Manufacturing discontent: John Heartfield's mass medium

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Kriebel, Sabine
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Because photomontage is based on the structural principle of pictorial rupture and re-assembly, the medium is understood in scholarly literature as the symbolic register of the shocks and disjunctures of modern life. Yet, I point out that most of the photomontages that John Heartfield manufactured for the communist journal Die Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ) insistently suppress the seams and ruptures of their manufacture, instead offering up pictorially-sutured photomontages that propagate fictions of visual wholeness rather than of cognitive ruptures. They do so, I argue, in order to issue an ideological critique from a leftist perspective, staging our illusory, unstable apprehension of the world. Characterized by a continuity of surface, these photomontages are bound into (and thus integral to) a mass-circulation journal, in critical dialogue with the photo-reportages that preceded and followed them occasionally in content, but primarily though imitation of their matter, their medium, their form. Heartfield's AIZ works offer a radical Left critique of the mass-circulated photograph and its production of political consciousness by internalizing and miming its very means through photomontage. Leftist critique in John Heartfield’s montages, I maintain, resides in suture. In using the term ‘suture’ to discuss Heartfield’s work, I incorporate its cinematic connotations, in their most basic sense, into my analysis, considering how his photomontages summon their beholder both optically and psychologically. We have not entirely grasped the metaphoric operations of photomontage until we have understood the role of pictorial suture, and the deliberate suppression of rupture, in John Heartfield’s project.
Kriebel, S., 2009. Manufacturing Discontent: John Heartfield's Mass Medium. New German Critique 107, 36(2), pp.53-88.
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© 2009 by New German Critique, Inc.