Faces. Antlitz and Gesicht in the Weimar Republic Photobook

J. J. Long


It is widely accepted that the Weimar Republic witnessed an upsurge in interest in physiognomy. However, once physiognomy is allied with the technical media, the situation is complicated by an ambiguity that arises as to where the signifying power lies: is it in the face, or is it in the representation? Starting from this question, the present article investigates two sets of photographic books, each including examples from the left and right of the political spectrum, that invoke physiognomy in their titles or their visual practice. It emerges that while publications from the left tend to be more overtly critical of physiognomy and subvert it in various ways, the verbal and photographic discourse of rightwing publications also tends to undermine the claims of physiognomy in one way or another. Physiognomy thus emerges as a practice that is both politically manipulable and epistemologically highly unstable, whose enlistment in support of a variety of political positions goes hand in hand with a critique from within.

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