Brantl: Current Research (Thursday Reports 7/9)

Hi, all (or y’all as a good Texas—I’m not—would say):

Thursday I will be sharing my current research with you.   It’s on socially  activist exiled (émigré) photographers and their negotations of American channels for exposure.  It’s starting point is the work of Hansel Mieth (Hagel) and Otto Hagel.  A critical phase for these Germans was their employment by Henry Luce’s publications, particularly, Life magazine.

I’m at the early stage of this undertaking.  As such I have no article draft or dissertation chapter for you.  [Actually,I do have a dissertation chapter on political exile but it’s 17thcentury and not particularly German so we won’t go there—though, while I have the occasion, may I thank you for giving me a great deal to reconsider in that alternative context.]  Lacking such scholarly output, I will instead offer you 3 short materials to consider in preparation:

(1)  An autobiographical statement from Mieth taken from Ken Light’s Witness in Our Times—photocopies available in class Wednesday—to read with a teaspoon of salt and the usual considerations regarding memory and the constructed self.

(2)  An article on Social Security from Life  8/7/39 to be considered from the perspective of the woman revealed in Item #1 (photocopy again—I have other reasons for spending time at Kinko’s these days). Barring the images on the first page (p. 51), the photographs are Mieth’s.  Sent to Nebraska to “document” the impact of Social Security, she took extensive photographs.  Shaped through Life’s  editorial selection and layout, you have what went to press. 

(3)  Finally (and this really is an invitation to indulge), if you by chance have never actually handled early Life magazines (for our purposes, pre-1950), please take a few minutes and do so.   They’re on open shelves in the “South” extension of Green Library: the East Building Lower Floor, half way down the “South” extension on the left: Call #051.L723.  You might, for instance, try April 17,1939, which has a four-page spread on Thomas Mann (complete with photos of Thomas, Erika, et al.), though Alison might prefer April 11, 1938 which offers her Detroit painting as part of “Flemish Painting in America.”  Or just whichever comes to hand. 

Especially if you have background in journalism, this may be old hat (my apologies).  On the other hand, if you haven’t been there, nothing I can show you or say will replace the actual experience of fingering your way through an issue of early Life.   (This includes looking at the various Life books or Google’s recent posting ofLife photography on line—welcome though these decontextualized sources are.)  A great deal of the original message was in the context.

On Thursday I will bring images, some further depth on Mieth and Hagel,  and the institutions and ideologies through which their experience was mediated, as well as some thoughts on where this project is headed. Necessarily, much of this study is couched in the critical positioning of “documentary” during the ‘30s; however, it is also framed by the exile/émigré viewpoints and aspirations of its individual subjects.

And regardless of what you have a chance to read or look at before Thursday, I look forward to your questions, feedback, and suggestions.