Nutzerkonto

Frankfurter Zeitung, 15th December 1932

Siegfried Kracauer

Photographed Berlin (1932)

Aus: The Past's Threshold. Essays on Photography, S. 55 – 58


In the glass-covered atrium of the Arts and Crafts Museum “1,000 Views of Berlin” is on show: photographs by A. Vennemann. They have been stuck on simple white cardboard and illustrate all possible details of Berlin life that are oriented towards public space. The views come across as a bit stiff, as if everything were standing still, but this is to be explained, no doubt, by the change in our way of seeing that cinema has brought about. Film has made us used to no longer considering a thing from a fixed viewpoint but, rather, to glide around it, choosing our perspectives as we want. What film is able to do – to record things in motion – is denied to photography. Hence, where photography wants to make a claim for its independence, it appears to be a form that is beginning to become historical. It is detaching itself slowly from the present and has already acquired an old-fashioned nature. It is similar to the railway in this; the railway is to the airplane what photography is to the film reel. The railway and the photograph are contemporaneous with each other, are similar for having both perfected their forms, and they have long since become forerunners in the creation of new forms. We have separated ourselves nowadays from the rails in the same way that we have from the once mandatory stillness of the camera. So if photography also belongs utterly to the present, already those shadows fall on it that surround all completed achievements.


*



Subjects known from everyday life are virtually the only ones that are reproduced here. Old Berlin houses, castles and palaces, streets and more streets, children playing, restaurants, people from all sorts of professions, passers-by, people on weekend outings, public parks and pretty spots in the surroundings, railway stations, industrial plants and modern office buildings – the inventory could scarcely be more complete. These many pictures speak above all to our memory. They conjure up impressions we have had, to which we have paid no heed. They summon up old familiar things that have been with us all this time. The illuminated advertisements are our evening company, and the young, playing street-boy has likewise appeared to us a few times, scratching out the gaps between the cobblestones. All the photographs recall from memory only those optical elements that live within our existence. But nothing is more apt than that photographs would make present precisely the very world that we possess. This world, not the new, yet to be conquered, world, is the rightful subject of photography. It is a matter of fact that a photographic image cannot give a complete idea of anything whatsoever if the person viewing the image has not already seen the thing. What was originally photographed can never be deduced from the photograph, and the countless photographic reproductions of works of art do not disseminate knowledge of the works as supposed but only go to prove that art reproduced has lost its marking impact. A weak picture postcard that one brings back from a journey better fulfils the function of a photograph than does an elaborate, showy photograph of unvisited destinations. It would be useful to study more closely at some point to what extent the gluts of shots in the glossy magazines stifle the public’s receptive capacity for the visible world. Photography does not convey the meanings that must be experienced for a thing to become ours – it only gives a mirror reflection of the thing torn out of all relations to experience. It is not the external appearance of the thing but rather an abstraction without coherence that passes from the thing into the photographic image taken of it. So instead of presenting a subject, photography relies on the concept we already have of the thing, so as to be able to present it. Photography’s main field is what is known and familiar, but goes unnoticed. Photography indeed serves in the exhibition as a guide through memory. As it helps us to an astonishing plenitude of re-encounters, it finally shares with us the power to access things and figures with which we have unconsciously lived. 


*


Some images from the Tiergarten are particularly successful. They bring out the pond-like, forgotten element of the Tiergarten by stretching to no further than the base of the shrubs and by suppressing the sky completely. Thus free nature is held at bay, outside, and the interior character of the artificial park is accentuated. Detached from the present, the garden seems to be already enmeshed in the past. The park could be a symbol of photography itself, and perhaps the latter follows the park so effortlessly because photography also whiles away its time on yesterday’s threshold.


Frankfurter Zeitung, 15th December 1932

  • Geschichte der Fotografie
  • Film
  • Medientheorie
  • Fotografie
  • Siegfried Kracauer

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Siegfried Kracauer

Siegfried Kracauer

geboren 1889 in Frankfurt am Main, studierte Architektur arbeitete in verschiedenen Architekturbüros, bevor er freier Mitarbeiter und 1924 Redakteur der Frankfurter Zeitung wurde, deren Feuilleton er ab 1930 in Berlin auch leitete. Im selben Jahr heiratete er Elisabeth Ehrenreich. Unmittelbar nach dem Reichstagsbrand 1933 flohen er und seine Frau nach Paris und nach Kriegsbeginn 1941 nach New York. Dort traf Kracauer die Entscheidung fortan ausschließlich in englischer Sprache zu schreiben. Siegfried Kracauer starb 1966 in New York an einer Lungenentzündung.

Weitere Texte von Siegfried Kracauer bei DIAPHANES
Philippe Despoix (Hg.), Siegfried Kracauer, ...: The Past's Threshold

Siegfried Kracauer was a leading intellectual figure of the Weimar Republic and one of the foremost representatives of critical theory. Best known for a wealth of writings on sociology and film theory, his influence is felt in the work of many of the period’s preeminent thinkers, including his friends, the critic Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno, who once claimed he owed more to Kracauer than any other contemporary.

The volume brings together for the first time all of Kracauer’s essays on photography that he wrote between 1927 and 1933 as a journalist for the Frankfurter Zeitung, as well as an essay that appeared in the Magazine of Art after his exile in America, where he would spend the last twenty-five years of his life. The texts show Kracauer as a pioneering thinker of the photographic medium in addition to the important historian, and theorist, of film that he is acknowledged to have been. His writings here build a cohesive theory on the affinities between photography, memory and history.

With a foreword by Philippe Despoix offering insights into Kracauer’s theories and the historical context, and a Curriculum vitae in pictures, photographs from the Kracauer estate annotated by Maria Zinfert.