Die Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung [AIZ] is widely recognized as a highly successful and politically radical alternative to interwar Germany’s mainstream illustrated press. Far less acknowledged, however, is the extent to which its startlingly new uses of photography and graphic design defined the vanguard of Europe’s visual culture between the wars. Opening an issue of the AIZ in the second half of the 1920s was like peering into a kaleidoscope of photographic fragments. As a reader turned its pages, multiple pictorial shards slid against each other while arrows pointed, charts indicated, and text divulged the news that mainstream press outlets had seemingly concealed. To create these eye-catching visions that magazines like LIFE and VU later adopted, the AIZ developed formal and content-based strategies that attracted one of Germany’s largest interwar magazine readerships and, in the process, disseminated cutting-edge aesthetic innovations to a mass audience. Yet standing behind these breakthroughs was a staff of extremist politicians and traditionally trained print professionals. My project explores the early years of the AIZ in order to redefine what it meant to be part of the avant-garde. It will propose that, far from the lone aesthetic genius or group of spirited artists, a modernist visual language was also produced by people working in professions not associated with the arts.
The research I plan to conduct will pay particularly close attention to the interrelated political and photographic conditions that made these lay innovations possible, focusing on the extent to which the magazine’s famously persuasive use of photography arose from deep misgivings about the medium’s veracity. In taking a close look at the AIZ’s astonishing alchemy of image and text, I will explore how this formula, meant to expose problems that had previously remained unseen, arose not in outright enthusiasm for photography, but from a German communist movement that strongly distrusted images. The research will involve reading histories of interwar Russia and Germany for details of news and developments on the radical left, and collecting accounts of artists who used the magazine as a model.
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