So then…what is a “true” photographic essay.
4 Photographic Physiognomies: Diagnosing Germanness
Aside from their common historical origins and shared thematic interests, photo essays are also significant as a marker of an important aesthetic change more often considered in the context of written language. Like the major works by modernist authors such as Alfred Döblin, Marcel Proust, or James Joyce, narrative photography participated in modernism’s challenge to traditional modes of reading and understanding. The presence of photographs in print media demanded that audiences learn to read the pages in front of them in new ways. Regarding the relationship of text and image in interwar Europe, art historian Matthew S. Witkovsky has rightfully suggested that photo essays “shifted the traditional terms of their interaction.” The diverse photo essay forms of Weimar Germany are evidence of this shifting, which makes it possible to think about them together under an umbrella of conceptual unity that today may not seem as self-evident.
You will witness a one on one erotic photographic adventure.
Moreover, these diverse photo essay forms evince shared concern with the pressing (and also not so pressing) political and social issues of their time and the optimistic view that photography could help resolve them: the fragility of Weimar democracy after the compounded crises of defeat in World War I, including political revolution and hyperinflation; the profound transformations of the natural world in the modern age; the perception that Germany faced a critical identity crisis of world-historical importance; and, of course, the manifold new forms of diversion and recreation available in a modernized world. Photographers with profoundly heterogeneous political and aesthetic leanings and thematic interests in Weimar Germany produced important works about a long list of important topics. The Bauhaus-trained photographer Moishe Vorobeichic reflected on the fate of Jews in the face of modernity and secularization in Vilna: Ein Ghetto im Osten (The Ghetto Lane in Vilna). Else Neuländer-Simon, working pseudonymously as Yva, composed picture stories for the culture magazine Uhu about changing gender roles and the figure of die Neue Frau (the New Woman). Essayist and satirist Kurt Tucholsky teamed with the Dadaist photomonteur John Heartfield to criticize rabid nationalism in Deutschland, Deutschland über alles. And architect Erich Mendelssohn dissected Germany’s love-hate relationship with America in Amerika: Bilderbuch eines Architekten (America: An Architect’s Picture Book). These examples—and there are many more—speak not only to the wide range of topics that photo essayists addressed; they also point to a new but, as we shall see, ultimately misguided confidence in the roles photo essays could play in shaping opinions in ways that words or images on their own did or could not. In photo essays, photographs may have functioned like written or spoken language, but as with written or spoken language, they could also be co-opted and misused.