Not in the Baedeker. Photography and the Physiognomy of the Metropolis in Weimar Germany

Wolfgang Brückle


Photography has been extensively used in traditional physiognomy, as well as contributing to the fashion of reading other aspects of modern life physiognomically. In the hermeneutic discourse of the Weimar period, the trope of face became a crucial tool for reading all kinds of phenomena physiognomically, searching for hidden links and connections between different aspects of social life. Photography’s ability to register any minute detail of the surface of the world, and its supposed limitation to recording only that which reveals itself to the lens, made it a welcome tool for such physiognomic readings. Physiognomic thinking also became a meeting ground for conceptualising urban experiences and reflections on the medium of photography. The flânerie of the modern city dweller was not only a product of contemplating photographs, it also provided opportunities for photographers, and the specificity of photography as a medium may have helped to trigger a physiognomic analysis of urban environments.

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