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War and Photography Author(s): Ernst Jnger and Anthony Nassar Source: New German Critique, No.

59, Special Issue on Ernst Junger (Spring - Summer, 1993), pp. 24-26 Published by: New German Critique Stable URL: . Accessed: 04/06/2011 10:29
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Warand Photography
A war that is distinguished by the high level of technicalprecision required to wage it, is bound to leave behind documents more numerous and varied than battles waged in earlier times, less present to consciousness. It is the same intelligence, whose weapons of annihilation can locate the enemy to the exact second and meter, that labors to preserve the great historical event in fine detail. The equipment at its disposal is immense. Already, a gigantic literature about the world war has taken shape in every country and is still growing, drawing on an endless supply of personal reminiscences and official accounts. The historian of the future who wishes to report on this war will certainly be more perplexed by the excess than the lack of sources. Included among the documents ot particularprecision, which have only recently been at the disposal of human intelligence, are photographs, of which a large supply accumulated during the war. Day in and day out, optical lenses were pointed at the combat zones alongside the mouths of rifles and cannons. As instruments of a technological consciousness, they preserved the image of these ravaged landscapes which the world of peace has long since reappropriated. Thus arose a trove of images, which can be endlessly recombined, and not only serve as a lively stimulus to the soldier's memory, but also as a useful aid to the imagination of those who could not participate in the world of the war. The life of the soldier on leave, in the reserves, and in the combat zones; the types of weaponry, the look of destruction they inflict on human beings and on the fruits of their labor, on their dwellings and on nature; the face ot the battletield at rest 24



and at the peak of activity, as seen by the observer in the trenches or bomb craters, or from the altitude of flight - all of this has been captured many times over and preserved for later ages in a tashion that compliments written descriptions. Indeed, we even possess pictures which originated in moments of close combat, lucky accidental shots of the camera, aimed by hands that relinquished the rifle or grenade for a second in order to click the shutter. For the attentive observer, a collection of such optical documents opens the way for a valuation of war not only as a succession of battles, but, in its essence, as labor as well. In particular,the viewer is offered a singular view of horror and of the desolation of the landscape that will in all probability never be repeated, a view which, apart from the world war, was only hinted at in the Russo-JapaneseWar. Already in these years after the war, there has been a transformation developing in battle technology, which will inevitably alter the look of tuture conflicts. Weapons are becoming continually more abstract,developing in stride with the technological world in general; increased mechanization makes them more mobile and effective at greater distances. One could guess that the army of engines which will carry these weapons across the land and through the air will no longer tolerate an extended stalemate on the front, and will increasingly turn toward cities, the nerve centers of the technological world. It goes without saying that such a development makes war a deed of ever greater responsibility and of ever more drastic consequences. The effects of the last war now extend tar beyond the life of the generation that took part in it, and perhaps a less vigorous nation than Germany
als Deutschland]would have been un[ein Land von geringerer Lebenskraft

able to tolerate such a defeat. Insofar as life tends to forget very quickly the difficulties it has endured, pictures that make the misery of war present are especiallyvaluable. A photo anthology cannot exclude such photos any more than it can consist only of them, though there have been attempts at the latter.Appealing only to our revulsion to suffering would be a betrayalof our moral essence, as would a beautification of such a serious matter as that which was embodied by this war. One simply cannot expect more from photography than it can deliver. Its detailed impressions of the surface of events are like the impressions left behind in stone of the existence of certain strange creatures. Certainlythese offer visual data - but to surmise how the life of
a large animal in all its mysterious movements untolded: that requires


Warand Photography

imagination. To sense the spirit of great deeds and great suffering behind the images of a lost world, behind its ruins, that is the task which every document demands of the attentive viewer; so it is with the photographs of zones of battles past.

Translated byAnthonyNassar*
* "Kriegund Lichtbild" was the lead essay in an anthology entitled: das Antlitzdes Soldaten. Mit etwa 200 photo-graphischen deutscher Aufnahmen auf Weltkrieges. Jtonterlebnisse in lizbelle. sowieeinerchronologischen [The Countenance Kriegsgeschichte ihfeln,Kartenanhang of the World War:Experiences of German Soldiers on the Front. With approximately 200 photographs, an appendix with maps, and a chronological war history.] Edited by ErnstJiinger and published by Neufeld & Henius Verlag, Berlin, in 1930, the volume was meant as a cultural history of the war as represented through soldiers' descriptions of their experiences as well as through pictures from the battlefields. Reprinted with the kind permission of Klett-Cotta O J. C. Cotta'sche Buchhandlung Nachfolger GmbH, Stuttgart.

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