Picture Stories: the Rise of the Photoessay in the Weimar Republic

In: International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity
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Between the mid-1920s and the early 1930s German photojournalism experienced a profound, far-reaching upheaval. Up until this time, the illustrated mass media had favoured the reproduction of single photos, but during this brief period the photo-essay rose to prominence. Photographs and texts were integrated into a new, complex narrative unity: photoreportage. This article aims to reconstruct the historical conditions under which modern photo-reportage arose during the Weimar Republic. It will also revise certain accepted judgements about the history of photojournalism between the world wars. The development of modern photojournalism has until now been identified almost exclusively with the achievements of individual protagonists, mainly prominent photographers. Although these individuals played an important role in the production process of photoreportage, they were rarely consulted regarding editorial questions and layout. In order to better understand the economic development of photoreportage and its growth as a medium, it is necessary to examine the editorial work being done behind the scenes at the magazines and newspapers of the time. This article will therefore focus more on the development of the media and economic macrostructures at play in the emergence and growth of photo-reportage, and less on individual photographers’ contributions and photojournalistic output. It ultimately shows that the consolidation of modern photo-reportage was the result of closely connected media-related and social developments, commercial strategies and aesthetic decisions that went far beyond the agency of individuals.

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