Saturday, July 09, 2022




-          “Sander did not seek secrets behind the sitters.” From A captured Life, an essay by Ute Speck and Karin Wieland.

-          “Food forms a person, like the air and the light in which he moves, the work that he accomplishes or doesn’t accomplish, then the special ideology of his class” – Alfred Doeblin, Vorwart, Antlitz der Zeit, August Sander (Transmare-Verlag, Kurt Wolff, München).

-          We call them sitters, or the subject. The people who sit, or stand, who turn towards or look away from the camera. In English, a gap opens up in the discourse. The lexicon fails us. We echolocate there among words that only awkwardly name what we mean.  The subject – could be a flowerpot. The sitter – but what if they aren’t sitting? The poser – a term that has come loose from any kind of photography and painting to indicate an attitude. Models – but what if they come from daily life? How to distinguish a photographed person from a fashion model.  “sed-: in Latin sedēo, am sitting. Old English sitten, to sit < set-ja (with umlaut)> sed-; Greek hedra, “seat, chair””. From Quiles, Lopez-Manchera, A grammar of modern Indo-European.

-          This persistent semantic turbulence. We cry out, we listen for the bounce-back.


-          We went to the Neue Sachlichkeit exhibition at the Beaubourg last week. Sander’s photographs are at the defining center of the exhibition, which takes the New Objectivity to be at, approximately, the defining center of Weimar culture – and you can deduce where that puts Sander.   As the curators well know, the “spirit” of new objectivity is stretched for the purpose of inclusiveness into being the characteristic Weimar cultural attitude. Remember, though: this is the period of Heidegger and Gottfried Benn, of  Nosferatu and cocaine, of the KPD, the Freikorps and, of course, the Nazis. There were other points of view, some armed.


-          However, there is something to the notion that, after World War I, the expressionistic idea of the face as a mask – a carnival mask – which had been revived by a generation of sex agonized painters from Munch to Ensor - is transposed into another key. We all saw the real masks, the ones the soldiers put on to survive the gas. Too many corpses, too much knowledge of just how much a human body can be cut up among too many people, to think that the mask can be taken off. The mask is now permanent, joined to the face, which is no longer the privileged substrate of emotion or, if it is, is a guarded one, a potential traitor to be subdued to the cool attitude in which one trades for sex, money, drugs, etc., using in-kind goods, such as the body itself, as inflation hedges.  It is here that Sander’s particular aesthetic, his intent to strip away the “artistic”, avoid distortions that were allowed by the medium’s chemistry and could be played with by the photographer like paint could be played with by the painter, works to tell us something about the culture wide trauma of the modern. There is a sense in centering on Sander. Sander means to give us the truth in photography at encyclopaedic length – his photographs were taken to be filed under various social categories. Perhaps the idea came with his work on making photo IDs after the war, as one writer has suggested. The categories structured his archive: for the Men of the Twentieth Century, his unfinished work, he had 46 filing boxes, with 12 photos each; he had 7 titling categories, under which he had 47 groups. We are searching for a subject in Group 3: women, under subcategory 17: “women practicing a manual or intellectual profession”.

-          “His style was classical: the highest principle was of documentary fidelity without chemical or technical manipulation. In order to strengthen the feeling of truth to nature, he used strong magnification on glossy paper. Sander preferred to photograph the whole figure frontally, the model looked at the photographer and the spectator openly. This was called “the American focus”, it took into the image “the person from the crown of the head to the shoulders or down to the knee.”(Kemp). August Sander preferred daylight and a tripod mounted camera. The relatively long flashtime of two to four seconds demanded a still pose. He gave no instructions, he wanted to photograph people as they wanted to portray themselves. The photographs were taken, when possible, at the workplace or the house of the person portrayed.”

-          Would the type, the group and the subcategory betray itself in the way the person wanted to portray themselves? Or was there some irritation, some clinamen, in this human universe?

-          This face to face confrontation was not, it should be said, the dominant trend in Neue Sachlichkeit. Many artists were influenced by the Rodchenko interdiction of the “belly button” shot as being thoroughly bourgeois, the most interesting photographs being from above down or from below up – the perspective of the steelworker on the skyscraper girder gazing down at the city below, or the sewer worker coming up into the street from the invisible underground. The worker, quoi. Sander made those pictures too – as did Moholy-Nagy and Germain Kroll.  In addition, Sander made landscape photographs that come out looking startlingly Volkish – photographs that are almost never exhibited with Sander’s Face of our Time photographs.

“He frequently embarrassed his children by stalking people on the streets who interested him as photographic subjects.”




-          Although Sander wanted his shots to have this unflinching forensic directness, it struck me, looking at these people, that history had tripped him up. It will, of course, always trip us up. Our photographs, images, are hostages to chronology. We know the story – the takeover by the Nazis, the war, the slaughters. We look around and think, briefly, of a world that did not contain the Nazi story – one in which Weimar’s leap into the twentieth century was not brutally sent to the KZ Lager or diverted to the autobahn. This is a curiously unexplored thought – almost all alternative histories concerning the Nazis are speculations about the world if they had won – not the world in which Hitler never rose to power. Perhaps because the former world is one in which we are more comfortable, since we are all inheritors of Hitler’s merger of war and society, the twentieth century nastiness we can’t shake off, whereas a world in which the socialists were the big winners in Germany is a world that looks much like ours and is yet so strikingly different. It is a world in which the amazing flowering of Jewish liberal culture would have been given full reign. Who knows what could have gone wrong with such a world?



-          Visitors to the exhibit are thus struck with the secret in which Sander’s sitters were caught: the secret of the future that they did not know. That, of course, is the vulnerability of every sitter in every photo. We, looking at them, are in their future –  which they have not entered  themselves yet. Out of this asymmetry we read back into those faces and bodies of Sander’s people a possibility, a virtuality they were themselves unaware of. The irony and the pity of, for instance, a photograph I was struck by, again – again in that I have seen her in other exhibits, in books, in magazines: The secretary of the Cologne radio broadcast station (Sekretärin beim Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Köln).  Group 3, Subcategory 17. The thing she knew. The thing that Sander knew. Simple, really. Her name.  

-          She is photographed the same year as Irmgard Keun’s Gilgi, a novel in the high style of the new objectivity, came out. Gilgi is a typist at the firm Reuter and Weber, stockings and tricotage wholesale. “She writes quickly, cleanly and errorfree. Her brown, small hands with the fine forefingers with short nails belong to the machine, and the machine belongs to them.”

-          As far as I can tell, the photograph of the Sekretärin beim Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Köln was not exhibited in August Sander’s lifetime. Sander’s work was rediscovered in the fifties and the sixties, but the pictures we know, that we see here, were not printed in the order of their taking. It is possible – it turns out it is almost certain – that the secretary never saw her picture.

-          It is now one of Sander’s most famous photographs, often contrasted with the  portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden painted in 1926 by his friend Otto Dix – which was also hung on the wall in the Beaubourg. Surely the Sekretärin beim Westdeutschen Rundfunk in Köln has stared at the portrait of Sylvia von Harden at multiple  shows in multiple cities since the 1970s. They are now old friends. Or perhaps they dislike each other intently.  One, the Dix painting, is of a woman with a name and thus a researchable vita. The Dadaists in Switzerland, Café Größenwahn in Berlin, the flight from Germany first to Italy and then to London, the correspondence after the war with the survivors, death.  She sits there with her monocle, her pallor, her red checked dress, her cigarette in one hand and her other hand, a claw, on her thigh, all angles, elbows, semi-lateral to us, as though engaged in making some very witty putdown of people just like us, the people out of the pictorial space whose presence can be inferred from her attitude. She shares a space with these people, other patrons of Café Größenwahn.  On the table: a martini, a box of matches, and her cigarette case. The cigarettes are in tubes. The other, the photograph, is of a woman with no name, but only a position. Secretary. A great position, one of the bulwarks of the female work force, but rather understressed in our literature. The secretary’s story, given form in Keun’s aforementioned novel, is rarely the magnetic center of any story. One of Sinclair Lewis’s lesser known novels, The Job,  traces the life of executive secretary Una Golden (that name!) as she makes her way to New York City and advances through the office pool. It was published in 1917, in the midst of the great feminization of the office work force. A process that also drove down the wages of the secretary – which always happens when women become dominant in some branch of industry. The sexism of Capital is a universal.  We know her, we wait in the outer office while she answers the phone and types the correspondence, we wait for her boss.  My Mom was a secretary, I’ve been a secretary, both for an architectural firm and a lawyer, and I feel the position.  I was an outsider in the office pool. A male.

-          However, this secretary, whose life has been captured (a bit of whose life has been captured) by the madly encyclopaedic photographer,  has a certain genius that breaks her out of Group 3, Subcategory 17.  Genius. Perilous word. Suggests that time is out of joint, and that the spirit, here, is making a breakthrough into a possibility her compeers haven’t even noticed. We think of  Isaac Newton, Mozart, Rimbaud, that small band. There is as well a genius of fashion and appearance, of look. This is not simply the genius of the designers, of the Balanciaga, the Chanel, this is the genius of the manniquin, or the woman or man who senses, who has a propriosensitivity, to his or her appearance in the world. Gertrude Stein was, in her own way, that kind of genius, and was so captured in Picasso’s portrait.  Sander’s secretary has that kind of genius. Not for her any peasant hairdo, any soft-focus kino melodrama of milk maids or Alpen sylphs – but a short cut with a masculine like curl over her brow in the sweep from the left to the right. Unlike Sylvia van Harden, there are no exaggerated or hectic features, anything that screams Weimar, here, but a visible distance, a visible cool sheathing the whole figure.  From her hair to her cheekbones to the slightly hunched tilt of her shoulders to the way, as she holds the cigarette in her hand she is slightly bent as though to shield it from a breeze to the way her eyes, slant in that moment towards the photographer, seem to appraise us. Our “us” here is not as other patrons of a café or other workers in the office. No, we are out of her pictorial space altogether, in another space that she can’t physically approach. The Other here is absolutely elsewhere. And everything here is arranged in a way that would work on Vielle de Temple today, on a smoke break outside, say, the Karl Lagerfeld store.  Her face holds a look that takes us in as, we may feel, so many mooks. Trying to measure up. 

-          What the writer in Vogue means by “timeless”. Although the writers in Vogue as so  often guided, as mediums are, by the collective unconscious. Timeless: the longue durée. Your great grandmother’s, your grandmother’s, your mother’s lifespan.

-          Speck and Wieland grant that these photos, which are “open” to the viewer, are open as well to history – which is why they end their essay on Sander with three vitae of women who sat for him. Interesting brief lives, but attached, vitally, to captions – to the information that exists outside of the photograph.



In 1928, the advertising department of the radio station, in its weekly magazine Werag and through its advertising truck (of which there are photographs that attest to the pride in coming up with such a thing), ran a contest. Eight photographs of personalities, without a caption and with slight alterations to the pictures so as to disguise their backgrounds, were displayed – in the magazine and on posters. Contestants would win prizes if they could affix the name to the photograph. Among the prizes, a box of cigarettes, brand named “Radio”.


-          Roland Barthes was fascinated by the relationship between the caption, that unit of readable information, and the picture, that visual unit in supposed disjunct to the word.  “…the structure of the photograph is not an isolated structure; it is in communication with at least one other structure, namely the text - title, caption or article…”  The French term for caption: légende.  From Latin, legenda – what must be read. In French, the first meaning of legend is “récit à caractère merveilleux.” As is its first dictionary meaning in English: “a story from ancient times about people and events, that may or may not be true.” Sander’s photographs are, as we can see when there is a whole room of them, anchored in the encyclopaedic project, that vast legend. We look at the photos, we automatically seek the legends. In the halls of the museum, in the pages of a book or a newspaper. Who are these people?


-          Named or unnamed, Nazi officer or Jewish artist, these are pictures of people whose lives were sawn out of European history of the first half of the twentieth century. To this extent, Sander’s ambition of photographing the “face” of the twentieth century was comprehensible, not some maggot of the mind.  At the time, in the early thirties, he was recognized, by leftwing critics like Kurt Tucholsky or Walter Benjamin for having cleared a space at the intersection of art and sociology, showing where the spirit of the Gesammtkunstwerk was heading, in the era of auratic decline, which, it was agreed, could be read on these faces. In the museum, however, the aura is restored. The glamour. Legend. for the German Right, for the Nazis, he was linked to decadent art – his faces, for these critics, were distorted by something. A spell. A Bolshevik thing, a Jewish thing.  Aryan heroism was turned into the fat head of a satisfied butcher. Eventually the Gestapo, in the 30s, banned Sander’s book; they interviewed him and told him he couldn’t even possess a copy of the book himself. But they didn’t imprison him, as they did his son, Erich, who was a member of the Socialist Workers Party.

-          Legend. Erich Sander, like the rest of August’s children, was fascinated with photography. Also with history and politics. Erich fought with his father about the latter, joined the Communists, then quit the Communists for a dissident Communist offshoot that became the Socialist Workers Party. Erich suffered from a boyhood problem with his left foot – it was paralysed. It never got better. The story goes that Erich came back to Germany from Paris in 1934, against his family’s advice, and got caught by the police smuggling in forbidden newspapers. But there’s another, richer story: Erich came back to Cologne and started printing anti-Nazi tracts. His father decided to help him by making photographs of the tracts. The photographs were developed in the lab in Sander’s apartment,  and pinned to a clothing line to dry. A wind blew them off the line and scattered them in courtyard in Sander’s building, a neighbour picked some up and took them to the police, the police came to the house and arrested Eric. This is the story told by Robert Kramer in the introduction to  Aperture’s AUGUST SANDER: PHOTOGRAPHS OF AN EPOCH 1904-1959. The story is not footnoted, exactly. Perhaps the footnote referring to a talk by Josef Hoffmann, Sohn der Vater und der Heimat, given at the opening of some Sander exhibit in 1958. It is, says the footnote, in “a private collection.” Legends and footnotes. There is something about the collection of motifs in this story: the idealism, the bravery, the incompetence. There is something about the (ir)resistible rise of Arturo Ui in this story. But there is also a large gap: why would Erich alone have been arrested if, indeed, August was helping him? Didn’t August even defend his son, later, at his trial? How would a man who was treading this close to the KZ have brought attention to himself in this way?

-          Legend. Although the notion that August Sander was another “inner emigrant” in Hitler’s Germany, turning to landscape photography in order to slip through the Nazi interdiction of his portrait work, is still a powerful theme in the literature about him, Hannah Shaw has assembled  a definite collection of published photographs after the Hitler coup that show the Nazis did not find Sander’s work entirely unsympathetic. Certain pictures seemed to show the pure Volk, in all their blood and soil and cowness, and that was fine with the Nazi cultural middlemen. Even the publication of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk, the WERAG, famous for its modern typographic layout, its photographs – some by Sander – under the artistic direction of Fritz Lewy – even in the WERAG, under its Nazi management, we find some of  Sander’s photos still being published. A man must eat. So, again, one wonders about the photo copies of leaflets, the clothesline, the wind, the lame son and the father resisting the Nazi regime.


-           The butcher, the baker, the candlestickmaker, I used to sing, as a kid, counting the buttons on my shirt.

Rich Man, Poor Man,

Beggar Man, Thief,

Doctor, Lawyer

Indian Chief


-          Secretary. That was not ever in the counting songs I sang. It is maddening that we don’t have her name, this incredibly self-assured “new woman” from the Westdeutscher Rundfunk. The name on the legend. The legend in the name.


-          Dr. Richard Herbartz, a Swiss psychologist under whom Benjamin did his doctoral work, wrote a column for the Berliner Tageblatt on May 9, 1925, that took up the deeper meaning of the “Bubikopf” – bobbed hair. “Research on inheritance has shown, quite simply, that pairs of specific features by the first generation reveal themselves in three qualitative groups: a fourth are shaped by the paternal, and a fourth by the maternal side: two fourths are descendants of a bothsided character mixture.”


-          Mixing a form of Hegel, suitable for the feuilleton, and Freud, Herbartz then deduces the sexual attractiveness of women sporting “masculine” short hair, as a lure to attract the male narcissist. “A symbol of this ‘ambivalent’ (i.e. two-sided) choice of sexual goal is the “bob” [Bubikopf].”


-          Brett was damned good-looking. She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy's. She started all that. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey.” – Earnest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises


-          We know the secretary on the museum wall in one way, a photo in a frame, 28,6 x 20,5 cm
30,4 x 23,7 c; we also
know her in Sander’s larger scheme, in books, in another. In the years after the war, Sander was promoted through an international network of photographers, in particular Edward Streichen, who was responsible for the MOMA’s first purchases of Sander photographs, 80 to be precise for the Family of Man project. In 1959 the Swiss magazine “du” published fifty of Sander’s portraits.  There is some ambiguity about when our secretary’s photograph was printed. Gunther Sander, his son, took over the operation and started printing his father’s photographs, which is when she went from negative to glossy paper:  but when? in 1960? Or is the “original”  the one printed for Aperture in 1978,  which was bought by Lars and Karin Hall for their Camera Obscura gallery in Stockholm? To add to the ambiguity, there are two pictures of this secretary: the Halls’ is the more famous, and is the one I saw, her right hand with the cigarette is midway from her mouth. In the other, the cigarette has switched hands. Now it is in her left hand, which rests on her lap. Her right arm is pressed (defensively?) across her waist, and her right hand, the one without a ring, grasps the left arm. Yet the grasp is light, it doesn’t squeeze. Why does the cigarette switch from one hand to the other?  Notice that her fingernails are not painted, and are cut short, just as Keun presents Gigli: the hand is for the machine, not the machine for the hand. The photograph is the bastard child of the mechanical reproduction of the work of art, and these two much exhibited photographs present us, as viewers of art habituated to valuing  “originals”, with a problem – is the original “object” in the camera, or the first developed sheet? Photographs seem to exist in another world we associate with folktales and the oral – a matter of retellings, transmission from, say, father to son – in this case, from Augustin to Gunther. A legend. How is the first printing any different from a second printing? Is the negative the “original”? There are legal codes here, to decide this issue in the art market.  There are the prints signed, verso, by the Sander firm. But we want an answer outside the law – an outlaw answer. Many of Sander’s negatives were destroyed in a fire in 1946 in his Cologne atelier. 20,000 or more negatives were destroyed. The secretary, however, was spared. Her image, phantasmal, legendary, existed in file, in a negative.  


-          As Sigmund Kracauer pointed out in his book on the office, published the year before Sander took his photograph,  this new class – the symbol pushers, the paper pushers, the clerks  – was not proletarian in outlook, although the rule of surplus value held. Sander’s typology was not exactly taken from any particular sociologist, but bears the impress of a certain ad hoc manufacture from his own brain, which is how this woman ends up in the “intellectual” vocations. By this categorization, the farmer’s daughter is forever fixed on the farm and the secretary in the office, although given the increase in office staff and urban size, the influx of women must have included women from the country. Kracauer reports that there were 2.25 million sales clerks in Germany in 1930, and 1.35 million office staff in “industry” – although is a radio station part of the latter? In the Weimar era, we were just getting used to the term Cultural industry.


-          So who is to say that the completely urbanized secretary with her bob, cigarette, and appraising glance is not the sister of a farmgirl, the daughter of a village butcher? Gigli, the secretary in Irmgard Keun’s novel, is separated by a historical epoch mentally from her parents – although the bigotries of her parents will turn out to be Gigli’s future, as well as the future of the secretary.


-          I once interviewed a photographer whose project was to photograph the Mennonites in the Midwest. One of her striking images is of a woman with a sort of chain of glasses around her neck. Mennonite women, she told me, can’t wear jewelry, so they make due with fancy glasses. Don’t underestimate farm girls.

-          The legend gives us her title, yes, but also her niche: the Westdeutschen Rundfunk in Cologne. A place that, in the five years that Ernst Hardt was its director, became something like a minor UFA studio. Berlin tends to dominate our image of the Weimar era, but Cologne, the third largest city in Germany, punched above its weight.  It was the “breeding ground” – to use the extreme right’s phrase for such things – of Dada in the early twenties – Max Ernst, who lived there then, derided Berlin’s Dada as “top hat” Dada. The French occupied it at the end of World War I, all the way up to 1924. Its Lumpenball, organized by artists and centered on the old Decke Tommes pub on Brűckenstrasse, was locally famous. “On 27 February 1933, wrote the Cologne artist Hans Schmidt-Rost, the crowd learned that the whole Reichstag was on fire. Hip hip hooray, a group sang. They couldn’t shut the leader of the group up.” The Group of Progressive Artists  published a magazine in 1920 (entitled “stupid”) and in 1929 (entitled “a bis z”, in the texts of which the German rule for putting majuscules on nouns was systematically interdicted). Some of Sander’s great friends and influences were in this group, including Franz W. Siewert who, according to family legend, pushed Sander in the direction of creating frontal, untouched portraits. Siewert published a series of drawing called “The Face of Our Time” – a title latter boosted by Sander. Everybody met at the Café Monopol, which was attached to the Hotel of the same name on Wallratstrasse.  Everybody remembered either from their own experience or the talk of others the big Dada exposition held, for joke’s sake, in the courtyard of the Winter Brauhaus on Schilldergasse, in the area between the tables and the men’s room. Everybody knew that it was taken down after a couple of days because the police suspected that there was something pornographic about it all.  After the bombs had destroyed Cologne, Wallratstrasse was built back. The new streetscape included the headquarters of the new Westdeutscher Rundfunk, and a new café: the Rundfunk café. In the interval, the whole world had been thrown into the abyss.

-          In the twenties, the WDR  had  a broadcast frequency powerful enough to be picked up throughout Europe and even in America. The station on Dagobertstrasse 8  was given leeway by its owners to educate and entertain, to enlighten with a liberal will, one that drew its own lessons from the defeat and overthrow of Wilhelmine Germany; this was not appreciated by the Right. In 1932, a NS-party newspaper wrote a description that sounds like a death sentence about the enterprise. “The  Westdeutsche Rundfunk has under ist director, Ernst Hart, developed into a breeding ground of pro-bolshevik subversion. Imagine: of the nine chief positions in the Westdeutschen Rundfunks, seven of the most important are occupied by Jews!”  

-           Hardt was originally a theatre director. Cologne’s then mayor, Konrad Adenauer, recruited him for the radio station. Happy choice. Hardt brought to the station the experimental ideas of Piscator, Brecht, and the avant garde. He commissioned a radio play from Brecht, a minor piece on Lindberg’s Flight. Brecht’s notion of Cologne as a provincial city is summed up in a remark he made about one of the actors, who’d complained about Brecht’s notorious habit of not using soap: “The guy is only used to Cologne sweat – mine comes from Berlin!” More successfully, Hardt helped start and oversee the production of a worker’s hour – with actual texts by industrial workers, one of them a play that proceeded to be staged all over Germany. There was a lit chat hour, with reviews and interviews. There was the children’s hour, run by Els Vordemberge, who, as a photograph from the period shows, was a bobbed haired cousin to the  Sander’s Secretary. There was a woman’s hour, presided over by Theres van den Wyenbergh, with discussions of household and public problems, the first in Germany. There were sound experiments – the radio artist would stick a mike out of the window to record street sounds, or a radio crew would drive to the Dome and make sounds and record them.  They were called aural “films”.  There was an orchestra. A jazz band. A sports announcer. News analysts. The organogram is quite complex.

-           Fritz Worm, a bookdealer from Dusseldorf, became the radio station’s literature division chief. He allotted time for a talk by Kurt Tucholsky, who was one of the great enemies of Naziism. Worm, denounced as a Jewish parasite, fled Germany after Hitler’s takeover. Rumors of what came after that crop up in the correspondence between Hardt and Alexander Maass, another old WDR vet, an actor, after the war, circa 1946. Survivors finding out who is alive, who isn’t. Who went over to the other side, who denounced the Jews, who found work on a lesser level, a black mark in their file. Hardt, Hardt was among the honorable.  “Worm died in Buenos Aires, in his garden, sitting at his typrewriter, painlessly of a heart attack.” Although other more reliable accounts place his death in Rio de Janeiro, and his mood as bitter.

-          On January 17, 1932, the Westdeutsche Beobachter observed:

“ Further there exists in the Westdeutscher Rundfunk a completely comic figure, who ist he Jew Fritz Lewy. He has supernatural abilities. Isn’t he ubiquitous? He is at the same time (isn’t this astounding) in the Westdeutscher Rundfunk and in the Rufu-Press, and gains from the first every month 600 Marks, and 600 from Rufu-Press. Isn’t that comic? Although that comes about because Fritz Lewy was born under the sign of Gemini, and this happy man is often a doubledipper… Although Lewis is overburdened with work, he is and remains an ‚eternally laughing Jew.‘  

-          Leonore Maass, Alexander Maass’s wife, worked as a photo assistant for Lewy. Sander took her picture in 1931. Her own pictures appeared in the WERAG. And she was honored, if that is the word, to be a victim of Westdeutsche Beobachter’s campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik crowd.


-          On April 23, 1933, the WERAG “cover featured a half-length portrait of the incoming director of Westdeutscher Rundfunk AG, the SS officer Dr. Heinrich Glasmeier.”  On a night attack, May 31, 1942, the headquarters on Dagobertstrasse station was knocked out; on April 12, 1945, the tower at Lanenberg was blown up. WDR officially ceased to be. Under the British occupying power, in September, 1945 a new radio station came onto the air on the old WDR frequency. It was now called the Nordwestdeutsche Rundfunk Köln. The Westdeutscher Rundfunk was gone, although among some of the German exiles who returned to Germany were members of the Ernst Hardt’s original crew, and some of that crew were hired by that  the new radio station. The mayor of Cologne who had persuaded Hardt to take the position as WDR’s director, Konrad Adenauer, became president of West Germany. The politics of selective forgetting began. The hour of the German miracle was at hand.


-           Among the scholars of a generation whose parents or grandparents experienced “all that”, one name stands out for her thorough research on WDR: Birgit Bernhard, a professor at Heidelberg. She has the antiquarian John Aubrey’s taste for minor lives, and she has, what Aubrey did not have, a historical methodology and an infinite mass of archives. As I began to wonder about the name, the life of  the Sekretärin beim Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Köln of Group 3, Subcategory 17 – and as it became apparent that this would be a long search – I started to think of Bernhard as a rather haunting figure, me always running into another of her texts – on the Portal Rheinische Geschichte, on the Der Brauweiler Kreis für Landes- und Zeitgeschichte – as I moved forward and sideway on my own quest. I thought of her as an Orpheus figure, making me a Eurydice: . Legend, legends.


She sleeps the world. Singing God, how did you

Make her entirely, and yet she doesn’t even want

To waken? See, she stands and sleeps.


-          Rilke’s verse makes me wonder about who is chasing whom. Ultimately, Eurydice, in this troping, must be the secretary, who sits and looks; but, being entirely photograph, is entirely unconscious. Asleep. Dead asleep. Dead.

-           I look up Birgit Bernhard’s photograph too, one taken in the Allgemeine Zeitung, 12.11.2018. She is interviewed about her work on the Pogrom of Jews in Bingen. It is a head shot against the blurred background of what looks vaguely like a library. The archives? Bernhard has written the biography of Ernst Hardt. She has written the life of Fritz Lewy. She has numerous articles about the players in the WERAG orbit. I learn from her article about the Gleichschaltung – the “coordination” – that the Westdeutschen Beobachter on February 2, 1933 had declared: “The days of Mister Hardt and his jewish-marxist system is numbered. The iron broom will also sweep out the radio station on Dagobertstrasse.” The iron broom was first applied in March, 1933, sweeping out Ernst Hardt, Fritz Worm (Literature and Culture), Fritz Lewy (propaganda), Walter Stern (art critic), Hans Stein (business journalist) and Hans Ebert (Music). In April, the program director Hans Ulmann, the Jewish musician, Hermann Harry Spitz, Dodja Feldin, Leonardo Aramesco, Lenore Maass, and the leader of the Children’s Hour broadcast, El Vordemberge, go.  Theres van den Wyenbergh has said disparaging things about Hitler. She goes. She stays in Germany. She gets office jobs, starves with her two kids. She eventually finds some accommodation in some bureaucratic office, the night sky rains down its bombs, de-Nazification limps across the occupied landscape, she returns to radio.

-          Sander had a long association with the station. For the cover of WERAG in December, 1928, for instance, he took an uncharacteristically distorted photograph showing the Sander household reflected in Christmas glass balls. Two years later, he might have run into ‘our’ secretary (the possessive insists itself) when he went to the radio station to broadcast his six lectures on the history of photography, which were broadcast between 8 a.m and 8:30 a.m. in March and April of 1931. They were live, but surely the preparation work must have brought Sander to the Westdeutscher Rundfunk building.  Given her air, her clothing, her jewelry, the ring on her left hand – a wedding ring?

-          Did Sander know her from other venues? Was she really a secretary?

-          If she was single, if the ring were an ornament, or a precaution against being hit on, she would have to live on her salary of 175-225 DM per month. I had her figured as a cultured, even an avant-garde type. The light hunch and sideways glance, this was learned in a cafe. I know that Sander was a habitue of Cologne’s avant garde circles. I began to move towards the idea that she was employed in the art and advertising department. Fritz Lewy had two secretaries and I wondered if one was her.

-           In 1929, the Cologne office employed 19 secretaries. I know the fates of some of them.  Maria Guntermann, the 31 year old secretary of Hans Stein, the editor for business and society, was purged; Margot Weweler, another secretary (to what department?) was purged.  Gleichschaltung. Coordinated.  Stein was a considerable figure. He had been to Moscow, he had worked at the famous Marx-Engels Archive. He must have known Lukacs. He fled to Holland after the takeover, and eventually to Great Britain when the Germans invaded Holland. “I heard on the British radio he died in a hospital” – Ernst Hardt, letter to Alexander Maass.

-           “And so, in the Fall of 1928, I found myself in an office in the Cologne Radio building, surrounded by assistants, photographers, movie cameras, as the head of the Department of Advertising, Photography and Statistics. Five years of fruitful and intense work followed.” – Fritz Lewy.



-          „You could hardly expect the clients to take such a distance from their own person. My father had no illusions about this; still, the vanity of people irritated him. The emphasis did not fall on some hasty flattery, allowing you to lead your clients by the nose, but rather still to make the photograph exactly reproduce what was objectively registered.” – Gunther Sander.

-          The secretary, it turns out, did work in Fritz Lewy’s office. So did her husband, who edited the WERAG and worked, as well, as an editor at the Kölner Tageblatt. A locally known critic of the Nazi parties and the far right, the husband. When August Sander came to 8 Dagobertstrasse to give his broadcasts on the history of photography in March, 1931, he took the opportunity to make photographs of two employees: Lewy’s photography assistant, Lenore Maass, the husband of announcer Alexander Maass, and the secretary, Aneli Strohal. Or Anneli. “Young Anneli”. Franz P. Brűckner, her husband, might well have helped Sander  edit his texts. In fact, we have a portrait of „Der Redakteur vom Kölner Tageblatt, Franz Brückner“ from August Sander, dated 1929. A print – the original? – is in the possession of the Getty collection. Another print, in the MOMA, is dated 1926. I wonder about that date. Holding those photographs together – which we can only do on the Internet, as, to my knowledge, they have not been exhibited together – is an interesting exercise. It is a startling exercise. Imagine if we had a portrait of Mona Lisa’s husband, painted by Leonardo da Vinci. Imagine the possibilities.

-          I compare the hands first. The secretary’s hands are lithe, the nails cut close. Our editor’s hands are large, with startlingly long finger nails. Brückner wears a suit. He’s seated. He is looking towards the right – perhaps under Sander’s suggestion, so that the light in the lenses of his wire-rimmed spectacles does not obscure his eyes. His hair is properly gelled into place. He sits on a more capacious looking, yet still uncomfortable chair than his wife’s chair, in the photograph two years later. His hands are comparatively enormous, there, folded on his lap. He wears a large ring, an obtrusive ring, on his right hand. I guess that this is a wedding band, but it doesn’t look like the usual wedding band, with a large oval shaped stone, perhaps an opal. Perhaps this is an heirloom? It is in subtle disconnection with his otherwise office-ready look. That, and the fingernails. Imagine those hands caressing the secretary, those arms around her, her cool gaze, his sceptical one.

-          Aneli Strohal.  They still don’t understand about secretaries. I detect the  infinite condescension in this article from the Spring 2022  Museen Koeln magazine: “For Aneli Strohal,  her name was in real life, was no glamorous UFA-star, no artist, no intellectual. She worked as the secretary at the  Westdeutschen Rundfunk AG. Where the master photographer must have met her as he was giving his radio talks and making photographs for the station’s program magazine. August Sander wanted to reproduce his sitters „with unconditional fidelity to their reality and their whole psychology” in order to give us “a mirror of the times, in which these people lived.’” I have my doubts that he met her for the first time at the radio station. His portrait of her husband is, supposedly, from 1926. These Cologne writers and artists rubbed elbows with each other. Small worlds inside of larger worlds. Did August Sander attend their wedding?

-          She is not an “intellectual”, not a star. The magazine ignores what is right before its eyes. So what do we know about Aneli Strohal? Unfortunately, the sum total of our facts is not great.

-          “WARNING: Trust Nobody! Don’t even trust the evidence of your eyes! There are secret forces among us – don’t trust your own selves! Suspicious thoughts and an epidemic of feelings are in circulation. No Man is Safe! And least before himself.” – The Ventilator, Cologne periodical, February 1919, Max Ernst and Theodor Baargeld. The Ventilator was distributed for free at the gates of certain Cologne factories by Ernst, Baargeld, and Ernst’s wife, Luise Straus.

-          We know that someone named Aneli Strohal was married to the editor of the Tageblatt and the WERAG, Franz-Peter Brückner, born in 1886. We know this because this same Brückner came back to Germany in 1946, after leading a precarious exile life in Europe. He lived in Spain, Italy, France and Switzerland. And in 1951, he divorced an Anneli Strohal, or so it is recorded in Cordula Lissner’s Den Fluchtweg zuruckgehen, We see, in Sander’s photograph of Strohal, that she wears a ring on her left hand – which seems to be an engagement ring. In Germany, the left hand is preferred. These, at least, are the evidences of our eyes and the texts that we have consulted, as we can. At the mercy of search machines. We have more information about her husband, Franz-Peter –  we know that he was part of the left diaspora that kicked around Europe and scrambled for jobs. On one site that lists the victims of the Nazis in media, this note attaches to his name: “In December 1943 he was sought by the Gestapo in Nizza.” Was Strohal with him? Had she remained behind?  He was rehired at the reconstituted Nordwestdeutsche Rundfunk, and made a long and noted broadcast about exile life: “Returning home from France”. Did that return provoke the final separation between himself and the  “Sekretärin beim Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Köln”? All of this time, of course, her phantasmal Other was sitting in the negative sleeve in Sander’s photography studio.   Was she an “intellectual”? No, a secretary. Always, in the photograph, always above that legend. I would say, though, without hesitation, that Aneli Strohal’s photograph is the closest we come in our time to Mona Lisa. She is our mystery woman.

-          “CITIZEN. Hold onto what you possess. Do not engage in any dealing with the heart. Barricade your feelings. Hold onto your property – your most dangerous enemy is the mind. This penetrating, ungraspable and propertyless creature attacks your repose and your property-happiness. Protect yourself, defend yourself, isolate yourself. Don’t let the mind enter into your simple, double book-keeping. Property is sacred.”



Biden's foreign policy: let's bet everything on authoritarianism!

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