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Frankfurter Zeitung, 15th December 1932

Siegfried Kracauer

Photographed Berlin (1932)

in: The Past's Threshold. Essays on Photography, p. 55 – 58

In the glass-covered atrium of the Arts and Crafts Museum “1,000 Views of Berlin” is on show: photographs by A. Vennemann. They have been stuck on simple white cardboard and illustrate all possible details of Berlin life that are oriented towards public space. The views come across as a bit stiff, as if everything were standing still, but this is to be explained, no doubt, by the change in our way of seeing that cinema has brought about. Film has made us used to no longer considering a thing from a fixed viewpoint but, rather, to glide around it, choosing our perspectives as we want. What film is able to do – to record things in motion – is denied to photography. Hence, where photography wants to make a claim for its independence, it appears to be a form that is beginning to become historical. It is detaching itself slowly from the present and has already acquired an old-fashioned nature. It is similar to the railway in this; the railway is to the airplane what photography is to the film reel. The railway and the photograph are contemporaneous with each other, are similar for having both perfected their forms, and they have long since become forerunners in the creation of new forms. We have separated ourselves nowadays from the rails in the same way that we have from the once mandatory stillness of the camera. So if photography also belongs utterly to the present, already those shadows fall on it that surround all completed achievements.


Subjects known from everyday life are virtually the only ones that are reproduced here. Old Berlin houses, castles and palaces, streets and more streets, children playing, restaurants, people from all sorts of professions, passers-by, people on weekend outings, public parks and pretty spots in the surroundings, railway stations, industrial plants and modern office buildings – the inventory could scarcely be more complete. These many pictures speak above all to our memory. They conjure up impressions we have had, to which we have paid no heed. They summon up old familiar things that have been with us all this time. The illuminated advertisements are our evening company, and the young, playing street-boy has likewise appeared to us a few times, scratching out the gaps between the cobblestones. All the photographs recall from memory only those optical elements that live within our existence. But nothing is more apt than that...

  • film
  • History of photography
  • photography
  • Siegfried Kracauer
  • media theory

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Siegfried Kracauer

Siegfried Kracauer

(born 8 February 1889 in Frankfurt am Main, died 26 November 1966 in New York) was an architect, philosopher, sociologist, journalist, cultural critic and film theorist. From 1922 to 1933 he worked as feuilleton editor of the Frankfurter Zeitung, first in Frankfurt and from 1930 in Berlin. With the rise of the Nazis in 1933, Kracauer emigrated to Paris, and then in 1941 to the United States where he eventually became an American citizen in 1946. Following his arrival in New York he began to write in English and the books he wrote in these decades are among his best known:From Caligari to Hitler. A Psychological History of the German Film (1947), Theory of Film. The Redemption of Physical Reality (1960) and History. The Last Things before the Last (1969, ed. Oskar Kristeller).

Other texts by Siegfried Kracauer for DIAPHANES
Philippe Despoix (ed.), Siegfried Kracauer, ...: The Past's Threshold

Siegfried Kracauer was a leading intellectual figure of the Weimar Republic and one of the foremost representatives of critical theory. Best known for a wealth of writings on sociology and film theory, his influence is felt in the work of many of the period’s preeminent thinkers, including his friends, the critic Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno, who once claimed he owed more to Kracauer than any other contemporary.

The volume brings together for the first time all of Kracauer’s essays on photography that he wrote between 1927 and 1933 as a journalist for the Frankfurter Zeitung, as well as an essay that appeared in the Magazine of Art after his exile in America, where he would spend the last twenty-five years of his life. The texts show Kracauer as a pioneering thinker of the photographic medium in addition to the important historian, and theorist, of film that he is acknowledged to have been. His writings here build a cohesive theory on the affinities between photography, memory and history.

With a foreword by Philippe Despoix offering insights into Kracauer’s theories and the historical context, and a Curriculum vitae in pictures, photographs from the Kracauer estate annotated by Maria Zinfert.