Saturday 16 May 2009

John Heartfield

John Heartfield was a pioneer of modern photomontage. Working in Germany and Czechoslovakia between the two world wars, he developed a unique method of appropriating and reusing photographs to powerful political effect.

Heartfield devised photo-based symbols for the Communist Party of Germany, allowing the organization to compete with the Nazis' swastika. His images of clenched fists, open palms, and raised arms all implied bold action and determination. In the image above, a disembodied fist becomes a radio antenna for a Communist-affiliated station in Czechoslovakia that broadcast into Fascist Germany.

'The Voice of Freedom'
in the German Night on Radio Wave 29.8, (1937)

Heartfield unleashed his sharpest satire on Hitler's Führerkult (cult of the leader), the basis of German Fascism. These montages parody Hitler's most iconic poses, gestures, and symbols to create the impression that one need only to scratch the thin surface of Fascist propaganda to uncover its absurd reality.

Adolf, the Superman, Swallows Gold and Spouts Tin -
(AIZ (July 17, 1932), vol. 11, no. 29, p. 675)

In this cover for the AIZ, Heartfield used a difference in scale to dramatize Hitler's relationship to Germany's wealthy and financially supportive industrialists. The leader is seen as a puppet whose now-infamous gesture reads as the acceptance of monetary influence.

The Meaning of the Hitler Salute, Little Man Asks for Big Gifts -
(AIZ (October 16, 1932), vol. 11, no. 42, front cover)

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