research seminar: history of photography

Karl Pawek's Post-fascist Family of Man: A Transformed World

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

17.30, Research Forum South Room

Wolf Strache Wolf Strache, Berlin Kurfurstendamm after an air raid, 1943Speaker(s): Dr Sarah Edith James (History of Art, University College London)

Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission

Organised by: Julian Stallabrass and Pei-Kuei Tsai

In 1964, the major photo-exhibition What is Man? opened in West Germany before going on to tour the world. It was organised by the Austrian photo-curator and editor Karl Pawek in homage to Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man, which, frequently criticised as American cold war propaganda, had begun its European tour in West Berlin in 1955. If Steichen’s show purported to reveal the constancy of human nature throughout the world, and on each side of the Iron Curtain, using photography to offer its spectators a kind of post-nationalistic sense of belonging, Pawek’s – against his own claims as to its similarly optimistic and homogenous vision of humanity – made clear the complex and conflicted political nature of humanism and nationalism in post-war Germany. What is Man? contained many more explicitly politicised and violent images than Steichen’s exhibition, and juxtaposed images which told of far greater social and economical inequalities and political differences than suggested by The Family of Man. This paper will explore how Pawek transformed Steichen’s 1950s vision of equality and humanism. Looking at What is Man? in relation to the political, cultural and social context of postwar, cold war Germany and the aftermath of National Socialism and the Holocaust, it will offer a close comparative reading in relation to both The Family of Man and Ernst Jünger’s photo-book The Transformed World of 1933. If Jünger’s photo-essay strove to document a world redefined by mass politics and mass consumption, demanding and training a new kind of spectator and subject equipped for this world, this paper will ask what kinds of seeing, subjectivity and experience Pawek’s photo-exhibition strove to document and give form to. It will explore how Pawek’s model of photographic seeing shared much with the reactionary modernism of Jünger, utilising the violent juxtapositions characteristic of The Transformed World and what Jünger termed his ‘stereoscopic vision’, to make sense of the complexities and contradictions of German identity transformed after fascism and during the cold war.

The History of Photography research seminar series aims to be a discursive platform for the discussion and dissemination of current research on photography.  From art as photography and early photographic technology to ethnographic photographs and contemporary photography as art, the seminar welcomes contributions from researchers across the board, whether independent or affiliated with museums, galleries, archives, libraries or higher education, and endeavours to provide scholars with a challenging opportunity to present work in progress and test out new ideas.

The seminars usually take place once a term, on Wednesday evenings at 5.30pm in the Research Forum. The papers, and formal discussion, are followed by informal discussion with refreshments.


Dr Julian Stallabrass ( and Pei-Kuei Tsai (

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