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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

Photojournalism and the Picture Press in Germany

During the 1920s, the mass media grew at an astonishing pace, particularly in Germany, which had more illustrated periodicals, with greater circulation, than any other country in the world. In Berlin alone, there were forty-five morning and fourteen evening newspapers. In addition, hundreds of newspapers and magazines catered to special interests. There were fashion journals like the German edition of Vogue, lifestyle magazines like Garçonne and Blatt der Hausfrau (Housewives Magazine), and various magazines promoting health and sport. As the number of new illustrated magazines increased, competition among publications grew keener and editors began to experiment with more dynamic designs and page layouts.

Among the most popular weeklies was the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung (Berlin Illustrated Newspaper), which had a circulation of over two million during the 1920s. BIZ, as it was popularly known, was owned by the Ullstein Press (one of four media empires), which also published Uhu, an urbane culture magazine, and Die Dame (Lady), a monthly magazine of women’s fashions. The editors of BIZ pioneered the new form of the photo essay, producing picture spreads that told stories through images alone. As Kurt Korff, editor of BIZ, remarked at the time: “Life has become more hectic and the individual has become less prepared to peruse a newspaper in leisurely reflection. Accordingly, it has become necessary to find a keener and more succinct form of pictorial represention that has an effect on readers even if they just skim through the pages. The public has become more and more used to taking in world events through pictures rather than words.”

The hardships of postwar Germany forced many art photographers to turn to photojournalism for a living. Among them were many of the stars of the German picture press: Alfred Eisenstaedt, Felix H. Man (2005.100.193), Martin Munkacsi (1987.1100.35), and Willi Ruge (2005.100.300). Erich Salomon (1987.1100.268) took readers behind the scenes of important events, photographing political and industrial leaders on the sly with a small handheld camera.

A number of politically aligned illustrated magazines also appeared on the scene. The leftist Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (Workers’ Illustrated Newspaper, or AIZ) printed a number of photocollages by the Dada artist John Heartfield (1987.1125.8), which often satirized the growing National Socialist party. However, when the Nazis assumed power in 1933, they quickly took control of the picture press in Germany, using existing publications as vehicles for insidious propaganda (2003.308).