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Through Amateur Eyes

Film and Photography in Nazi Germany

2011
Author:

Frances Guerin

Through Amateur Eyes

A history of rare archival amateur photographs and films from Nazi Germany

Frances Guerin asks how the documentary films and photographs of amateurs, soldiers, and bystanders shape our memories of World War II and the Holocaust. Guerin shows how modern uses of these images often reinforce well-rehearsed narratives of cultural memory, offering a critical perspective on how we can incorporate such images into processes of witnessing the traumas of the past in the present.

Through Amateur Eyes is a creative study of amateur photographs in the Nazi era. Full of insightful analysis and broad, interdisciplinary reading, Frances Guerin demonstrates the instability of images, showing how even photographs taken with the perpetrators’ eyes and cameras can teach us much about the lives of the Third Reich’s victims.

Eric D. Weitz, author of Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy

We have seen the films of professionals and propagandists celebrate Adolf Hitler, his SS henchmen, and the Nazi Party. But what of the documentary films and photographs of amateurs, soldiers, and others involved in the war effort who were simply going about their lives amid death and destruction? And what of the films and photographs that want us to believe there was no death and destruction? This book asks how such images have shaped our memories and our memorialization of World War II and the Holocaust. Frances Guerin considers the implications of amateur films and photographs taken by soldiers, bystanders, resistance workers, and others in Nazi Germany.

Her book explores how photographs taken by soldiers and bystanders on the Eastern Front, depictions of everyday life in the Lódz ghetto, and home movies and family albums of Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun, among others, can challenge the conventional idea that such images reflect Nazi ideology because they are taken by perpetrators and sympathizers. Through Amateur Eyes upsets our expectations and demonstrates how these images can be understood as chillingly unrehearsed images of war, trauma, and loss.

Many of these images have been reused—often unacknowledged—in contemporary narratives memorializing World War II: museum exhibitions, made-for-television documentaries, documentary films, and the Internet. Guerin shows how modern uses of these images often reinforce well-rehearsed narratives of cultural memory. She offers a critical new perspective on how we can incorporate such still and moving images into processes of witnessing the traumas of the past in the present moment.

Through Amateur Eyes

Frances Guerin is lecturer of film studies at the University of Kent, England, and Marie Curie Fellow in the Department of Media Studies at Ruhr University Bochum, Germany. She is the author of A Culture of Light: Cinema and Technology in 1920s Germany (Minneapolis, 2005) and coeditor with Roger Hallas of The Image and the Witness: Trauma Memory and Visual Culture.

Through Amateur Eyes

Through Amateur Eyes is a creative study of amateur photographs in the Nazi era. Full of insightful analysis and broad, interdisciplinary reading, Frances Guerin demonstrates the instability of images, showing how even photographs taken with the perpetrators’ eyes and cameras can teach us much about the lives of the Third Reich’s victims.

Eric D. Weitz, author of Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy

Guerin both introduces and concludes her study by rightly proposing that the large numbers of amateur photos and films, some of which can be seen on YouTube by generations far removed from the decades of the 1930s and 1940s, allow for a more complicated and new understanding of those difficult years.

Choice

Guerin has entered a vibrant scholarly discussion about the ways mechanically produced visual media document, witness, and (mis)represent atrocities. Through Amateur Eyes contributes to this literature most substantively not only by analyzing images of genocide, but also by considering those images’ problematic relationship to the larger archives from which they are excerpted.

CAA Reviews

Through Amateur Eyes

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Alternate Perspectives from Nazi Germany

1. Witnessing from a Distance, Remembering from Afar: How to See Amateur Images
2. On the Eastern Front with the German Army
3. The Privilege and Possibility of Color: The Case of Walter Genewein’s Photographs
4. Europe at War in Color and Motion
5. At Home, at Play, on Vacation with Eva Braun: From the Berghof to YouTube and the
Imperative to Remember


Notes
Index