A Radical Tradition: Völkisch Photographers of the German Reich
This touring exhibition (and accompanying text) explored 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 was produced as part of the visual narrative of a National Socialist romanticism of the peasant and the ‘Heimat' – a study of Ethnos. Often what was visualised looked backwards through a blend of myth, legend, race science, and occult currents to a divine origin of the 'Aryan' who had, it was suggested, emerged in a distant time from an Ultima Thule. And, Janus-like, this work was part of an ideology that also looked forward to a rebirth, an epic palingenesis where, out of the dying decadent world, a new one would be forged in fire and blood. The fact that this German photography was ideological signifies that the work should be understood. The power of photography to form and direct public opinion, information, and ideas has been well documented. Yet a self-conscious visual literacy, an informed understanding and respect for the influence that a constant exposure to the image can effect, is still remarkably uncommon even in our over-exposed, image-saturated culture. Comprehending the power-potential of these images is as relevant today in our increasingly polarised world, as it was over 80 years ago.
The exhibition, A Radical Tradition, toured as follows:
Manchester Central Library, Manchester, England - 4 March - 30 April 2019.
Aberystwyth University, School of Art Galleries, Aberystwyth, Wales - 24 February - 1 May 2020.
For a little more information on these photographers and former research see my old site