Because photomontage is based on the structural principle of pictorial rupture and reassembly, the medium is understood in scholarly literature as the symbolic register of the shocks and disjunctures of modern life. Yet most of John Heartfield's photomontages for the communist journal Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (AIZ) insistently suppress the seams and ruptures of their manufacture, instead offering up pictorially sutured photomontages that propagate fictions of visual wholeness. They do so to issue an ideological critique from a leftist perspective, staging our illusory, unstable apprehension of the world. Characterized by a continuity of surface, these photomontages are bound into (and thus integral to) a mass-circulation journal, in critical dialogue with the photo-reportages that preceded and followed them—occasionally in content but primarily through imitating their matter, their medium, their form. Heartfield's AIZ works offer a radical Left critique of the mass-circulated photograph and its production of political consciousness by internalizing and miming its very means through photomontage. Leftist critique in Heartfield's montages, I maintain, resides in suture. In using that term to discuss Heartfield's work, I incorporate its cinematic connotations, in their most basic sense, into my analysis, considering how his photomontages summon their beholder both optically and psychologically. We have not entirely grasped the metaphorical operations of photomontage until we have understood the role of pictorial suture, and the deliberate suppression of rupture, in Heartfield's project.
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Sabine Kriebel; Manufacturing Discontent: John Heartfield's Mass Medium. New German Critique 1 August 2009; 36 (2 (107)): 53–88. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-2009-002
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