullstein or Knorr & Hirth, for
There could be no doubt that photography in all of its forms had become
a new and significant structural element of social expression and was
used to provide social and scientific evidence of the political and
natural environment. The press had a particular stake in the discourse
concerning facts and the representation of reality, since its historical
understanding of news or information was seriously challenged by a visual
medium that promised to be more direct, more powerful, and quite different
in its conceptualization of social reality than traditional textual
treatments by reporters. Not since the beginning of the modern press
had a new technology threatened to alter the face of newspapers and
magazines as radically as did the use of photographs.
But the introduction of photography required more than a new outlook
on journalistic practices by editors and publishers, or even reporters;
it also required a new form of reception from a potentially large audience.
The news was to be seen not read, and was intended to provide an immediate
encounter with reality. These changes involving aesthetic and material
aspects of production and consumption relied on questions of culture,
including professional expectations and reader satisfaction. Thus, while
individual creativity, often channeled through picture agencies, contributed
to the popularity of photographic narratives, reader demands or tastes
were constantly being created and sustained by the press. The goal was
to reinforce editorial policies concerning visual presentations and
direct the flow of pictures by references to reading habits, cultural
preferences, and issues of cultural consumption. In other words, German
editors and publishers were deeply involved in the cultural construction
of photographs as journalistic expressions.
The construction of the image as information by those in control of
the uses of photography, within the daily press, involved more immediate
organizational and administrative problems. Issues ranged from business
arrangements with picture agencies and professional considerations of
staffing picture desks, while redefining news to accommodate the flow
of photographs, to dealing with the competitive pressures for more picture
coverage, while struggling to comprehend the powerful social and political
impact of images and the commercial and political consequences of photojournalism.
Beyond these concerns loomed even more fundamental questions, however,
regarding hegemonic issues of controlling technological change and maintaining
political power over the process of defining reality in which the press
competed for the supply of visual information about a rapidly changing
cultural and political environment.
By the beginning of the twentieth century the demand for more photographs
were met by the establishment of photo agencies, particularly in Berlin.
A host of German press agencies began to compete, mostly with exclusive
picture material, for the domestic market which included the daily press,
picture magazines, and the little magazines by the 1920s. The latter
had been successful in the United States, combining novels, reportage,
and feature photographs, which provided yet another outlet for photographers.
In addition, some agencies, among them Dephot (Deutscher Photo-Dienst)
and Weltrundschau, initiated work on photo stories rather than on single
images to supply magazines with visual narratives. Their contributions
were fueled by the creative capabilities of the new photographers and
encouraged by the increasing demands for unique story ideas from picture
magazines. They constituted the raw material for defining the nature
of photojournalism which also effected considerations of the daily press
concerning style, content, and quantity of visual presentations.
A photographer who worked in the Berlin bureau of Pacific & Atlantic
Photos (later Associated Press) recalled the role of agency personnel
and how rapidly news photos were distributed to clients around the city
and abroad. A typical daily routine consisted of preparing a set of
seven to fifteen photographs (subscribers had access to a minimum of
seven pictures per day), adding feature photographs, if necessary quotas
could not be reached, and producing 80 copies of each set of photographs
for general shipment and an additional 30 copies for the London, Paris,
and New York offices of the Associated Press and for some special customers
(Kerbs, 1983, pp. 26-28). Photographs were also circulated through other
outlets; for instance, in 1927 the Illustrations-Verlag Wagenborg in
Berlin offered subscriptions for weekly deliveries of stereotype plates
to daily newspapers. The service provided photographs to cover news
events (40), sports (2), and fashion, architecture, and film (1 each),
besides various graphics (Deutsche Presse, 1927, p. xxi).
Photo agencies catered for some time to a rising demand for visual information
which continued to threaten conventional forms of public communication.
Between 1924 and 1930, besides picture magazines, however, movie houses
and broadcasting came onto the social and political scene in Germany
and offered yet another opportunity for altering traditions of communication
in society. Thus, the newspaper industry of the Weimar Republic confronted
the effects of photography on the nature of public communication. Since
pictures as reproductions of reality appealed to many people who responded
to them intuitively or experientially, rather than as members of an
expert (educated) audience, photography extended the process of reception
to different and larger audiences. For example, in an effort to provide
a broad spectrum of illustrated information by 1928, the Berliner Tageblatt,
offered its readers several illustrated supplements each week, including
Der Weltspiegel, Illustrierte Film-Zeitung, Photo-Spiegel, and Modenspiegel
(de Mendelssohn, 1959, p. 248).
The ensuing flood of magazine pictures, however, was met not only by
the photo-documentation of the AIZ, which tried to subvert the process
of distraction, but by cultural critics, like Kracauer, who questioned
the surface qualities of the medium and its illusion of being the real.
Writing in 1927, Kracauer (1977) saw the illustrated magazine press
as a source of contradictions and its photographs constituting a fragmented
reality. "In the illustrated magazines the public sees the world
whose perception of it is hindered by the illustrated journals themselves."
In fact, "American illustrated magazines, which are being imitated
often by those in other countries, equate the world with the embodiment
of photographs" (p. 34).
In the meantime, the German press approached photojournalism with predictable
trepidations, due, at least in part, to the nature of the industry.
The lack of a strong national press in Germany was offset by a system
of large regional and local newspapers, ranging from district newspapers,
which relied on syndicated material, to a sophisticated urban press
in cities like Berlin and Frankfurt, with relatively large circulation
beyond its geographical regions. In addition, there was the Generalanzeiger
type of newspaper that offered news rather than views. Although Germany
boasted more newspapers than any other European country, most newspapers
were small; the so-called Heimatpresse represented the stereotypical
notion of local ownership. Oron Hale (1964) reported that in the late
1920s 81 percent of the newspapers were family owned and over half of
them claimed to be neutral and independent; the press was a business
proposition rather than a political calling for many publishers, including
those in large metropolitan areas (pp. 3-4), where the encounter with
modern photography was strongest due to the publication of national
or regional magazines. Many local newspapers were organized in their
respective provinces and represented by the Association of German Newspaper
Publishers (Verein der deutschen Zeitungsverleger or VDZV), although
its leadership of the organization was in the hands of the elite press.
Only Nazi and Communist publishers remained outside the association.
The VDZV was particularly concerned with business and technical aspects
of the press, but as Hale (1964) observed, "To a greater extent
than was customary with trade organizations it was inspired by a sense
of high past achievement, of service and obligation to the public and
the nation, and of standards that transcended the business balance sheet
and the profit and loss statement" (pp. 7-8). These values clearly
informed the discussion of an emerging practice of press photography
among organized newspaper publishers.
PHOTOJOURNALISM AND THE VDZV
In Germany, throughout the late 1920s, the discussion of photographs
in the service of newsrooms was particularly interesting, since by that
time most newspaper proprietors became convinced that photography was
a legitimate medium of public communication. According to VDZV estimates,
between 600 and 800 newspapers used photographs and texts regularly
(Zeitungs-Verlag, 1928a, p. 637). Magazine journalism in Germany, which
had already embraced photography as an attractive and powerful way of
creating a different visual experience for its readers, had begun to
compete successfully for advertisers against a press that had been slow
in adopting this new technology as part of its regular news gathering
In fact, the invasion of images during the 1920s and the actual and
regular use of photographs by newspapers prompted a series of responses
from newspaper publishers. They addressed the position of the press
in the cultural milieu of Weimar Germany and articulated the authoritative
claims of publishers over definitions of the press and its relations
with readers. They also reflected the nature of traditional German journalism,
which insisted on an ideologically driven dialogue with educated readers
rather than on acknowledging the existence of ordinary readers, whose
encounter with picture magazines may have left them with a desire to
be informed by other than textual treatments of events.
Although financial considerations, unfamiliarity with fairly recent
technical advancements, and the specific conditions of producing newspapers
(often under collective arrangements and with the help of boiler plate
services, for instance) seemed relevant reasons for a slow adoption
of photographs by many newspapers, the major arguments concerning the
status of photographs in the press focused on their cultural meaning.
These arguments seemed to address publishers of magazines and newspapers,
like Ullstein, who had acted on the realization that with the introduction
of photographs, readers preferred the visual imagery to texts. As Korff
(1994), editor of the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, explained, "Without
the picture the things going on in the world were reproduced incompletely,
often implausibly; the picture conveyed the strongest and most lasting
impression" (p. 646).
Photography had been used by these illustrated magazines to construct
and reflect a middle class world view that had often little to do with
the actual conditions of society. Newspaper publishers must have been
well aware of this tendency; their own discussions of the role and function
of press photography reflected the outcome of these professional practices
of magazine editors and their cooperation with photographers, whose
own projects could only have been as successful as they were because
of their ideological proximity to the unwritten demands of the industry.
Thus, German photojournalism attracted many photographers who produced
series of picture essays under the guidance of editors and picture agencies
and helped bourgeois magazine journalism succeed commercially. The result
was that photographers produced and published extraordinary photographs
of an untouched world of Tradition and Kultur at the expense of critical
and socially and politically relevant photographs or photographic stories.
However, German newspaper publishers remained particularly sensitive
to the significant flow of foreign images into the press and weighted
the consequences of any uncritical use of such photographic material
by editors and their effects on readers. They argued for careful editorial
choices, expressing their preference for the work of certain picture
agencies, and particularly for those with a firm understanding of what
constituted an acceptable photographic image for the German press. Their
arguments about picture editing were informed by a narrow, ethnocentric
understanding of culture as high culture, relying on a traditional notion
of Kultur to explain reader expectations. As a result, rising public
demands for exotic (foreign) images -- and therefore potential profits
-- were met by some German newspaper publishers with resistance basedon
These debates within the newspaper establishment culminated in a series
of articles and letters in the official VDZV publication, Zeitungs-Verlag,
that began in March 1928, with a discussion of "the cultural meaning
of the newspaper picture" by members of the German publishers association
(Zeitungs-Verlag, 1928a, pp. 637-40). Although they were framed amidst
considerable confusion or ambivalence concerning the actual use of photographs,
the articles constituted an official acknowledgment of photographs in
A preliminary and rather cursory review of several provincial newspapers
of the early 1930s by this author revealed that photographs were used
primarily in advertisements, for identification (mug shots) and to provide
feature material; there were few, if any, that served news purposes
and even sports photographs were often dated. Weekly illustrated supplements
consisted mainly of feature photographs. Nevertheless, photographs were
considered extremely important, because they could be easily and effectively
understood by more readers, particularly those who were slow to assimilate
the news. Two reasons emerged for selling VDZV members on the idea that
photographic technology and picture-editing competence would be necessary
and worthwhile acquisitions: first, the increasing competition from
illustrated magazines and newspaper supplements, particularly in the
metropolitan press, and second, the need to cater to reader interests
in photographs. Thus, the incorporation of photographic practices into
everyday journalism would not only improve form and content of newspapers,
but would increase their public appeal and might lead to increased circulation.
After the war the periodical press had already begun to satisfy the
general hunger for images, especially in response to the increasing
pace of modern existence; but magazines were constrained to deliver
mere memories of past events. In fact, Korff (1994) suggested that weekly
picture magazines. among other functions, were to provide the visual
evidence of events that had occupied daily newspapers to provide information
and extend public knowledge of current events through the publication
of visual material. At the same time it was also the expressed editorial
policy of the magazine that the election of photographic images be based
not on the importance of the event, "but solely on the allure of
the photo itself" (p. 646). On the other hand, only daily newspapers
could provide an effective combination of visual immediacy, timeliness,
and textual explanation to serve their readers with a clearer interpretation
of events through photographic images rather than traditional texts.
In this context there was a recognized need for experienced editorial
staffs to handle the professional demands for better picture coverage.
After all, the news and information value of the photograph, rather
than its usefulness as an illustration, and the requirements of truthful
and accurate visual and textual statements, demanded the journalistic
expertise of picture editors. The acknowledged autonomy of editorial
decision-making, however, included the obligation to protect business
interests, which were typically couched in terms of readership requests
for quality products ((Zeitungs-Verlag, 1928c, pp. 901-904; 1928b, p.
There were more fundamental problems, however. For instance, newspaper
publishers also complained that many photographers seemed to know little
about journalism, the specific needs of editors, and the speed of the
daily press. Instead of responding to criteria like immediacy and newsworthiness,
photographers submitted seemingly arbitrary and frequently irrelevant
selections of feature material, adding to the supply of "ridiculous"
and "tasteless" photographs received from England and the
United States. Furthermore, discussions among newspaper publishers assigned
a cultural task and a specific cultural meaning to picture coverage,
which would uphold expectations of Kulturbewußtsein (cultural consciousness)
and thereby eventually strengthen the influence of the daily press on
the public and private spheres of society. At the same time, the presence
of so-called "destructive" tendencies among sensational newspapers
and their mode of visual presentation was considered dangerous; it was
certainly rejected by the mainstream press, whose editors were simply
expected to act on the importance of the "cultural will" of
pictures (Zeitungs-Verlag, 1928a, p. 638).
The rhetoric of acceptance by the official organ of Germany's newspaper
publishers culminated in the observation that any cultural and technological
progress or political action will spread and be remembered longer, when
journalistic texts are enhanced by explanatory and stimulating pictures.
(Zeitungs-Verlag, 1928a, p. 637). Such a statement suggested at least
an acquaintance with the potential power of images and their use or
abuse in magazines like the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung or the AIZ;
it also indicated a reclassification of the importance of texts in newspapers
which reinforced the expressed fears among writers and reporters that
the emergence of a visual culture would result in the demise of the
More seriously, perhaps, was the reigning definition of cultural responsibility
that reinforced a conservative argument for the deployment of photographs
and revealed the political nature of photographic practices by the press.
It was expressed in terms of a German solution to pictorial presentations
in an effort to counter what was perceived either as creeping propaganda
by foreign countries, like England or the United States, or as a flood
of "tasteless" photographs that continued to reach German
newspaper offices from these countries. VDZV members met photographic
accounts of social, technological, or political developments from abroad
with suspicion; on the other hand, German editors acknowledged that
about two-thirds of their photographs were supplied by foreign sources
(Zeitungs-Verlag, 1928b, p. 1617).
In an effort to develop a more patriotic alternative and, therefore,
rely on domestic picture sources, editors were called upon to provide
pictorial coverage of German accomplishments, and the presence of German
culture in the lost territories of East Prussia, the Ruhr, or South
Tyrol, for instance. (Zeitungs-Verlag, 1928a, p. 639). This practice
already prevailed among weekly picture magazines which published photographic
series celebrating the cultural achievements of the arts and sciences
in Germany. In fact, when the New York Times gained the exclusive rights
to photographs of the 1930 Passion Plays in Oberammergau, the advice
to editors was to boycott the use of photographs and to force management
to reconsider the decision to restrict the use of "German property"
to Americans (Stiewe, 1930, p. 168).
While Korff hailed the unique contribution of the photograph to the
magazine press was based on its "impact" rather than its content
(1994, 646), daily newspaper editors were admonished to demonstrate
that the selection of photographs did not depend on their visual impact
or on their usefulness as fillers, but rather on their cultural mission.
Publishers insisted on upholding the tradition of their newspapers as
bearers and multipliers of German cultural labor. Thus, editors were
reminded of the presence of sensitive readers whose sophisticated knowledge
of the value and importance of photographs as representations of German
culture would ultimately damage the credibility of newspapers acting
irresponsibly in their selection and publication of pictures.
The creative insights and commercial instincts of German magazine editors,
on the other hand, co-determined the direction and content of photojournalism.
After all, institutional support of photographic projects, including
the activities of enterprising picture agencies like Dephot or Weltrundschau,
relied on the interests and commitments of editors like Korff or Lorant
and others, like Paul Feinhals (Kölnische Illustrierte). Although magazines
attempted to provide a broad range of images, there was a decidedly
strong emphasis on photo stories. They typically consisted of four to
seven photographs across a couple of pages to deliver a visual narrative
in combination with supplementary texts. These stories resembled the
story lines of movies and may have been attempts to compete against
the visual attraction of film. Editors preferred a wide range of topics;
most of them avoided contemporary political issues, or dealt with them
retrospectively, and instead concentrated on the broader issues of social
and cultural developments, international events, sports, and fashion.
The result was a celebration of German culture. Typical topics ranged
from concerts and theatrical performances, including film studios, to
inside reports from schools, monasteries, or sports events to travelogues
and expeditions, while photostories describing unemployment, working
conditions, poverty, or issues like rearmament or political extremism
were rare or non-existent. (Hardt, 1989). Lorant, for instance, claimed
proudly that he had never used a photograph of Hitler before 1933 (1983).
This was in stark contrast to the editors of the AIZ, who opted for
documentary photography that exposed the social and political conditions
of society and remained confrontational rather than inconsequential
with photographs that had been provided by workers rather than photojournalists
who were simply identified as worker-photographers.
In spite of these developments in photojournalism and their public acceptance,
primarily because of the editorial inexperience or mismanagement of
pictures, as late as 1931 some German publishers still rejected the
idea that photographs had enriched the German press. Their assessment
of press photography repeated well-worn references to poor taste and
phrases about the unsatisfactory quality of photographs, despite the
recent addition of well paid picture editors (Zeitungs-Verlag, 1931,
There may have been some reason for skepticism, particularly, if one
listened to Bert Garai, "the man from Keystone," who talked
much about his success in faking events, photographs, and deceiving
personalities to have their picture taken (Garai, 1966). His practices
confirmed the complaints of some German publishers or editors about
the falsification of visual material.
Indeed, there were repeated discussions -- and rebuttals by editors
-- related to the use of "false" photographs, photographs
taken at different times under different circumstances, for example,
and how to control the accuracy of each image. It was an issue that
pitted the reputation of photographers and picture agencies against
the trust of newspaper staffs, and picture editors, in particular.
However, it was also acknowledged that editorial staffs should have
known better and were to be blamed for acting carelessly, in bad taste,
or without political instincts in the course of selecting and treating
photographs and texts. Consequently, they were accused of a lack of
professional conduct, which was seen as effecting not only the quality
of their own newspapers, but also as endangering the prestige of the
German press (Zeitungs-Verlag, 1931, pp. 99-100).
Indeed, the lack of political instinct among editors, regarding their
choice of photographs, was a frequent criticism; it was reinforced by
the publication of a letter to the editor of Zeitungs-Verlag which complained
about the picture coverage of international political meetings and questioned
the priorities of the press to act in the national interest. The writer
charged that when photographers engaged in candid photography during
informal meetings, coffee or lunch breaks, and other equally innocuous
events, they ignored their mission, which was to respond to Germany's
vital interests. They also misunderstood their professional responsibility
towards the (national) interests of readers, who expected meaningful
photographs (Zeitungs-Verlag, 1932, p. 528).
This letter was an obvious response to the candid political photographs
by Salomon, whose work appeared mostly in national picture magazines
and frequently in the context of photo essays which had the expressed
purpose of amplifying the political events of the week. Its publication
in Zeitungs Verlag merely supported the official opinions of German
publishers concerning the quality and status of photographs in the press.
Their critique was related to the cultural mission of the press, the
influence of foreign taste cultures, and traditional journalistic practices.
It was also combined with a critique of editorial staffs and their handling
of photographs and texts. But their comments also included a suggestion
that foreigners and their business practices had introduced culturally
undesirable photographs. Their lack of education (Bildung) and their
ignorance of German culture and the cultural requirements for supplying
appropriate images, had somehow effected, if not confused, the editorial
selection process (Zeitungs-Verlag, 1931, p. 99). Such remarks contained
the seeds of contempt and disrespect for anything foreign within a concrete
historical situation in which thousands of foreigners contributed effectively
and prominently to the cultural life of Berlin and Germany.
Under these circumstances, newspaper publishers showed a peculiar reaction
to the political and cultural changes in Germany; it was the response
of a press establishment that was not only conservative by nature, and,
therefore, inclined to preserve traditional practices, but also particularly
responsive to its own historical consciousness specifically to the aftermath
of the war, including Germany's treatment at the hands of it former
enemies, the struggle over the meaning of a democratic society, and
finally, to the specter of modernity.
In fact, the official reaction of German publishers to photographic
practices in their publication expressed the chauvinism of a narrow,
provincial outlook on the cultural developments in society. But it was
also the conservative voice of commerce which expressed its fears about
a secure place in society; thus any references to expectations and abilities
of readers related to the condition of picture journalism were also
the expressions of anxiety over the consequences of technological change
and cultural diversification for the press. It was the voice of a press
that had been prepared for its own demise by industrial interests. These
interests never completely appropriated the press, but succeeded in
corrupting the press economically and in discrediting democratic institutions
with the aid of newspapers (Koszyk,1972, p. 169). At stake were major
issues of social and political progress and the impact of modernity
-- with its interest in the visual -- on the power of the press to define
reality authoritatively and exclusively. George Orwell once suggested
that language suffers when the political atmosphere is bad; interestingly
enough, there were signs of bad times in these official comments about
pictures and the press. After all, only a few years later Nazi press
laws responded successfully to similar dilemmas in a language of authority
that was directed at journalists and spoke of the common will, culture,
Thus, the popular bourgeois magazine press had promoted a modern visual
culture in Weimar Germany with the help of creative editors and a large
number of talented photographers. Their accomplishments, however, were
noted by the newspaper press, especially when magazines claimed to provide
news and information. It resulted in an awareness of the potential of
photographic coverage. Appropriate photographs were sought to help maintain
and reinforce the cultural mission of the press against increasing efforts
to introduce foreign, that is, non-German material, and unconventional
professional judgments regarding the uses of photography. There was
already an old generation of press photographers in the 1920s which
needed to adjust to contemporary standards of speed and versatility
within a changing industry; they must have wondered about the growing
number of magazine photographers, in particular, who had accomplished
a considerable degree of professional freedom and were able, even under
increasing competition, to produce exemplary work.
By 1932 the criteria for photojournalists were well established and
equaled those of reporters: journalistic instincts, the ability to see
and act quickly, and a solid education together with good manners. At
the same time, there was the realization that the German press (and
the profession of photo reporters) lagged behind similar developments
in the United States and Britain, and that photojournalism had remained,
by and large, a small business rather than advanced to become an industrial
enterprise since it had emerged from studio photography (Lachmann, 1932,
ON THE LEFT -- COMMUNISTS & SOCIALISTS
Photographs became part of an ideological/political struggle, when the
left, primarily through the work of Münzenberg, recognized the potential
of images as means of propaganda against the background of a burgeoning
popular picture press. The reaction was not only a critique of photography
as a technology of reproduction in the hands of bourgeois publishers,
but also an intensive, purposive, and successful exploration of photography
as a weapon in the hands of the working class. The function of photography,
like the function of art, was politicized. Photographs served not merely
to reproduce the surfaces of everyday life, but to expose the conditions
underneath the ordinary and familiar representations of society. Münzenberg's
AIZ, in particular, became a forum for a type of photography that identified
with the documentary style of Soviet photography and applied it to construct
an alternative reality through combinations of text, photographs, and
photomontage. But while it encouraged an ideological perspective and
the political engagement of photographers, the AIZ also served German
bourgeois editors and photographers as a professional guide and creative
resource; it allowed them to respond successfully to freeing photographic
expression from pre-war conventions while still satisfying the specific
institutional demands of the middle-class press.
There was public support expressed for the critical documentary work
that appeared in the AIZ, whose circulation rose from 200,000 in 1925
to 500,000 by the early 1930s (Büthe, 1977, p. 15). For instance, the
tenth anniversary edition in 1931 included an appraisal of photojournalism
by Bertold Brecht (1975) who suggested that
"the incredible development of the picture reportage has hardly
been a victory for truth about the conditions in the world: photography
in the hands of the bourgeoisie has become a cruel weapon against the
truth. The immense picture material that is spewn out by the printing
presses every day and that seems to have the characteristics of truth,
serves, in reality, only to obscure the facts. The camera can lie as
well as the linotype machine. The task of the A-I-Z to serve the truth
and to restore the facts is of immense importance and is being solved
brilliantly, it seems to me" (p. 125).
There were also letters of solidarity from American readers (for instance,
Der Arbeiter, The Federated Press, a press service, and the Daily Worker,
all of New York), including Upton Sinclair, who sent "birthday
greetings and best wishes for your labors in defense of Soviet Russia,
which I consider the most interesting and important phenomenon which
has so far appeared in the history of the world." (AIZ 10/41, p.
816).AIZ's rising popularity resulted in requests to help establish
similar magazines in France (Nos Regards) and Czechoslovakia (Svet v
The uses of photography by the AIZ were part of a cultural network,
which included publishing houses, film production and distribution companies,
magazines, and newspapers to counter capitalism and to break the bourgeois
media monopoly, including social democratic practices. These developments
included the organization of a picture agency, Unionfoto (later Union-Bild),
which began on May 1, 1930, in cooperation with and financed by Russ-Foto,
the largest Soviet photo agency at the time. The agency supplied press
photographs of the USSR and distributed the photographic output of worker/photographers
from many countries (Beiler, 1967, p. 22).
Münzenberg's contacts and his cooperation with Soviet institutions was
well known; his published reports about the Soviet Union were uncritical,
however. They created the impression of a worker's paradise, despite
contrary reports from the German left about the miserable living conditions
and the economic plight of millions of Soviet citizens. For instance,
Babette Gross (1991) commented on the deliberate use of the "Filipow"
photo story in the AIZ, which was a blatant, cynical, and rather well
known (among Soviet officials) propaganda effort that became a hit among
German workers (pp. 238-39).
But while Münzenberg used photography in various publications since
1921, e.g., Sowjetrußland im Bild and Sichel und Hammer, the organized
left had been slow in recognizing the importance of photographs for
their newspapers. For instance, the 1921 Third World Congress of the
Communist International in Moscow also dealt with how a progressive
revolutionary working-class press could use photographs, among other
visual materials, to gain and hold readers, especially, since the Communist
press had been less than successful (Journalistik, 1958, p. 65); in
1925, the Communist Party in Germany pleaded with its editors to use
illustrations more frequently in their newspapers. Even the central
organ of the party, the Rote Fahne, still carried few illustrations
during the mid-1920s (Büthe et al, 1977, p. 13). Münzenberg (1977) also
lamented the lack of photographs in Communist publications through the
mid-1920s, especially since "the picture influences children, youth,
and the yet unorganized masses of workers, farm workers, peasants and
similar groups, whose thoughts and feelings are simple" (p. 51).
Similarly, the moderate political left also remained cautious about
the use of photographs. When the Social Democratic Party, in an attempt
to strengthen its own press, debated how readers could be attracted
by reducing the political content in favor of more reader-friendly material,
there was an immediate fear of "Americanizing" the party press.
Moreover, there seemed to be more interest in the aesthetic qualities
of the material than in the ideological consequences of change. These
discussions included the introduction of photographs, which had been
sparingly used before and were typically provided by bourgeois press
agencies rather than social democratic sources (Koszyk, 1972, p. 311).
In fact, the first news photograph in the central organ of the Social
Democratic Party, Vorwärts, did not appear until August, 1927 (Matthies,
1987, p. 70).
As photographs were reconceptualized to serve the specific political
interests of the party, so were press photographers instructed to serve
the cause of the working class. Under Münzenberg's influence by the
end of the 1920s, photographs had become part of a new form of production,
which allowed amateur photographers to help articulate the reality of
working-class life. It involved teaching workers the use of cameras
and the importance of documentation in support of political struggle;
it also resulted in the subordination of the individual to the application
of technology to political practice.
The Arbeiterfotograf, published between 1926 and 1933, provided workers
not only with technical or conceptual information, but also engaged
in theoretical discussions and supplied the foundations of a socialist
theory of photography. Thus, worker/photographers were recruited from
among amateurs, whose interests in photography were identified with
their social or political mission rather than with professional prestige
or income. In fact, the particular social-economic status of photographers
as laborers or unemployed workers was a strategic position in the fight
against the ruling class, since they were already on the front line
of the struggle. As worker/photographers they joined artists like John
Heartfield to produce a magazine similar to the AIZ that revealed the
other side of life in Weimar Germany, the conditions of labor, and the
fight against injustice. An understanding of press photography as agitation
and propaganda defined their missions to uncover and control manipulation
and fabrication of facts by the bourgeois press. Also, the preoccupation
with technological aspects related to the latest cameras and equipment,
and typical among middle-class photographers, was absent among worker-photographers.
To their benefit, old Leica cameras without rangefinders were inexpensive,
they cost 80 to 100 Marks and worker photographers began to use them
in 1932; also, "Peggy" Kraus, Stuttgart, and "Contax,"
Zeiß Ikon, offered more inexpensive 35mm cameras used by worker-photographers
(Arbeiter-Fotograf, 1932, p. 194).
Worker-photographers were concerned about making any equipment work
to produce effective photographs.They sought to provide visual evidence
of economically or politically significant events and combat the trivial
or sensational picture coverage that distinguished bourgeois press photography
in Weimar Germany. They followed their social and political instincts
to confront bourgeois culture with a style of photography that was to
reveal the harshness of proletarian life and the corruption of the middle
class. Edwin Hoernle (1978) had called on workers to be the eye of the
working class and to produce images that "show class consciousness,
mass consciousness, discipline, solidarity, a spirit of aggression and
revenge" (p. 49).
Thus, the discovery and deployment of photographs on the left was informed
by the spirit of the documentary tradition in the Soviet Union, at least
in Münzenberg's publications. But it was also a necessary reaction to
the success of the bourgeois media, whose creative use of photographs
had increased the popularity of illustrated magazines among the working
class and threatened the demise of a party press (Communist and Social-Democratic)
which had remained overly politicized, dull, and unattractive for many
readers. Nevertheless, the decentralized activities of the left, particularly
by the Münzenberg media, provided an alternative use of photographs
as instruments of counter-propaganda, to influence the bourgeois public,
and to direct the working class towards recognizing the potential of
photography as a weapon. The Nazi press, on the other hand, did not
tolerate journalistic practices that were not centrally conceived and
ON THE RIGHT -- THE NAZI PRESS
Theoretical insights into the power of photographs and editorial developments
concerning the application of photographs were highly suggestive to
the political far right. However, the employment of photography rather
than language and texts for political purposes by the Nazi press was
another matter. The Nazi press never participated in the conception
of photography as a commercial product or social documentation until
after 1933. It was delayed, if not disregarded for several reasons,
most of them related to the hierarchical structure of the party press,
funding, and the availability of photojournalists. According to Koszyk
(1972), the lack of capital and the absence of journalists in the provincial
Nazi press had marginalized these publications and reduced many of them
to propaganda pamphlets (p. 384).
A 1931 review of the spread of Nazi newspapers accounted for 97 publications
(among them 46 dailies), most of them located in Bavaria and Prussia
(Deutsche Presse, 1931,p. 69). After the 1930 elections the number of
daily newspapers rose quickly to reach 86 with a circulation of over
3 million by 1933 (Koszyk, 1972, p. 385). At that time, the record showed
120 Nazi publications (most of them weekly newspapers) among 4,700 newspapers
in Germany with 7.5 percent of the total circulation. Eleven years later,
however, 82 percent of the 970 remaining newspapers were owned by them
(Wulf, 1966, p. 7). At that time, press photography was regulated and
take-overs of the press and magazines resulted in a massive exploitation
of images for political purposes.
Until then, the existing Nazi press had not been very effective in its
use of photographic images. Even after Hitler had ordered the establishment
of the Illustrierter Beobachter in 1926 by Heinrich Hoffmann, his personal
photographer and the chosen "Bildberichterstatter" of the
party, and Max Amann, Nazi publications from theVölkischer Beobachter
to provincial weeklies did little to exploit the power of photography.
Because of a general lack of adequate funding in the 1920s, the Nazi
press was not only visually impoverished; according to Z. A. B. Zeman
(1973), “technical equipment at the disposal of Nazi propaganda was
rather primitive" (p. 24). In addition, the Nazis had initially
restricted their propaganda efforts to political meetings and face-to-face
encounters. They celebrated the success of their rhetorical skills.
In Mein Kampf Hitler had already insisted on the priority of the spoken
word, and a neglect of the written word in the Nazi press had been acknowledged
as late as 1932 (Stein, 1987, p. 49). Instead, oratory became identified
with the success of the Nazi party and was credited with the final victory.
"In the Nazi beginning was the word -- print reinforced it, but
in an ancillary capacity," according to Richard Grunberger (1971,
There were individual attempts to improve the situation of the party
press. For instance, Otto Strasser, who eventually left the NSDAP, in
1926 criticized the poor journalism of the party press as sensational
and editorially thin; he also suggested improvements to attract and
keep readers, including the use of news photographs (Stein, 1987, p.
71). Although his conceptualization was successful with his own newspaper,
he had violated party policies. Instead, the press continued to be run
by party functionaries, needed advertising revenue, and was circulated
mainly among party faithfuls. The major publications were guaranteed
a monopoly position within the ranks of the party press, including the
use of picture supplements or the establishment of rival illustrated
papers. Even after the 1930 elections, when the Nazis tried to gain
control over the bourgeois press through infiltration rather than competition,
their success was rather modest. In general, the Nazi press was considered
an outcast with its extremist editorial messages, which did not fit
the German experience of a party press; its content was controlled through
directives of the party leadership, and its journalists were forbidden
to work for other publications (Koszyk, 1972, p. 383).
An exception was Joseph Goebbels' Der Angriff by the beginning of 1933.
It used single photographs to comment on social and economic issues,
not unlike the practices of the AIZ, and to identify and attack Jewish
businesses. In one case, the newspaper provided extended photographic
coverage to report the murder of a popular SA man with a series of ten
two-column photographs, spread over two pages, to visualize his funeral
(Der Angriff, February 6, 1933).
Generally, however, the press lacked the support and talent of professionals,
like photographers and picture editors, who probably never sympathized
with the Nazi cause. In fact, Gidal reports that most of the important
photojournalists had refused picture agencies the permission to offer
their work to the Nazi press (1972, p. 26). Also, the conception of
press photographers was ruled by centralized considerations and governed
by the organization of the party press. The role of journalists in the
party organization was contained within the definition of the Nazi press
(by Hitler and Goebbels) as a political instrument of agitation and
with strictly political goals; journalists, including photographers,
were to serve as mobilizers under Goebbels' goal "not to inform,
but to stimulate, incite, prod" (Stein, 1987, p. 101).
Also, during the early 1930s an anticipated party press service was
supposed to include a picture service; but the photographic coverage,
particularly of Hitler, continued to be directed by the party leadership.
In this case, it belonged exclusively to Hoffmann by directive to editorial
staffs throughout the country (Stein, 1987, p. 270). After 1933, however,
there was a discussion of the wider use of Hitler photographs, based
on the argument that images were powerful factors in creating public
opinion (Zeitungs-Verlag, 1933c, p. 447).
With the time of the Nazi victory in 1933, the production and selection
of photographic material was to be governed by the notion of responsibility
to people and state which also defined the nature of journalistic work,
including press photography, and controlled access to the profession.
In the meantime, German publishers struggled against their own demise.
But it was too late. They were denounced by Hitler who accused them
of having betrayed his cause. The press law of 1934 changed the media
Once in control of the German press through emergency decrees and new
laws, the use of photographs for propaganda purposes became widespread.
At that time press photography was redefined as a necessary instrument
of Nazi enlightenment. A Nazi writer argued that its power of representation
and appeal had popularized and reinforced the idea of race among large
numbers of people and had aided the efforts to rally the population
around specific causes (Wulf, 1966, p. 126). Willy Stiewe (1933b), one
of the most visible writers on photography at that time, suggested that
the future belonged to images. "We have experienced the powerful
effects of the picture on the minds of the ordinary man, when the picture,
falsified and retouched, was used deliberately as a weapon against Germany
by dark sources." He also credited the power of photographs with
the possibility of starting new, large newspapers, since the attractiveness
of photographic images would effectively increase advertising revenues
(pp. 3-4). Elsewhere he was among the first to demand a "cleansing"
of the profession from photojournalists who acted irresponsibly towards
the interests of Germany and whose profit motives were more important
than their ethics. He also urged that the activities of German picture
sources and their uses abroad be studied carefully (Stiewe, 1933a, p.
But more importantly, when the control of the German press through state
directives became a standard practice of the Nazi government, a series
of specific and concrete recommendations about the use of photographs,
issued on a daily basis or whenever needed, restricted news and documentary
photography. They also provided editors with immediate government feedback
to photographic practices. Official reactions ranged from reminders
that Hitler portraits could only be published with his approval and
through registered picture agencies (Wulf, 1966, p. 107), to detailed
comments and criticisms that resembled movie scripts. There appeared
one-paragraph notices in July and September 1933 that only German enterprises
and Arian photographers were allowed to do business, foreigners were
exempted (Zeitungs-Verlag, 1933a, p. 458; 1933b, p. 618). One of the
reasons German photographers had liked working for foreign picture agencies
after January, 1933 was that it was safer for those persecuted by the
Nazis than any employment by domestic agencies -- but not for long (Kerbs,
1983, pp. 26-28).
Official guidance of photographic content did not occur until January
1934. At that time it was forbidden to publish photographs showing members
of government and leading politicians at public functions, such as banquets.
Violators were closed down (Toepser-Ziegert, 1985, p. 18). Since there
were no earlier official restrictions, or official complaints to editors,
this could be taken as a sign that initially photographs were not seen
as dangerous or subversive. Obviously their regulation did not play
a major role during the initial phase of press control by the Nazi bureaucracy.
Later, however, picture editors, particularly of magazines, were summoned
to attend special conferences, like in September 1936, when the use
of photographs against Bolshevism and in support of the party rally
in Nürnberg was decided. At that time, the publication of tasteless
and upsetting photographs, usually not found in the German press, was
promoted to document poverty, forced labor, and atheism, and specific
topics were assigned to be covered by illustrated magazines (Koszyk,
1972, p. 374). On another occasion in 1937, Goebbels expressed his anger
over the use of boring photographs by the press. He promoted the use
of lively and interesting photographs, condemned the use of clichés
in the coverage of public events, and urged photographers to spend more
time capturing interesting scenes (Koszyk, 1972, p. 378).
As a result, the Nazi press seemed to act conservatively in the adoption
of photographs, but was actually short of funding while it was guided
by central party orders and the consequences of Hitler's preference
for speech, pure propaganda, and pamphleteering at the expense of journalistic
practices. Thus, with some exceptions, the propaganda mission of the
press did not include the widespread and consistent use of photographs.
After 1933, however, and with the acquisition of much of the mainstream
press and its editorial staffs, photographic images became welcome and
essential instruments of propaganda. Indeed, as became apparent after
1945, the Nazis used photographs (and film) to meticulously document
The introduction of photojournalism during the Weimar Republic was the
result of a collective awareness of the new potential of photographic
practices that reached across different ideological territories and
were influenced by developments abroad. It was applied effectively in
producing commercial and political images while setting professional
standards of the field.
However, with the exception of the magazine press, particularly of the
left and the liberal and conservative mainstream, newspaper publishers,
including political parties, were cautious about the use of photographs.
The debate among organized publishers about the cultural mission of
the press and its responsibilities towards an educated readership suggests
a deeply conservative, if not reactionary attitude towards cultural
innovation and technological progress. The discovery and deployment
of photographs seemed more like a necessary, even unavoidable reaction
to the increased popularity of illustrated magazines among all classes
of German society. It was accompanied by a fear of losing readers and
advertising revenue. In addition, the increasing popularity -- and the
real or imagined effectiveness of visual representations of reality
-- created a new threat to marginal publications. Among them were party
newspapers, particularly regional and local publications with a lack
of funding and personnel, but also with a tradition of an unrelenting
orthodoxy in matters related to the definition of a party publication.
Thus, the offerings of Communist, Social Democratic, or National Socialist
newspapers remained highly politicized and unattractive to many readers,
despite the fact that editors and party leadership knew better. The
practice of photojournalism, notwithstanding the uses of photographs
particularly in larger publications, magazines, or supplements, was
never fully explored and utilized by newspapers before 1933. Its variety,
however, suggests the presence of alternative productions of photography
as journalism based on different social and class interests vis-a-vis
the dominant social order.
The treatment of photographers paralleled the construction of photographs
as journalistic or propagandistic means of communication. While the
mainstream press discussed the needs for appropriate sources of picture
material, recognizing photographers as journalists with cameras, newspapers
on the left and right either counted on the potential of amateur (worker)
photography or insisted on a controlled, politically motivated entry
into the profession through selection.
In the end, political change rather than poor editorial judgments or
bankruptcy accomplished the death of the left press and many bourgeois
liberal and conservative newspapers and magazines. With it came the
loss of opportunities for adaptation and innovation. Until then, and
in the realm of magazine journalism only, the left had creatively employed
photography in an effort to confront the pictorial representation of
bourgeois reality. Although it catered to the interests of an enlightened
working class and attracted the attention of professional colleagues
and progressive readers, it may be assumed that it also served the Nazi
press as an example of effective propaganda.
For instance, Hitler had watched the election posters of the Communist
Party very carefully and the NSDAP successfully copied letters and forms
of these posters in working class districts. Hitler also admitted that
"we have selected the color red for our posters after careful and
formal considerations, to tease and upset the left to come to our meetings,
even if only to disrupt them, to be able to talk to these people"
(Fischer, 1989, p. 65). Likewise, Goebbels must have observed the success
of the AIZ, since an analysis of "Der Angriff" revealed many
similarities in the production and use of photographs for propaganda
And finally, the Nazi party embraced the importance of the visual statement
as an effective and necessary weapon in its propaganda efforts that
followed its victory in 1933 without much delay, and as soon as the
Weimar press, including its picture editors and photographers, was completely
under Nazi control. For instance, in a report about press photography,
a writer boasted by the end of 1933, that the number of picture stories
was rising in daily newspapers and that the Völkischer Beobachter carried
500-600 photographs per month (Zeitungs-Verlag, 1933d, p. 44). Also,
several top Nazi officials besides Hitler (Heinrich Hoffmann), including
Hermann Göring (Eitel Lange), Robert Ley (Kurt Boecker ), and Joachim
von Rippentrop (Helmut Laux) obtained their own photographers, (Kerbs,
1983, p. 30).
Prior to these developments, however, the climate of acceptance of photojournalism
was produced by a challenge of traditional practices, notions of culture,
and definitions of form or style of communication. It was characterized
by the (political) strength of conventional interpretations of journalism
and a reluctance to shift control over definitions and access away from
the newspaper industry or political organizations to outsiders. They
included individual photographers or picture agencies, particularly
foreign ones, which provoked ideas about cultural domination.
In fact, the discourse about photography as journalistic practice was
caught between the commercial and political intentions of newspaper
publishers and the success of visual representations of reality in the
public sphere. It was conducted in a general atmosphere of distrust
among competing ideological interests, which became transparent in the
application of photographs to making sense of the social, political,
and economic conditions of Weimar society. Hence, the history of photography
as cultural history permits not only a close look at the policies and
practices of photojournalism, but also considers photographic images
to provide context and content of being in the world.
of German texts by the author unless indicated; the spelling of names
in the text follows U.S. usage, although original references (in German
texts ) contain different spellings (for instance: Rodchenko/ Rodschenko).
Arbeiter-Fotograf. 1932. Notice. 6:9 (September), 194.
Barnouw, D. 1988. Weimar Intellectuals and the Threat of Modernity.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Barnouw, D.1994. Critical Realism. History, Photography, and the Work
of Siegfried Kracauer. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Unversity Press.
Beiler, B. (Ed.). 1967 Berichte, Erinnerungen, Gedanken. Zur Geschichte
der deutschen Arbeiterfotografie, 1926-1933. Berlin: Deutscher Kulturbund.
Benjamin, W. 1969. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.
In H. Arendt (Ed.),Illuminations (pp.217-251). New York: Schocken.
Benjamin, W.1977. Kleine Geschichte der Fotografie. In Das Kunstwerk
im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (pp. 45-64). Frankfurt:
Brecht, B.1975. An der Schwelle des zweiten Jahrzehnts. In H. Willmann,
Geschichte der Arbeiter-Illustrierten Zeitung, 1921-1938 ( p. 125).
Burgin, V. (Ed.).1982. Thinking Photography. London: MacMillan.
Büssemeyer, M.1930. Deutsche Illustrirte Presse. Ein Soziologischer
Versuch. Dissertation. Heidelberg: Ruprecht-Karls-Universität.
Büthe, J. et al. 1977. Der Arbeiter-Fotograf. Dokumente und Beiträge
zur Arbeiterfotografie, 1926-1932. Köln: Prometh Verlag.
Coke, V. D.1982 . Avantgarde Photography in Germany 1919-1939. New York:
de Mendelssohn, P.1959. Zeitungsstadt Berlin. Menschen und Mächte in
der Geschichte der deutschen Presse. Berlin: Ullstein.
Deutsche Presse. 1931. Wieviel nationalsozialistische Zeitungen gibt
es? 22: February 6, 68-69.
Deutsche Presse. 192.7. Wagenborg advertisement. 17:22-33, xxi.
Eyck, E.1962/63. A History of the Weimar Republic. 2 vols. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press.
Fischer, G.1989. 'Wir stehen schon wieder mitten im Wahlkampf' - eine
Analyse der Wahlpropaganda in der Weimarer Republik unter besonderer
Betrachtung der NSDAP. Dissertation. Osnabrück: Universität Osnabrück.
Freund, G.1980. Photography and Society. Boston: David R. Godine.
Friedrich, O.1972 . Before the Deluge. A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s.
New York: Harper & Row.
Frisby, D.1986. Fragments of Modernity: Theories of Modernity in the
Works of Simmel, Kracauer and Benjamin. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Garai, B. 1966.The Man from Keystone. New York: Living Books.
Gay, P. 1968. Weimar Culture. The Outsider as Insider. New York: Harper
Gidal, T. N. 1993 .Chronisten des Lebens. Die moderne Fotoreportage.
Berlin: edition q.
Gidal, T. N. 1972. Deutschland -- Beginn des modernen Photojournalismus.
Luzern: C. J. Bucher.
Gross, B. 1991. Willi Münzenberg. Eine politische Biografie. Leipzig:
Grunberger, R.1971. The 12-Year Reich. A Social History of Nazi Germany.
1933-45. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Hale, O. J.1964. The Captive Press in the Third Reich. Princeton: Princeton
Hardt, H.1979 . Social Theories of the Press. Early German and American
Perspectives. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Hardt, H.1989. Pictures for the msses: Photography and the rise of popular
magazines in Weimar Germany. Journal of Communication Inquiry 13:1 (Winter),
Hardt, H.1992. Social uses of radio in Germany: An American perspective,
1924- 30. Journal of Communication Inquiry 16:2 (Summer), 7-20.
Heidegger, M. 1962 Being and Time . New York: Harper and Row. Originally
published in 1927 as Sein und Zeit.
Hoernle, E.1978. The Working man's eye. In D. Mellor (Ed.), Germany.
The New Photography. 1927-33 (pp. 47-49). London: Arts Council of Great
Journalistik, Fakultät für.1958. Geschichte der Deutschen Presse. Lehrbrief
10. Berlin: VEB Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften.
Kerbs, D., Uka, W. & Walz-Richter, B. 1983. Die Gleichschaltung
der Bilder. Zur Geschichte der Pressefotografie, 1930-36. Berlin: Fröhlich
Khan-Magomedov, S. O. 1987. Rodchenko. The Complete Work. V. Quilici.
Ed. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Korff, K.1994. Die Illustrierte Zeitschrift. In A. Kaes, M. Jay &
E. Dimendberg (Eds.), The Weimar Republic Sourcebook. (pp. 646-647).
Berkeley: University of California Press.
Koszyk, K.1972. Deutsche Presse. 1914-1945. Geschichte der deutschen
Presse. Teil 3. Berlin: Colloquium Verlag.
Kozintsev, G., Trauberg, L., Yutkevich, S., & Kryzhitsky, G.1988.
Eccentrism. In R. Taylor & I. Christie (Eds.), The Film Factory.
Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents. (pp. 58-64). Cambridge: Harvard
University Press. Originally published in 1922.
Kracauer, S.1977. Das Ornament der Masse. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
Lachmann, I. 1932. Die Zukunft der Bildberichterstattung. Deutsche Presse
22/7: Februar 13, 75-77.
Laqueur, W.1974. Weimar: A Cultural History, 1918-1933. New York: G.
Lavin, M.1993 .Cut with the Kitchen Knife: The Weimar Photomontages
of Hannah Höch. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Lerg, W. B. 1980. Rundfunkpolitik in der Weimarer Republik. München:
Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag.
Lorant, S.1983. Interview with Stefan Lorant. Lenox, MA, May.
Lorsy, E.1994. Die Stunde des Kaugummis. In A. Kaes, M. Jay and E. Dimendberg
(Eds.),The Weimar Republic Sourcebook. (pp. 662-663). Berkeley:University
of California Press.
Man, F.1984. Man with Camera. Photographs from Seven Decades. New York:
Matthies, J. 1987. Zur Entwicklung des SPD-Zentralorgans"Vorwärts."
Berlin, 1923-1933. Diplomarbeit. Leipzig: Karl-Marx-Universität, Sektion
Mellor, D. 1978. London-Berlin-London: A cultural history. The reception
and influence of the new German photography in Britain 1927-33. In D.
Mellor (Ed.), Germany: The New German Photography 1927-1933. (pp.113-130).
London: Arts Council of Great Britain.
Michelson, A. (Ed. 1984. Kino-Eye. The Writings of Dziga Vertov. Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Mills, C. W.1956. The Power Elite. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mitchell, W. J. T. 1994 . Picture Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago
Molderings, H.1978. Urbanism and technological utopianism. In D. Mellor
(Ed.), Germany: The New German Photography 1927-1933. (pp. 87-94). London:
Arts Council of Great Britain.
Münzenberg, W. 1977. Propaganda als Waffe. Frankfurt: März.
Neumann, E. (Ed.).1993. Bauhaus and Bauhaus People. New York: Van Nostrand.
Ohrn, K. & Hardt, H.1981. The eyes of the proletariat: The worker-photography
movement in Weimar Germany. Studies in Visual Communication 7:3 (Summer
Pachnicke P. & Honnef, K. (Eds.)1992. John Heartfield. New York:
Harry N. Abrams.
Pachter, H. 1982. Weimar Etudes. New York: Columbia University Press.
Phillips, C. (Ed.).1989. Photography in the Modern Era. European Documents
and Critical Writings, 1913-1940. New York: Aperture.
Roland, G.1977. Fotografie als Waffe. Geschichte der sozialdokumentarischen
Saunders, T. J. 1994. Hollywood in Berlin. American Cinema and Weimar
Germany. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Smith, C. Z. 1986. Black Star picture agency: Life's European connection.
Journalism History 13:1 (Spring), 19-24.
Stein, P.1987. Die NS-Gaupresse 1925-1932. Forschungsbericht--Quellenkritik--neue
Bestandaufnahme. München: K.G. Saur.
Stern, F.1965. The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise
of the Germanic Ideology. Garden City, NY: Doubleday/Anchor.
Stiewe, W.1933a. Das Zeitungsbild in der Staatspropaganda. Deutsche
Presse 23:7 (April 15), 76-78.
Stiewe, W.1933b. Der Kampf um das Bild. Zeitungs-Verlag. Fachblatt für
das gesamte Zeitungswesen. 4: November 4, 3-4.
Stiewe, W.1930. Schacher mit den Passionsspielen. Deutsche Presse 20/17
(April 26), 168.
Toepser-Ziegert, G. 1985. NS-Presseanweisungen der Vorkriegszeit. Band
2: 1934. München: K. G. Saur.
Villard, O.G.1933. The German Phoenix. The Story of the Republic. New
York: Harrison Smith & Robert Haas.
von Hofmannsthal, H.1921. Der Ersatz für die Träume. Das Tagebuch 2,
Watney, S.1982. Making strange: The shattered mirror. In V. Burgin (Ed.),Thinking
Photography. (pp. 154-176). London: MacMillan.
Willett, J. 1984. The Weimar Years: A Culture Cut Short. London: Thames
Willett, J.1978. Art and Politics in the Weimar Period: The New Sobriety
1917-1933. New York: Pantheon.
Williams, R.1980. Problems in Materialism and Culture. London: Verso.
Wulf, J. (Ed.).1966. Presse und Rundfunk im Dritten Reich. Eine Dokumentation.
Hamburg: rororo edition.
Zeitungs-Verlag.1928a. Die kulturelle Bedeutung des Zeitungsbildes.
Zeitungs-Verlag. Fachblatt für das gesamte Zeitungswesen 29: March 31,
Zeitungs-Verlag.1928b. Ein neuer journalistischer Berufszweig: der Bildredakteur.
Zeitungs- Verlag. Fachblatt für das gesamte Zeitungswesen 30: July 28,
Zeitungs-Verlag.1928c. Der Presse-Photograph. Zeitungs-Verlag. Fachblatt
für das gesamte Zeitungswesen 18: May 5, 901-904.
Zeitungs-Verlag.1930. Die Verflachung der Bildberichterstattung. Zeitungs-Verlag.
Fachblatt für das gesamte Zeitungswesen 29: July 19, 1181-84.
Zeitungs-Verlag.1931. Bildsünden der deutschen Presse. Zeitungs-Verlag.
Fachblatt für das g esamte Zeitungswesen 32: February 7, 99-100.
Zeitungs-Verlag. 1932. Die Bilderfrage und die Tageszeitungen. Zeitungs-Verlag.
Fachblatt für das gesamte Zeitungswesen 31: July 30, 528.
Zeitungs-Verlag. 1933a. Nur deutshe Unternehmungen für Bildberichterstattungen.
Zeitungs-Verlag. Fachblatt für das gesamte Zeitungswesen 34: July 15,
Zeitungs-Verlag. 1933b. Nur noch arische Pressephotographen. Zeitungs-Verlag.
Fachblatt für das gesamte Zeitungswesen 34: September 23, 618.
Zeitungs-Verlag. 1933c. Führerbilder - Freie Benutzung oder Nachbildung?
Zeitungs-Verlag. Fachblatt für das gesamte Zeitungswesen 34: Juli 8,
Zeitungs-Verlag. 1933d . Sondernummer zur Ausstellung DIE KAMERA, Presse-Photo.
Zeitungs-Verlag 34: November 4, 44.
Zeman, Z.A.B. 1973 Nazi Propaganda. London: Oxford University Press.