Research Task 10 – John Heartfield and the political image

John Heartfield, born 1891, died 1968.

He invented a new language, a pictorial language

Cross-matched icons to create new meanings.

He was the first to realise photo-montage could become a powerful political weapon.

Photo-montage was a product of zygosis, bringing together mass media, art and social struggle to form powerful political images. His methods have since been shifted for advertising and commercial purposes.

In WWI, Heartfield pretended to be insane in order to avoid the war, during this time he produced his first photo-montages in the form of redesigned postcards which sent subversive dadaist messages to soldiers on the front. He also recreated himself, changing his name to John Heartfield during this time.

Heartfield and other Dadaists attacked capitalism, nationalism and other fashionable art groups, especially expressionism.

He developed what started as a political joke into a conscious artistic technique which takes a familiar icon and turns it into something new.

The invention of the lightweight camera meant that photo’s became commonplace and is considered a key invRare John Heartfield photo in Paris, 1935ention.

As Hitlers triumph drew closer, Heartfield’s work ended it’s definitive phase, moving from class conflict to attack the Nazi’s through manipulation of their own propaganda.

The Nazi’s were the first to benefit from and use mass media to put their messages across. For the first time people could reach hundreds of thousands of people via film, mass demonstration and radio. They had a wider audience than any political party had ever had before.

Heartfield’s work was brought to Germany and distributed in secret. Because of a need to And Yet It Moves by John Heartfieldput the messages across in a short span of time he refined and sharpened his messages and technique to reflect this need.

Heartfield’s photo-montages were produced in small printshops, often at the risk of life ad then given, often, to young children to distribute around the area. Small stickers were also used and stuck to things like walls. This method was considered highly successful, the children never being caught.

Heartfield also used humour as a weapon in his work, using visual wit to reveal the truth behind the official story.

Humour sharpened to viciously satirical point was to become characteristic of political photo-montage.

Each time Hitler staged a media event, Heartfield came back with his own version.

At this point in time, print, as the main channel of communication was already giving way to moving image.

The censorship of anti-Nazi montages from a Heartfield exhibition provoked international outcry.

Germany put pressure on the Czech government to have them sent Heartfield back to Germany. Instead he ran again, this time to England. There he and some others working with him tried to give the British public an idea of what was really happening in Germany, discovering that many, even during the war, were ignorant to the horror and persecution faced by Jews, Gypsies and anti-Nazi’s in particular.

He later became a professor in the East Berlin Academy of Arts.

Many others have followed in his footsteps, echoing the technique he used though with differing themes.

“The important man is not the artist but the businessman who in the market place and on the battlefield holds the reins in his hands.” – John Heartfield

John Heartfield Photomonteur 1912

Information sourced from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTSOEDCLAJk&list=PLZb5QFBMWHl6RMo22W_fGHGd7q9ARGjbb&index=1

Images sourced from: http://www.johnheartfield.com/John-Heartfield-Exhibition/#

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