Heartfield’s Concept on Photomontage

After WWI Germany tackled isolation they were experiencing and thus the German Expressionist movement was confined in Germany. In 1916 the nation saw a ban of foreign films, however the people protested against this and wanted to see films generating, as a result there was a slow but sure increase. Hyperinflation was prevalent during 1923 for three years so the Germans found going to the cinema a luxury and saw the money they had well spent, German cinema was highly praised.

Triumph of the the Will was a major success for Leni Riefenstahl’s when it was released in 1935; her use of the music and long focus lenses created misleading perceptions. “Upon the very first screening of Triumph of the Will in 1936 the Nazis knew they had struck propaganda gold. The film played to packed movie theaters throughout Germany. For her efforts, Riefenstahl received a Cultural Achievement award from Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry. The film also won a gold medal for its artistry at the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris.” (The history Palace, 2001)

However film is one concept of the ‘art theory’ other concepts include theatre, poetry, music,  dancing and other performing arts. In the first week we spoke about photomontage and how this was conveyed in Heartfield’s work to replicate early 1930’s Germany. This fascinated me as portraits express different meanings of how the artist was feeling so I wanted to see how Heartfield had constructed photomontage so admirably. Respectively I went to Tate Modern in London to view his exhibition and learn more about his work and how he articulated political and cultural issues through photographs.

Berlin Dada was a group who believed that art could construct new means of expression. Their style was usually anarchic this can be seen in their depictions that juxtaposed with the political situation or so to speak with reality. Dada montage emerged with great inspiration from the practitioners in order to emphasise Germany’s situation. The best-known practitioner, John Heartfield’s concept of photomontage was displayed in his work of art from the 1920’s-1960’s he used a variety of pictures to construct one picture in order to manipulate the audience. (J. Paul Getty Trust, undated) The Nazi’s became his stimulus in his work of creativity and I came to learn he wanted to express their violence and demagogy through his work.

In this image he famines to ridicule the salute of the Germans and divulges Hitler’s support that is behind him. Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, when he won the Reichstag this gave him control on the legislations within Germany. In 1934 he made himself President and with this supreme power he destroyed the democratic system. Hitler’s title ‘Fuhrer’ meant that he was the commander; his importance meant that all persons of society by law had to greet others with the German salute. Even on his forty-fourth birthday shops were selling edelweiss emblems so that most people could wear it to represent their support to the Nazis. (Brooman, pg 69) The culture in Germany expected the proletariat to respect Hitler as it was customary, it can be examined that the Nazis and primarily Hitler influenced the culture in Germany. The way Heartfield ridiculed this picture was mischievously cunning, but in my opinion he expresses a statement though an image deferentially, and to me this is evidently why his art is still exhibiting today and sends a strong message to me of what the political and cultural issues were like in Germany.

The photomontage above expresses “the ideological subjectivity produced by the press, through an implicit dialectic between the suffocating mental imprisonment of socialist illustrated newspapers.” (Kriebel, pg 64) This picture reveals a man blinded by newspapers, Heartfield is metaphorically saying that anyone who reads the “bourgeois papers becomes blind and deaf.” (Heartfield, 1930). The violence of the portrait is captured through the psychological discomfort through the sense of realism. (Kriebel, 2009) In my opinion Heartfield was eager for society to emancipate their voice to the autocratic Hitler and I thoroughly admire the way he has done this because it is so simple to acknowledge the use of photomontage.

Here are a few of the many photomontages that were at Tate Modern for Heartfield’s exhibition that came to my interest because of his metaphorical interpretation.

Hitler degenerated the emergence of the art movement ‘Bowel House’ that shifted the idea of what it was for, how it changed the world and had an effect on people’s lives. His characteristics seemed to be reactionary, self opiated and autocratic in my opinion he found it hard to accept change as he had this cultural view and no one else could tell him any different. “When the 1936 games were played, Nazism was thriving in Germany with Adolph Hitler at the helm. Hitler had seen the Olympics as an opportunity to show off how superior his Aryan race was compared to others.” [Bleacher report, 2009].

I believe that Heartfield’s use of photomontage in relation to modern art was successful by juxtaposing pictures with reality to reveal Germany 1930’s. His images bring a sense of reality about the history in Germany. This to me is a fascinating way to do so as it tells a story of the issues Germans and namely Jews faced. When I saw the exhibition in Tate Modern I must say I was truly impressed with what I saw and would recommend this exhibition to not only those who are interested in art or history but for those people who struggle to understand the images significance, because Heartfield shows this in a simple and cunning way which immediately educated me.


Bleacher Report . (2009) The 1972 Summer Olympics: Remembering the Worst Sports Tragedy of All-Time. [Online] Available at: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/148366-the-1972-summer-olympics-remembering-the-worst-sports-tragedy-of-all-time. [Accessed 23 October 12].

Brooman, J, 1996. Germany 1918-45. London: Pearson Education Limited.

Heartfield, John. 5 fingers has the hand. 1928. Photo.  Tate Modern, London.

Heartfield, John. Adolf, the superman: swallows gold and spouts rubbish. 1932. Photo. Tate Modern, London.

Heartfield, John. The meaning of the Hitler salute: little man asks for big gifts. Motto: millions stand behind me! 1932. Photo. Tate Modern, London.

Heartfield, John. Voice from the swamp. 1936. Photo. Tate Modern, London.

Heartfield, John. Whoever reads bourgeois newspapers becomes bling and deaf. Away with the stultifying bandages. 1930. Photo. Tate Modern, London.

History Place. (2001) Triumph of the Will. [Online] Available at: http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/triumph/tr-will.htm. [Accessed 22 October 12].

J. Paul Getty Trust. (Undated) Agitated Images: John Heartfield & German Photomontage, 1920–1938. [Online] Available at: http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/heartfield/. [Accessed 17 October 12].

John Heartfield. (2011) Dada Photomonteur: Official Internet Archive. [Online] Available at:http://www.johnheartfield.com/john_heartfield_PHOTOMONTEUR_ARCHIVE.html. [Accessed 23 October 12].

Kim Dodge. (2007) What is Third Cinema?. [Onlne] Available at: http://thirdcinema.blueskylimit.com/thirdcinema.html. [Accessed 17 October 12].

Kriebel, S., (2009) Manufacturing Discontent: John Heartfield’s Mass Medium. New German Critique 107, 36(2), pp.53-88. http://cora.ucc.ie/bitstream/10468/215/1/Kriebel_HeartieldSuture.pdf [Accessed 15 October 12].

Tinham, D. (2012) HUR020X301A: Human Rights on Film: course notes, Roehampton University, London.

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