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Erich Retzlaff Volksfotograf

An exhibition by Dr. Christopher Webster van Tonder (Aberystwyth University)

22 January to 21 March 2014

Mo, Tue, Wed, Fri: 10am – 5pm
Thursday: 10am – 8pm
Closed Weekends and Bank Holidays
Free Admission

Exhibition Opening: 21 January, 6 pm
with a lecture by Prof Maiken Umbach (University of Nottingham)
Photographing the Volk – Professional and Amateur Photography in the Third Reich

Followed by a private view with Dr. Christopher Webster van Tonder

Photography, like other modern media, was readily utilised in the promulgation of political and ideological concepts in Germany between the two world wars. This is especially true for the visualisation of racial and eugenic ideas developed in the nineteenth century and ideas of a ‘Germanic’ nation, subsequently incorporated in National Socialist thinking and propaganda. This exhibition (with illustrated catalogue) shown at the GHIL examines the work of the German photographer Erich Retzlaff (1899-1993) from the turbulent years between the nadir of the Weimar Republic and the downfall of the Third Reich as part of a visual discourse that emerged from an intellectual milieu deeply affected by the parascience of physiognomy and National Socialist race science.

Today almost forgotten in the history of photography, in the early twentieth century, ERICH RETZLAFF (1899-1993) was a prolific and celebrated photographer with several major volumes of his photographs published between the two world wars. In addition to his black and white studies of German workers, landscapes and peasants, Retzlaff was one of the first photographers to use the revolutionary 'Agfacolor Neu' colour film introduced in Germany in October 1936. Erich Retzlaff was considered by the National Socialists something of a pioneer in his idealised depictions of the German proletariat, disseminating notions centred on the people’s community (Volksgemeinschaft), which was at the heart of the National Socialist vision of society. Although his work was not produced under the direct auspices of the Reich Ministry for Propaganda and thus appeared to have a greater degree of creative freedom, Retzlaff was clearly a photographer siding with the regime. Ideological as his work was, Retzlaff's photographs are significant as cultural and historical artifacts of this period of German History.

The accompanying catalogue contains an essay by Christopher Webster van Tonder, an introductory text by Rolf Sachsse, and an article by Wolfgang Brückle. 

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