top of page

Photography in the Third Reich: Art, Physiognomy and Propaganda

This lucid and comprehensive collection of essays by an international group of scholars constitutes a photo-historical survey of select photographers who embraced National Socialism during the Third Reich. These photographers developed and implemented physiognomic and ethnographic photography, and, through a Selbstgleichschaltung (a self-co-ordination with the regime), continued to practice as photographers throughout the twelve years of the Third Reich.

The volume explores, through photographic reproductions and accompanying analysis, diverse aspects of photography during the Third Reich, ranging from the influence of Modernism, the qualitative effect of propaganda photography, and the utilisation of technology such as colour film, to the photograph as ideological metaphor. With an emphasis on the idealised representation of the German body and the role of physiognomy within this representation, the book examines how select photographers created and developed a visual myth of the ‘master race’ and its antitheses under the auspices of the National Socialist state. Photography in the Third Reich approaches its historical source photographs as material culture, examining their production, construction, and proliferation. This detailed and informative text will be a valuable resource not only to historians studying the Third Reich, but to scholars and students of film, history of art, politics, media studies, and cultural studies.

(C. P. Webster: Originator, editor and chapter contributor)

Published by OpenBookPublishers, Photography in the Third Reich

A Radical Tradition

A 2019 touring exhibition (and book) that 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 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 constant exposure to the image can effect are 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.

A deluxe and illustrated German-language limited collector's edition was published by Verlag Antaios in 2021.

Screenshot 2021-11-03 at 12.12.13.png
Screenshot 2021-11-03 at 12.22.09.png
bottom of page