Photography as Political Practice in National Socialism

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Humanities

Abstract

Photographs crucially defined National Socialism (NS), for contemporaries as well as later generations. Yet outside some instances of formal propaganda, scholars have paid little attention to photos -- with ethical consequences that continue to affect the ways we remember Nazism and its victims today.

Millions of photos were taken in this period by hobbyist and casual photographers; an estimated 10% of Germans owned a camera in 1939, many more participated in the practice. These photos are records both of people's engagement with the dictatorship, and of their efforts to distance and separate themselves from it. They are evidence of the interaction between ideology and subjectivity, of politics and lived experience: materially, because many albums mixed personal photos and ideological artefacts, e.g. newspaper cuttings, and metaphorically, because many people positioned themselves in and through photos, as participants in public life under Nazism, at political events and rallies, in organised leisure programmes, child evacuations, volunteer and compulsory labour services, or in the war. Some photos also offer insights into alternate private worlds that individuals sought to construct as a refuge or a place of separation from politics. In the case of Jewish Germans, photos show different emotional dispositions, contracting social spaces, narratives of emigration and escape, or experiences of persecution, in ways that challenge the official photographic record.

This project brings a range of methodological insights -- from photographic history, political iconography, visual anthropology, from the study of ego-documents and the everyday lives of ideologies -- to bear on understanding not just what these photos show, but also, how the practice of photography itself shaped political behaviours: taking photos prompted and enabled people to position themselves politically, to assert power over others, or to oppose the ideological hegemony of the regime. Our team combines academic expertise in analysing photography under NS, especially in regard to the regime's marketing of 'private happiness' as a political reward, and for depicting and re-shaping occupied territories and their populations, with our track record in co-developing challenge-driven research questions with practitioners in the museum and education sectors specialising on NS and the Holocaust.

We have refined and tested our approach in two pilot projects and publications, and are confident that the systematic analysis of our source base proposed here will yield significant results. We will present the findings in two monographs, devoted respectively to the personal photos of Germans included in the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft, and the Jewish population excluded from it, in academic articles on in-between groups, such as the so-called 'ethnic Germans', and in publications devoted to the pedagogic opportunities created by this research. This project has important ethical implications for both the academic and public use of photos of the history of Nazism today. We shall work with our project partners, the National Holocaust Museum, and other professionals in museums and schools, to develop new pedagogies that draw on private photos reflecting the gaze of victims and that of the perpetrators. We will enable visitors and learners to view photographs -- originally designed to de-humanise their subjects -- to do the opposite.

To achieve these aims, we work as an interdisciplinary team: Umbach and Harvey, experts on the relationship between subjectivity and ideology among the different groups living under the NS regime; Mills, specialist in Holocaust education in schools; Benford, specialist in supporting museums to use digital technologies to engage visitors with difficult ethical issues; Necker, who has been involved in innovative exhibition designs for NS and Jewish histories; and Griffiths, project consultant, director of learning at the Holocaust Museum.

Planned Impact

Photography is a powerful medium through which museum visitors and pupils are confronted with National Socialism and the perpetrators and victims of the Holocaust. Photos convey seemingly authentic insights into this horrific past, and, it is often assumed, will automatically prompt the desired moral responses. Yet there is little evidence that such lessons are learned from simply viewing such images. The majority of photos from this period were taken by Nazi propaganda photographers and perpetrators implicated in ideological mobilisation, war, and genocide. Many of them were intended as a historical record for future generations, as the Nazi regime wanted us to remember it. These problems are rarely reflected in the way historical photos are used today. Few museums systematically juxtapose propaganda and perpetrator photos with those taken, often illicitly, by the victims themselves, who are thus inadvertently deprived, again, of individuality and agency.

Our impact strategy addresses these issues through four strands, each benefiting from the specific expertise of our team (cf 'Pathways'):

1. Partnering with the National Holocaust Centre and Museum (NHCM). Building on successful pilots, we will support the NHCM in articulating the next phase of their strategy, co-develop a concept for a new permanent exhibition that uses photos to tell the stories of both perpetrators and victims of the Holocaust, and juxtaposes personal and official photographs, to focus on individual perpetrator motivation and individual victim experience. Different pathways will be geared to different target groups (younger and older pupils, adult visitors; NHCM hosts c. 25,000 visitors p.a.). The visitor experience will be enhanced by customised 'disruptive technologies' that prompt personal reflection on the difficult ethical issues these photos raise, and on their contemporary resonance. Our design concept for the physical and virtual experience is scaleable, from a low-budget option, which can be implemented with the NHCM's current resources, to a comprehensive option, which will form part of the NHCM's planned HLF bid for a fundamental physical transformation of the site.

2. MOOC on 'Photographs, Nazism and the Holocaust'. Hosted by Futurelearn (see LoS), this free online course, developed with the help of consultant Griffiths, aims to recruit, over three iterations, c. 30,000 learners, pupils and adults (expected 50% UK, 50% international). It will sensitize learners to problems of propaganda photography, to private photos by supporters and perpetrators, and to the photographic record created by the regime's victims. The diversity of the MOOC learners will be harnessed for peer-to-peer learning, to demonstrate how different identities shape different readings of photos, which have no singular, 'objective' meaning. Target audience are current museum visitors, and those unable, for practical reasons, to visit the site.

3. Enhancing Holocaust Learning in UK schools. Working with 10 identified partner schools, and drawing on the NHCM's expertise in teacher engagement (consultant Griffiths), we will co-create new curriculum guidelines, learning materials and teacher resource packs to enable a reflexive use of photography in inquiry-based learning about NS and the Holocaust. Materials will be organised to target different beneficiaries: a preparation pack for school groups intending to visit the NHCM; a post-visit pack for pedagogic enhancement; and a pack for classes unable to visit the site.

4. Sharing best practice with museums. We will build on on our links with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the UCD Shoah Foundation, the Imperial War Museum London, the Obersalzberg Museum, and two visiting curators to the project (see Institutional LoS), to share the benefits of our work with museum partners seeking to enhance the way they use photography from NS, the Second World War and genocide to engage and educate their target audiences.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Only one year into the project, we are still working on the major academic outputs. We have, however, made an unforeseen discovery in an archive in Iowa, which contained a surprisingly complete archive, including over 20 photo album, of one German-Jewish family, chronicling their lives in Nazi Germany and their emigration to the United States in 1939. This allowed unprecedented insight into how an extended Jewish family used the technology of photography to negotiate their experience of life during the Nazi regime, and eventual flight to America. We have published our analysis of this as a monograph, which appeared in December 2018 in the Palgrave Pivot series (see outputs). It makes the case for viewing the history of Nazi Anti-Semitism not through the official photographs of the regime, but through they eyes of those who were at the receiving end of discrimination and persecution, where photographs are key to asserting the dignity and agency of those too often portrayed as passive victims.
Exploitation Route On 10 February 2019, PI Umbach presented the above findings in a public lecture at the Liberal Synagogue in Nottingham, as part of a study day for the congregation of Anti-Semitism, Past and Present. Rabbi Tanya Sakhnovich, who organised this event, was inspired by it to volunteer her time during a forthcoming 5-months sabbatical to work with the project team, to improve her understanding of the role of photography in understanding and commemorating the Holocaust, to enhance her future professional service.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783030007836
 
Description Thus far, our findings have been used by a number of external stakeholders. All these process are still ongoing, and details have been listed under collaborations. Key are: 1) the National Holocaust Centre and Museum: beyond the original impact plan, we have collaborated with this museum to create a successful bid to the Arts Council to fund a travelling exhibition, which will run from Setepmber 2019 to January 2021 in six UK venues. It consists of 4 key elements, 3 of which we have substantively co-designed: six large exhibition cases showcasing and explaining the photographic legacy of victims of the Holocaust, directly reflecting the work of the AHRC project team; a Mixed Reality Experience allowing visitors to deconstruct a "perpetrator photo" by stpping into the three-dimensional space of the photo and observing the propaganda photographer taking the image, designed by PI Umbach and Nottingham's Mixed Reality Lab; a contemporary art installation by Lina Selander, designed collaboratively with PI Umbach, reflecting on the vantage point from which contemporary audiences engage with Holocaust photography; and inter-active Holocaust testimony provided by the Museum. 2) the Ethnographic Museum Vienna, Austria, who have drawn on our team's experience to advice them on how to conduct interviews about crowd sourced photographs from the Nazi period, and design the resulting exhibition 3) the Liberal Synagogue of Nottingham, who have drawn on PI Umbach to deliver an education day for their congregation on Anti-Semitism, past and present. As a result, Rabbi Tanya Sakhnovich has now agreed to use her own 3-months sabbatical, commencing 1 April 2019, to join our project team as a volunteer researcher, to help us interview Holocaust survivors about their personal photographs, and in turn draw on our research to help her understand the perspective of Jewish victims onto Nazi persecution and its legacies.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Arts Council England bid for a travelling exhibition organised with the National Holocaust Museum
Amount £150,000 (GBP)
Funding ID ACPG-00125349 
Organisation Arts Council England 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 12/2020
 
Description Collecting and Exhibiting Photographs from National Socialism in Austria 
Organisation Museum of Ethnology Vienna
PI Contribution We have used the University of Nottingham HEIF fund to align two curatorial placements with the AHRC funded project. We are funding Herbert Justnik, from the Ethnographic Museum in Vienna, and Magdalena Vukovic, from the Bonartes Photo Gallery, to spend a total of 9 weeks, distributed across the life cycle of the project, working with the team on our UK campus. Since this collaboration commenced in November 2018, the PI (Umbach) and the PDRA (Necker) have been invited on multiple return visits to Vienna, to assist with the programme of interpretative events accompanying an exhibition on private photography from the Nazi era curated by Justnik at the Ethnographic Museum in Vienna, see url below.
Collaborator Contribution Herbert Justnik, from the Ethnographic Museum in Vienna, and Magdalena Vukovic, from the Bonartes Photo Gallery, have used their first, 3-week visits to the UK campus to advise the team on impact in the exhibition sector, shared examples of best practice in academic-practitioner collaboration, and sought our advice on their own plans going forward.
Impact An exhibition and accompanying programme of lectures and workshops at the Ethnographic Museum in Vienna, see url below for details. A small online exhibit at the Bonartes Photo Gallery in Vienna, see: https://postkarten.bonartes.org/index.php/postkarte-des-monats-detail/frueh-uebt-sich.html
Start Year 2018
 
Description Improving museum practice around Holocaust Exhibitions in the UK 
Organisation Arts Council England
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The academic team (PI, three CIs, and PDRA) have been working closely with our project partners, the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, to develop a new concept for their permanent exhibition. Key aims are to improve the use of difficult photographs in the exhibition and associated education programmes. I presented a discussion paper of our key recommendations at the Museum in April 2018. From this, the plan emerged the trial some of these ideas in a travelling temporary exhibition, to trail some of the new suggestions, gather evidence about visitor engagement, to then inform the long-term development of the Holocaust Museum. I then co-authored a bid to the Arts Council with staff from the Holocaust Museum (see below), which was successful.
Collaborator Contribution The National Holocaust Museum have put together a working group, of which I have been a core member, to develop a £150,000 bid to the Arts Council to create a national travelling exhibition, which simultaneously trials key ideas from our project, such as the use of Mixed Reality Interventions in the display of photographs, and creates a more genuinely national audience for the organisation, by running the exhibition, over an 18 months cycle, in 6 venues throughout the UK. We submitted the bid in September 2018. Sarah Capewell, Grant Manager at the Museum, and I were then invited for an interview with the Arts Council; a delegation from the Council also attended a digital workshop hosted by my team at the University of Nottingham, to learn more about the digital strategy behind our plans in early December 2018. We were awarded the grant on 20 December 2018, and are now working on the implementation. The exhibition will open in Huddersfield in September 2019.
Impact This is still work in progress. Initial output will be the travelling exhibition, from which we will gather visitor data in a range of ways, and then analyse, to inform the future development of the Holocaust Museum. In addition, we will create an online version of the exhibition, which will be housed on the Holocaust Museum website.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Improving museum practice around Holocaust Exhibitions in the UK 
Organisation National Holocaust Centre and Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The academic team (PI, three CIs, and PDRA) have been working closely with our project partners, the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, to develop a new concept for their permanent exhibition. Key aims are to improve the use of difficult photographs in the exhibition and associated education programmes. I presented a discussion paper of our key recommendations at the Museum in April 2018. From this, the plan emerged the trial some of these ideas in a travelling temporary exhibition, to trail some of the new suggestions, gather evidence about visitor engagement, to then inform the long-term development of the Holocaust Museum. I then co-authored a bid to the Arts Council with staff from the Holocaust Museum (see below), which was successful.
Collaborator Contribution The National Holocaust Museum have put together a working group, of which I have been a core member, to develop a £150,000 bid to the Arts Council to create a national travelling exhibition, which simultaneously trials key ideas from our project, such as the use of Mixed Reality Interventions in the display of photographs, and creates a more genuinely national audience for the organisation, by running the exhibition, over an 18 months cycle, in 6 venues throughout the UK. We submitted the bid in September 2018. Sarah Capewell, Grant Manager at the Museum, and I were then invited for an interview with the Arts Council; a delegation from the Council also attended a digital workshop hosted by my team at the University of Nottingham, to learn more about the digital strategy behind our plans in early December 2018. We were awarded the grant on 20 December 2018, and are now working on the implementation. The exhibition will open in Huddersfield in September 2019.
Impact This is still work in progress. Initial output will be the travelling exhibition, from which we will gather visitor data in a range of ways, and then analyse, to inform the future development of the Holocaust Museum. In addition, we will create an online version of the exhibition, which will be housed on the Holocaust Museum website.
Start Year 2018