Roger Hicks con­sid­ers… ‘Do you want to play with me, Mr. Hitler?’ 1940, by Mar­i­nus

Amateur Photographer - - Final Analysis - Roger Hicks has been writ­ing about pho­tog­ra­phy since 1981 and has pub­lished more than three dozen books on the sub­ject, many in part­ner­ship with his wife Frances Schultz (visit his new web­site at www.rogerand­frances.eu). Every week in this col­umn Roger de

‘Would any pho­to­graphic “purist”... say that this photomontage should never have been cre­ated?’

Mar­i­nus was the nom de plume ( nom d’ap­pareil?) of Dan­ish photographer Ja­cob Kjeldgaard, 18841964. This im­age is from the 1 May 1940 front page of Mar­i­anne, a French po­lit­i­cal pa­per, as re­pro­duced in a book called Hitler Blind, Stalin Lahm ( Hitler Blind, Stalin Lame) pub­lished in 2008 by Steidl to ac­com­pany an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­seum Lud­wig, Cologne. A few may still be avail­able new, and the usual se­cond-hand deal­ers have it.

The pho­tog­ra­phy is un­for­get­table, not least be­cause it goes to the heart of what pho­tog­ra­phy is for, and what ‘real’ pic­tures are. The other photographer fea­tured in the book is the Ber­liner John Heart­field (1891-1968), who changed his name from Hel­mut Herzfeld as a protest against anti-English sen­ti­ment dur­ing the Great War.

Both Heart­field and Mar­i­nus were masters of photomontage: ba­si­cally, chop­ping up pic­tures and glu­ing them to­gether. The book’s sub­ti­tle is Poli­tis­che Fo­tomon­tage der 1930er Jahre, and poli­tis­che (po­lit­i­cal) is im­por­tant. The text taxes my German to and be­yond its lim­its, but I don’t care. Some­times I can work out enough to learn more than the picture tells me, but mostly, the pho­to­graphs are their own lan­guage.

At first sight, this is a sim­ple news shot. Ex­cept of course that it never hap­pened. Even if it had, it’s too good to be true. Look at their ex­pres­sions, and the stacks of chips. Mar­i­nus leaves us in no doubt as to whom he is back­ing.

But is it a pho­to­graph? If it isn’t a photo, what is it? All right: it’s sev­eral pho­to­graphs. But it’s still pho­tog­ra­phy. It plays on our ac­cep­tance of the ‘truth’ of a pho­to­graph while de­lib­er­ately sub­vert­ing it. Pho­tog­ra­phy is a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the same way as pen and ink or a word pro­ces­sor: it is not re­spon­si­ble for what the artist does with it.

And whether it is a pho­to­graph or not, what does it tell us about mo­ti­va­tion? How far can we lie, cheat and steal in the cause of right­eous­ness? Sud­denly, a lot de­pends on our pre­con­cep­tions: on our def­i­ni­tions of ‘ lie’, ‘cheat’, ‘steal’ and ‘right­eous­ness’, to say noth­ing of ‘par­ody’ and ‘satire’. Would any pho­to­graphic ‘purist’, ex­cept a self-pro­claimed Nazi of lim­ited in­tel­li­gence, say that this photomontage should never have been cre­ated? To­day, the very na­ture of ‘truth’ is be­ing ques­tioned, sub­verted and dis­missed as ‘fake news’ be­cause it is in­con­ve­nient to the ar­ro­gant and pow­er­ful. As in the 1930s, to­day’s politics calls for crit­i­cal thought, heart­felt ac­tion, and wise vot­ing.

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