Photography, Publics, and Weimar Republic Pacifism

IES, along with an audience of 20, welcomed Jonathan Long, Professor of German and Digital Culture at the University of Durham (UK), for a lecture on pacifism in the Weimar Republic. To begin, Long discussed Ernst Friedrich’s photobook entitled Krieg dem Krieg (War Against War!). Drawing attention Friedrich’s “Appeal to human beings of all lands”, Long described how Friedrich used the book as a request for people to send him anything that had to do with war, including post-war photos, war reports, army orders, speeches, placards, songs, poems, books, and toy soldiers. Observing that Friedrich aimed to use these items to open a military museum, Long reflected how such an establishment would prominently publicize war violence in a manner that was meant to elicit a response. Long then went on to describe how War Against War! served as a counter-discourse, by which the words on the page would appeal to war heroism while the photo on the page would display the horrors of war. Both the photobook and the museum, Long argued, shocked the public. The grotesque photos of wounded soldiers in the museum’s display windows had the same effect. Friedrich’s overt advertising of the violence of war did not exist without consequences; in addition to his being convicted thirteen times for charges related to censorship, the Berlin police removed 77 images from this display window.

The second work Long analyzed was John Heartfield’s Nach Zehn Jahren. Long showed that Heartfield was a vocal critic of the military and cited the photograph “Nach Zehn Jahren: Vater und Sohne (1924)” (“Ten Years of Fathers and Sons”), which depicts fathers that sent their sons to their deaths. He also commented on the political potential of technology, particularly as was realized through the photographs’ reproducibility. During the Q&A that followed the lecture, Long discussed the historical reception, or lack thereof, of Friedrich’s exhibition and book, especially by academics and veterans. Scholars at the time considered Friedrich to be a small-scale “rogue presence,” so they did not take him very seriously. The government also, for the most part, ignored his work despite its somewhat subversive and disturbing themes. As Long noted, Friedrich’s work in general occurred on a small scale: He ran his own press in the back room of his museum and printed extra copies of his book whenever he needed to raise money. Long also talked about atrocity photography and the role of “we,” saying that, in many cases, the audience consisted of a specifically Western and liberal group that was removed from the subject matter. In order to fix this and increase political efficacy, he pointed to the need to move past the mere process of making acts visible.