Material Realities of Ideology

In the 30s, consumer societies were flourishing and acquisition of consumer goods for private property was becoming increasingly important in a number of society. The decrease in price of cameras offered the opportunity to most of the population to capture their own experiences.

Interestingly, Hitler’s Third Reich reflects this new type of consumerism meant to promote state ideals. Maiken Umbach presents the part played by photographs in not only portraying propaganda and showing consumerism but also shows the way in which ideology was passed and lived in the population through photographs. The use of cameras, Umbach argues, gives authority to the photographed and the photographer to portray insights into everyday life as it was a common practice to take pictures by the 30s. He also argues that “[p]hotographs turned experiences into material realities—and thereby arguably did the same for ideology.”(p.365) How can ideology become material reality? One can think of the propagandist photography, but depicting ideology in the everyday life of the average citizens needs to go beyond the hold of state production.

Umbach presents pictures from his own collection to represent the untouched by, yet representative of state ideology. Showing how photographs and the role played by the photographed “as a form of affective and performative political behavior that transcended that which had traditionally been defined as the business of politics” (p.365) This is effectively shown in Shelley Baranowski’s piece on consumerism under the Nazi regime when she writes about paid vacation which proved effective in communicating to workers the “ideal place” they held in maintaining productivity and how great their leader was as he took care of their needs unlike the poor people living in slums that they saw during their trips. Thus, photographs and paid vacation as well as the ability to acquire consumer goods for personal property are all modes through which the Nazi Regime was able to convey ideology through material realities.

One Reply to “Material Realities of Ideology”

  1. Umbach’s treatment of photography produced both by everyday German people and as a tool of propaganda sheds light on the way that the two actually overlapped. It was interesting to consider how subjects would position their bodies in certain ways to affect different emotions and ideas. For examples, photographs in nature were important in display the important rest and rejuvenation that the German landscape offered. Ultimately, photography helped, in part, to make ideology become reality, as Umbach contends. Finally, it is fascinating that the trends and style in photography really did not change from the 1930s-1940s even as German politics was under great flux.

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