By Paul Garson
Published by Amberley
Although its subject matter is Germany, this slim volume is packed full of photographs garnered by the author from around the world, from the USA to such surprising places as Argentina, Turkey, and Israel.
Professional and amateur photographs are represented, and supplemented by advertising imagery relating to photographic equipment and film.
Several images of cameras and equipment, all belonging to the author, extends into a discussion of the moving image.
As indicated by the title, the photographs are primarily military, taken by and of soldiers, and, although there are many pictures of World War II, the book includes much material from the Thirties.
Looking at the pre-war period enables Garson to show us how heavily embedded photography was in German culture. A German Labour Front text from the period writes that:
The education of the people includes photography and should provide each and every citizen with the technical knowledge to enable them to persevere responsibly in this domain and to control their own cameras.
It seems to have become almost a tenet of Nazi philosophy that having photos of family life to leave to the younger generations would be more inspirational than ‘any number of speeches’. Agfa, in an advert for their
film, even claimed that photographs would be eine Brücke zwischen Front und Heimat (‘a bridge between Front and Home’).
It is no surprise, then, that the German photographic industry was one of the world leaders at this time, and one of the book’s most useful sections is a listing of camera and film manufacturers. Familiar names like Rollei and Leica appear, but there are others that are unfamiliar to the modern reader, such as Franka, Goerz (who would also go on to make searchlights), and Plaubel. Each entry is accompanied by a brief description of the company and its products.
There is a similar but shorter list for film and home-movie cameras. Perhaps the most famous of the motion-picture cameras was the Arriflex 35, introduced in 1937 and one of the most advanced cameras in the world at the time. Over 3,000 films would be made with this camera during the Nazi era.
Garson writes that ‘filmmaking in Germany was considered high art, and so were its motion picture cameras.’ Just as still photography was encouraged, so too was moviemaking. As early as 1900, film was seen as a great educational tool, and it was increasingly institutionalised thereafter. The Nazi state had no doubt about the potential – to such an extent that over 80,000 schools participated in a scheme that provided films and projectors.
Many students would go on to study film at a higher level, providing the professional base of the Nazi state’s propaganda machine.
However, many of the photographs in the book show the work of the amateur photographer, whether records of the war, ceremonial events, or just daily routine in the army. Many, of course, are pictures of family and friends. And there is a lighter side, with humorous pictures being especially popular, whether a soldier riding an ‘ice elephant’, a contrast between little and large, or trick photographs where a line of troopers are portrayed carrying their own heads.
An intriguing range of photos, with some useful information, but a little better organisation might have made the book even more useful.
Review by Keith Robinson
This article was published in the December 2019 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.