A recent acquisition for the ICP library is this startling book from pre-war Germany.
Berlin is an extraordinary little photobook (almost 70 photogravure images) with a text by the French novelist, critic and songwriter Pierre Mac Orlan (1882-1970). The publisher is B. Arthaud. Grenoble and the book is dated 1935, but there is no mention or citation of the photographer (or photographers) who produced the images. They may well be images by Mac Orlan himself or even Robert Doisneau and/or Man Ray.
This scarce work was produced as part of a series “Tour du Monde”, but this was a series that never really was, as only two books were ever produced in the series one called London and the other Berlin. The Berlin book is incredibly hard to find as the majority of copies were apparently retrieved and then destroyed by the publisher due to the too openly anti-Nazi critiques stated by Mac Orlan. This of course would also explain its scarcity and rarity.
Pierre Mac Orlan was a film and photography critic who wrote about Atget and Germaine Krull amongst others. He was also a prolific writer of pornographic novels under various pseudonyms as well as his real name Pierre Dumarchey. Most famously Pierre wrote the preface for “Atget photographe de Paris” 1930 from Berenice Abbott’s personal collection (the ICP library has a copy – R TR659.P37 1930?). Pierre’s writing was also said to be a great influence upon Guy Debord, the founder of the Situationist International, who enjoyed his gritty portrayal of “low life”.
These images in the book Berlin are from the early 1930s, from the tea party phase of Nazi Germany, with parades and floats, wholesome young women, traditional costumes and civic pride. But this innocence is interrupted in the most absurd and sinister way which also includes images of Hitler, Goebels, uniformed soldiers marching and citizens Nazi-saluting. What makes this book remarkable is in fact the often bizarre juxtaposition of its imagery. This is merely the ordinary world of your average Nazi in 1930s Berlin, but with an edit that is just so weird and off-putting enough to make you realize that reality is in fact stranger than fiction. This book shows that evil can be incredibly mundane and comfortably surreal and that you must always really try to think about what it is that you are actually seeing.
It would be wonderful to know more about the photographer (photographers) who created these images.