Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history
Time: March 4, 2019 at 6pm to April 30, 2019 at 8pm
Location: Manchester Central Library, First Floor Exhibition Hall
Street: St Peter's Square, City Centre, M2 5PD
Website or Map: https://www.manchester.gov.uk…
Phone: 0161 234 1983
Event Type: exhibition, opening
Latest Activity: Feb 3, 2019
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This touring exhibition (and accompanying text) explores the work of three relatively unknown twentieth century German photographers - Hans Saebens (1895-1969), Hans Retzlaff (1902-1965) and Erich Retzlaff (1899-1993). Their work during the 1930s and 1940s was produced as part of the widely disseminated visual narrative of a National Socialist romanticism of the peasant and the ‘Heimat' – a study of Ethnos. Photography certainly became an integral tool in delineating the notion of a unified German identity during the National Socialist era. Like their Soviet contemporaries many photographers had no opportunity to leave Germany even if they desired to do so, and of course, many interpreted the new dispensation as a positive transformation whether in terms of increased patronage (because of their existing reputations) or in terms of new opportunities (as other practitioners fell afoul of National Socialism). What was certain was that, in order to continue practising their craft, photographers needed to be aware of, and in line with, the expectations of the new National Socialist state. The photography being explored here was constructed to render an image of the face, the body and even geography and the landscape in a context of Ethnos, a physical and metaphysical ethno-physiognomy of Germany. In addition, these photographers were highly skilled practitioners whose approach reflected international trends in avant-garde photography. They often adapted and applied the aesthetics of the ‘New Vision’ that resulted in a more direct, sharply focused and sometimes documentary approach to their medium. The work echoed the direct straight approach of many of the Modernist photographers in America at that time. Indeed, some of the similarities are striking. With straight, sharp, close cropped images, these German counterparts were also pioneering in using state-of-the-art early twentieth century photographic technologies like the 35mm Leica camera and new film advances such as the Agfacolor Neu film introduced in 1936. Yet, the closeness of these photographers to National Socialism has ensured that in mainstream histories and museology their work has been critically marginalised, pushed into an art-historical closet. However, like music, film, painting and other artistic forms made during the Third Reich, creative photography that celebrated Ethnos cannot be merely regarded as an anomaly that is best forgotten, glossed over or ignored.The very fact that this photography was ideological signifies that the work should be understood. In addition, these images have now become memory-shadows still haunting the fringes of our digital information highways (reappearing on the internet through social media and image and video file sharing sites for example). This photographic work remains, a continuing manifestation of a political, ideological, esoteric and Romantic mélange unique to its time. An examination of this seeming ‘revolt against the modern’ is timely today as the modern world experiences an increasing polarisation of forces either supportive of, or reactive to, the deleterious pressures of neo-liberalism and globalisation.
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