'Into the North window of my chamber glows the Pole Star with uncanny light ...'
H. P. Lovecraft, Polaris
Over recent months I have been thinking and writing about the relationship between the staging and use of völkisch photography and the identification of these people with the Atlantis myth (yes, Atlantis). It's a somewhat complex relationship involving esoteric ideas born out of the nineteenth century; National Socialism and the Occult; the work of an 'outsider' Dutch academic Herman Wirth (1885-1981); and the crypto-history of the origins of the Aryans. This week I completed an essay on this subject entitled: Beyond the North Wind: Völkisch Photography, Crypto-History and the Bloodline of Thule.
What to me is fascinating (having myself come from a background of creative photography) is how, the völkisch photographers I've been researching, were using still photography to make work that was, just as cinema was doing at the same time, breaking the bounds of its empirical realm. Like the metaphorical and staged creative photography associated with Modernism, I suggest that some of these photographers were using their medium as a catalyst, as a lapis philosophorum, that might transmute the imagination and open the doors of perception onto other possible ‘truths’. Whilst also being posited as racial and ethnographic (and thus useful propaganda), the pictures are also staged, they are a photographic theatre. The people in the photographs appear to be strident archetypes, materialisations in silver of forces that were coursing through the Germanosphere. Carl Jung had suggested such a manifestation when he wrote in his essay 'Wotan' (1936): ‘a god has taken possession of the Germans and their house is filled with a “mighty rushing wind.” ‘ Whether any of the photographers believed the myth that they were creating is (as yet) unknown, the possibility of knowing lost in the calumny, revision and career-denial of the post-war era.
The people in the photographs are ordinary people, farmers and people of (in the main) the countryside. They are the actors on the photographer's stage. This was not an uncommon usage in the 1930s as the genre of Documentary photography evolved. The story was told using 'real' actors.
To look upon these völkisch photographic folios is to be presented with both a mirror and a mythos. The intended audience of the illustrated books they produced was expected to identify with the photographs, recognise that they were linked - it is an Identitarian process. The aim was to reinforce a sense of connectedness, an organic society, of cultural and racial unity against the growing power of the forces of globalism. The mythlore, the crypto-history, the second narrative of these photographs, was that the origin of those in the photographs (and by extension the reader or viewer who identified with them) had an alternative and unique origin in a primordial homeland distinct from all the other races of man. They had come from Ultima Thule, Atlantis, Hyperborea, Arktos... This suggestion was intended to be liberating.
As Goodrick-Clarke wrote, this, 'ancient high Thuata civilisation from which the Nordic sea peoples had set forth in their swan and dragon ships to colonise the Atlantic world reflected a utopian imperialism for those who bewailed the impotence and demoralization of the Weimar republic. Pessimists and opponents of the present were drawn to his [Wirth's] idea that a revival of this Thuata-Atlantean culture would signal the rebirth of the Germanic race and the liberation of mankind from the curse of modernity.’
(Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. New York: New York U.P., 2003. 130.)