Revolutionizing Weimar Germany's Public Sphere

Step 5: Now again: Read and Look!

In addition to directing the readers to differentiate between the photographed subject as a private figure or as part of a social class, Tucholsky is asking them to rely on their body and senses, in short, their individuality. When interacting with DD’s photographs, probably the most powerful way, I argue, is Tucholsky’s and Heartfield’s goal to educate the reader to become visually literate. The reader is tasked to take a step back so as to not identify herself with the subjects, the parts of a mass, but to look beyond and recognize just how powerful photographs, montages and photomontages can be. While Tucholsky comments in-depth on the first photograph of GGhe seems to neglect the other two ones: the press photographers at work and the group photograph of the club members. Yet, their careful placement within and next to the text performs essentially a montage that creates a second, visual narrative for this preface, in addition to the textual one. 

            The image of the group of photographers is unlike the other two ones, neither preceding or following the text. It is set on the right side of the page, its width broader than the text to the left to it. In fact, the text’s narrow, column-like appearance underlines its content: a list of subjects and places whose images conjure up an image of Germany, captured in a “picture book,” as Tucholsky writes at the end of the list (2). It is no coincidence that the photo of the photographers is to the right of this text column. Their lenses are after all pointed to the left, underlining that, indeed, the list of places are the photos the reader finds in picture books. Though they are not shown here in the blank space between the text and the image, they probably come to the reader’s mind.

While the reader is learning about how meaningfully text and images can be combined here, let’s not forget that the photograph in itself acts out what Tucholsky asks for from his readers when he addresses the binary of a photo’s subject either being a private one or a typical figure for a group or class. While the first group photo indeed left this binary undecided, the image of the press photographers does not. These men all hold their cameras, wear coats, while tasked to stand outside and wait for the event or subject to be photographed. This picture is not staged, it just seems to be another photographer observing his colleagues at work. The subjects do not look towards the camera, and many of their faces are not clearly visible, blurred even, or hidden behind cameras. In fact, the lenses and their cameras are dominating, not their identities. The reader is not questioning their single identities or is interested in them. The visual narrative of this single photograph is then even further extended when seen in relationship with the other two photos. To that end, the reader has to take another step further back, recognizing the montage of the entire preface:

While the second photograph shows in itself how the ambiguity of private and public can be resolved, at the same time, in context with the other two photos, it demonstrates the power of the photograph that does not lie in depicting events and subjects authentically, but in creating ambiguity or, on the contrary, imposing an unambiguity. With the photographers’ lenses pointed left, it appears that, on the opposite page, they are photographing the men and women of the first group photo. Since it is not just a random photo of workers shown here, but a mass of press photographers, the image to the left is put in a different context, questioning whether this is a private group shot, intended for a photo album, or a group of famous public figures photographed at a time of leisure.

Factoring in the third photo of this preface — the members of a club standing next to each other, the photo taken from an angle as if the photographers of the second photo had taken the picture — the sense that the first photo is one of the public for the public is reinforced. 
Whether this is the case or not, the montage of these three photographs in a consecutive, interacting way at least suggests this interpretation. More importantly, it instructs and educates readers to watch out for more of such visual narratives in GG that require readers, in addition to identifying themselves with the subjects, to take a step back and view everything as if from the outside. 

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