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The Politics of Photobooks: From Brecht’s War Primer (1955) to Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer 2 (2011)

Department of Politics and International Relations, Goldsmiths, University of London, London SE14 6NW, UK
Humanities 2018, 7(2), 34;
Received: 1 March 2018 / Revised: 16 March 2018 / Accepted: 16 March 2018 / Published: 2 April 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Pictures and Conflicts since 1945)


This essay intervenes in debates about the depiction of conflict since 1945, by comparing two highly significant photographic ‘hacks’: Brecht’s War Primer (Kriegsfibel) 1955; and Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer 2, 2011. Kriegsfibel is a collection of images, snipped from wartime newspapers and magazines, which Brecht selected and situated alongside the four-line verses that he used to comment upon and re-caption his pictures. These acerbic ‘photo–epigrams’ captured Brecht’s view, firstly, that photography had become a ‘terrible weapon against truth’ and secondly, that by repositioning the individual image, its political instrumentality might be restored. When, more than half a century later, Broomberg & Chanarin decide to re-work Kriegsfibel to produce War Primer 2, they effectively crash into and redouble the Brechtian hack; updating and further complicating Brecht’s insights; re-animating his original concerns with photography as a form of collective historical elucidation and mounting, literally on top of his pictures of wartime conflict, images from the ‘war on terror’. This essay argues that the re-doubling of War Primer performs multiple critical tasks. It explores the Kriegsfibel as a dynamic confrontation with images of war and stages the enduring need to interrogate and actively re-function images of conflict from WW2 to the present day. It re-examines debates about images as weapons of war in themselves, and finally, it situates the Kriegsfibel assemblage in relation to contemporary understandings of ‘post-truth’.


Imagine a man standing in a valley and making a speech in which he occasionally changes his opinion or simply utters sentences that contradict one another, so that the accompanying echo brings them into confrontation.
Given the colossal literature that has developed around Brecht’s writings and theatre in the course of the last century, it seems a little surprising that this highly evocative quotation is so frequently passed over without comment. After all, ‘The Short Organon for the Theatre’, from which the quote derives, is habitually declared to be one of Brecht’s most important expositions of his work—at once a defence of his aesthetics and a politically-driven account of his experimental methods (Brecht [1949] 2014; Parker 2014). So it seems remarkable that an image as poignant and instructive as this one is not more extensively analysed. On the other hand, the very neglect of the image is perhaps what makes it such an apt ‘announcer’ for another shockingly under-analysed piece of work—Brecht’s Kriegsfibel (literally translated into English as ‘War Primer’), 1955.1
There is a second, deeper reason however, as to why Brecht’s image is useful here. For the image of the duplicitous speech-maker, whose echoes resound and clash with his original utterances, very effectively heralds the relationship between Brecht’s original work and Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer 2, the latter of which arrives nearly six decades later, like a long-overdue and noisily contradictory echo, brazenly purporting to “inhabit” Brecht’s work. (Broomberg and Chanarin 2011, p. 3). For Broomberg & Chanarin, Brecht’s photobook was the perfect vehicle by which to interrogate the politics of conflict photography.2 Their collaborative practice (which grew out of a picture-editing post at Colors magazine) had initially been spurred by a mutual abhorrence of press photography’s “abusive” methods—what they saw as the “one-way flow of power…inherent in traditional photography.” (Mirlesse 2014). Later, they had gone on to photograph and interview soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and this deepened their criticisms of press and photojournalistic images purporting to be ‘representative’ of conflict and trauma. (Stallabrass 2013, p. 132). Similarly, their work in 2008, during which they were embedded with the British Army in Afghanistan, led them to question how “access to the theatre of war” was “carefully designed to control what images are produced in conflict zones.”(Jackson 2013). It was their shared, deeply-held suspicion of pictures of conflict that propelled the duo to interrogate the ‘wartime’ press images that formed the bulk of Brecht’s Kriegsfibel. Part homage, part critique, they set about transmogrifying Brecht’s photobook into War Primer 2 (2011)—a series of ‘poor’3 digital images and screengrabs dredged up out of the blogs of insurgents, soldiers, activists and ordinary civilians. And so, Brecht’s self-echoing, self-contradicting speechmaker of the valleys pre-emptively performs the ping-pong relay between the two Primers, which at once double and dramatically diverge from one another.
There is however, a third reason as to why the Brechtian image makes for a crucial prologue to this essay’s discussion about War Primers 1 and 2. This has to do with the fact that, though it comes to us as a quotation from a text, the Brechtian speechmaker is, more precisely an image—i.e., an immaterial, theoretical picture (Mitchell 2005). Not only this, but it is an image that demonstrates how images work over time. For if the speechmaker’s echoes both resound and clash with his original utterances, so too do images survive over centuries, bouncing about like the speechmaker’s words in the valleys of the past, only to boomerang back on us, still recognizable but at the same time irrevocably altered, having transmuted into different forms or media (including memory, narrative, and fantasy) (Didi-Huberman 2017, 2003). So not only does the image of the double-dealing speechmaker demonstrate the echoing-confronting-contradictory movement from Brecht’s to Broomberg & Chanarin’s work, but it also adumbrates the way that images complicate chronological schema as they move across time: the speaker’s words do not remain in the past, but come back to echo, confront and contradict both his later and his previous pronouncements—in this way then, Brecht’s image anticipates the way that images don’t so much endure through time as they perdure diachronically or heterochronically across it. By opening history up to the present, they gather-in the past, which then resonates and reverberates out in many directions, before pinging off on some unforeseeable path into the future. This is anachronism as method rather than as mistake, and it is an important aspect, as we will see below, of the intense dialectical relationship between the two Primers.
So the paradox of the confrontational echo acts as a kind of parable4 that narratises the disorderly relay, or put better, the crossfire between Brecht’s, and Broomberg & Chanarin’s projects. In relating the parable, we start to understand not just how images of conflict echo, multiply and mutate, but why the deliberate production of contradictions, or the doubling of Brecht’s dialectical method5 necessarily generates a certain amount of temporal feedback (here, I mean to suggest feedback in the sense of static interference, for instance of the kind caused by multiple loudspeakers and microphones). And once War Primer 2 has entered the scene, one can never encounter Brecht’s (now it is a) version, in quite the same way. Any obvious chronology is forever upset by the multi- directionality and contradictory effects that are produced over time, as the self-differing speechmaker, whirls, as we shall see, like a loose and fickle figurehead, between these two critical experiments. It’s worth saying too, that this twirling motion creates considerable difficulties for understandings of both Brecht’s and Broomberg & Chanarin’s projects as ‘appropriations’ of images of conflict—a point that again, will be developed below.6 The relay of rebounding, antagonistic echoes suggests, I will argue, a very different kind of event to that of ‘appropriation’—one that is more chaotic, two-directional and oppositional. To that end, the ‘hack’ or the ‘hijack’ are better suited, I will argue, to evoke the provocations of both Primers.

Act 1. The Kriegsfibel Machine

To develop my argument more fully, and to demonstrate the disorientating, multi-chronological and inherent contradictoriness of the Kreigsfibel assemblage, it is necessary to set out the rather convoluted story of both Brecht’s ‘original’ project and its relationship to that of Broomberg & Chanarin’s. The Kriegsfibel, as it is mostly referred to in the world of Brechtian scholarship,7 develops slowly, in fits and starts over a period of almost thirty years, before eventually being published, after “a scandalously delayed and attenuated reception”, just one year before Brecht’s death (Kuhn 2008a, p. 182). Progress is complicated, even tortuous at times. There are insertions, substitutions, censored omissions, revisions. There are readings from “something called Brecht’s Contemporary Picturebook accompanied by projections” (Brecht 1998, p. xi). There are unpublished versions and published versions in German, French and eventually English, which differ substantially from one another. There are questions about who has inserted what and where; how much of the work is Brecht’s, how much is that of Ruth Berlau8 and how much is that of the designers.9 Sixty odd years pass by before Broomberg & Chanarin decide to re-function the project.
As time unfolds, and more and more revisions are made, it is as if Kriegsfibel is not really ‘a’ book at all, (though for convenience it is referred to as such, here and elsewhere) but a shifting assemblage that changes incrementally over time. Indeed, Kriegsfibel is better understood as a “little machine”10 in the Deleuzian sense—a specific, yet never entirely stable ‘assemblage’ in which the component parts (much like the speechmaker’s words and their contradictory echoes) are periodically modified. For instance, depending on which version of the Kriegsfibel one refers to, the War Primer assemblage consists of sixty-nine, (or seventy one, or eighty-five) ‘war-time’11 images, cut from newspapers and magazines and juxtaposed against one of Brecht’s own, often paradoxical and frequently acerbic four-line epigrams.12 These ‘photo-epigrams’,13 as Brecht called his combined picture-quatrains, languished for many years in a humble folder stashed away in Brecht’s map drawer, until the project materialised again in various unpublished and then eventually, published forms.14 Its problematic progress has been succinctly summarised by Didi-Huberman as follows:
“A first version was completed in 1944–1945, when Brecht was still in the United States: he offered it to his friend, the playwright Karl Korsch and it is still in the archives left by the latter to the Harvard Houghton Library. Three other versions followed—the third being the one printed in East Berlin, comprising sixty-nine plates—until twenty additional plates, censored in 1955, were published in 1985 by Klaus Schuffels and, in 1994, by the Eulenspiegel edition.”15
But making matters still more complicated, the photo-epigrams also had a kind of half-life in Brecht’s Arbeitsjournal (work journal),16 into which he pasted both some of the images used in Kriegsfibel, as well as one or two of the photo-epigrams17—and indeed, for critics such as Didi-Huberman the Kriegsfibel is the mere “iconographic excrescence of the “work diary” that Brecht began to keep when he was in exile, as of 1933.”18 So all of this suggests a much more complex and indeed voracious assemblage that eats up all sorts of half drafts and versions, before appearing in the various published editions of the Kriegsfibel machine which, as noted above, are then also censored, re-inserted, reordered, chopped up and changed again and again over the decades.19
Eventually, transmogrified into a ‘book’, albeit of several versions, Kreigsfibel follows a jerkily erratic chronology of ‘war-time’ events. Beginning with images of Hitler’s appearances at the podium, it continues with depictions of industrial plants and weaponry; allusions to the Spanish Civil War; the advance of German troops into France; the destruction of European cities in various raids and sorties; the propaganda of politicians on all sides of the conflict; pictures of the dead and of the victims of war (both military and civilian) in Europe, Japan, Africa and Russia; the defeat of the German counter-offensive; the return to homelands at the end of the war; the Addendum image of “bathing beauty”, Bunny Waters, selling defence stamps to passengers on a train in New York (in the English version).
The pictures are positioned, mounted on black (or grey)20 on the right-hand page of the book, with the facing page, either left entirely blank, or carrying translations of the cuttings’ original captions. Though the shape and dimensions of the photograph vary considerably, the quatrains are positioned prominently below the image, on a white ground that is sometimes superimposed over the photo (Brecht 1998, Plates 6, 10, and 75)21 in ways that seem to recall at once, the ‘inter-titles’ of silent cinema that Brecht so loved (Double and Wilson 2006) and the simple style of a domestic scrapbook album. (See Figure 1 overleaf.) Undoubtedly, the visual style of Kriegsfibel was influenced too by the photographic combinations that Brecht encountered in the pages of the German Workers’ Illustrated (Arbeiter illustrierte Zeitung [AIZ], which printed hundreds of John Heartfield’s photomontages, as front and back covers, or as double-paged spreads.22
Today, Kriegsfibel, whichever version of it one encounters, is a still-edgy, politically-charged collection of photo-epigrams. And indeed, its continuing dynamism and relevance is apparent not least from the fact that, many decades after it was initially conceived, long after “Brecht fatigue” has come and gone,23 it is re-worked (re-doubled, re-loaded, re-functioned) into yet another version, now by Broomberg & Chanarin, entitled War Primer 2 (2011).24 The artists, who do not so much set out to revise the book as, in their words, to “hijack it” (James 2011, pp. 18–27) offer the following line by way of clarification in their foreword:
“While War Primer was concerned with images of the Second World War, War Primer 2 updates Brecht’s piece with images of the conflict generated by both sides of the so-called ‘war on terror’”.
But rather than duplicating the Brechtian project, the Broomberg & Chanarin 2011 version accelerates it in a spiral of self-anachronising activity. Retaining Brecht’s original epigrams, they physically dissever and laboriously chop into the 100 copies of the Libris version of War Primer that they possess. They then forcibly silkscreen their own updated collection of images literally on top of hard copies of the 1998 version of Brecht’s Kriegsfibel. A digital version is then also welded into the Kriegsfibel machine—precipitating and augmenting the screen-based rendition of Primer 2 with critical and academic essays about ‘both’ projects. (See for example Figure 2 below).
In this way then, the photo-epigrams have become part of a larger, faster, and far fiercer engine of activity in which representations of war, violence and its aftermath, echo and rival one another in an accelerating motor of repetition and rivalry. With the advent of War Primer 2, the images included in Brecht’s project are now ‘monstrously doubled’, to misquote Girard, in a forcible overwhelming of the ‘original’ book. And indeed, Girard’s warning—that violence “if left unappeased … will accumulate, overflow its confines and flood out into all surrounding areas” (Girard 1977, p. 10)—seems, in the passage between the two Primers, to be realized before our very eyes, as the books are literally hacked apart and mutated. And yet the very forcefulness of this act reminds us that it is not so much the violence of war per se, or indeed the pictures of war and violence which are the target of both Primers, but the operation and control of violence by means of images and pictures of war. As Tom Kuhn had once pointed out of Kriegsfibel, the aim was not to ‘document’ war, so much as it was to object to the way that pictures of war are managed and to “make a conscientious critique of the medium of press photography itself.” (Kuhn 2007, p. 74. My italics.)
In this way then, War Primer 2 makes the same forceful demand as that of the ‘original’ Brechtian project: readers should wake up and understand the inherently violent management of images of war and conflict. We are urged to see images as weapons of war that attempt to obscure or to manage perception. We are forced to ask why (for example) some images circulate and others don’t, and to consider whose interests are served by the release of particular images. Alternatively put, the Kriegsfibel assemblage insists that we attend to the ways in which power (states, political parties, ‘mainstream’ media organisations) uses images to structure dominant ideologies (what Brecht calls ‘worldviews’) about war. The point of the Kriegsfibel machine, into which Broomberg & Chanarin’s work is forcibly interjected, is not to chronicle war, but to thrash away at readers’ Weltanschauung (worldview): to disrupt it, make it seem unfamiliar, point to contradictions and in so doing, to interrogate the socio-political order that asked readers to swallow some given perspective as a reliable one (Squiers 2014, p. 35).
But crucially, the Kriegsfibel project wants more than merely to expose the interests that lie behind both war and its representation. Of course, what is imperative from a Brechtian perspective is that we learn how to challenge and question the very tools of perception that by picturing war and conflict, construct particular understandings of them. But in all parts of the Kriegsfibel machine, the concern is not just with particular pictures of war, but more specifically, with the relationship between images—i.e., with the broader operation of images of war and the ways that they build, manipulate, sustain and spread larger theoretical ‘images’ (conceptions) of conflict.

Act 2. Learning to Read Images, or, How to Load a Weapon

  • “Never forget that men like you got hurt
  • So you might sit there, not the other lot.
  • And now don’t hide your head and don’t desert
  • But learn to learn and try to learn for what.”27
This poignant quatrain—the concluding one in the Libris 1998 edition of War Primer—is accompanied by a full-page image of worker-students seated, studiously attentive, in a tiered lecture theatre. (See Figure 3)
The intense, concentrated power of Brecht’s original epigram remains undiluted, even now, more than half a century after the end of WW2. Here we are, as Didi-Huberman puts it, “comfortably installed in front of our picture-book”, being suddenly reminded that we owe a debt to the past (Didi-Huberman 2009, p. 197. My translation). And here, in addition to the quatrain’s unambiguously anti-war tone, we find a central precept of Brechtian radical political and aesthetic pedagogy.28 Part entreaty, part stipulation, the call to the reader to learn to learn permeates the whole of the Kriegsfibel machine: from its framing title, to its closing Plate in Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer 2.29 The critical role that this radical pedagogy plays in both War Primers thus, warrants further exploration.
For exiles like Brecht, who changed their “country more often than their shoes” (Arendt 1948, p. 307) ‘learning to learn’ was arguably, a fundamental part of life. But Brecht’s pedagogical ambitions, fueled by his Marxian politics, went deeper still. There isn’t sufficient space here for any expansive engagement with Brecht’s rather complex approach to Marxism,30 but generally, scholars agree that Marxism provides him with a “coherent philosophical framework for his critique of bourgeois society” (Squiers, p. 32). And as Anthony Squiers has convincingly shown, there is little point in trying to separate Brecht’s ‘art’ from his Marxist critique of society and politics.” This is spelled out clearly too, in Ruth Berlau’s introduction to the 1955 edition of Kriegsfibel, (which is conspicuously absent from both Libris’ and Verso’s English-language editions) Berlau writes that the book aims:
… to teach the art of reading images. Because it is, for the untrained, as hard to read an image as any hieroglyphics. The great ignorance about social relations, which capitalism painstakingly and brutally maintains, turns the thousands of photos in the illustrated magazines into true hieroglyphic tablets, which are undecipherable for the unsuspecting reader.
For Brecht, who repeatedly returned to photography throughout his career (Long 2008, pp. 197–224; Kuhn 2006, pp. 261–83) and who well understood both “the opportunities and the risks involved in the use of pictures”(Brady 1978, pp. 270–82), ‘learning to learn’, in this context, meant learning to interpret and decipher the ‘historical’ context behind photographs of war.31 Don’t simply, Brecht urges, “hide your head” in passive acceptance of what you see, but learn to interrogate the press photos of war that you routinely encounter in daily newspapers and magazines, so that you can better understand the ways that they are driven by power and ideology (whether of Fascism, or capitalism).32 Elsewhere, Brecht had raged, notoriously, against the deluding force of photography as a tool of domination implicated in ideology:
The tremendous development of photojournalism has contributed practically nothing to the revelation of the truth about the conditions in this world. On the contrary, photography, in the hands of the bourgeoisie, has become a terrible weapon against the truth. The vast amount of pictured material that is being disgorged daily by the press and that seems to have the character of truth serves in reality only to obscure the facts. The camera is just as capable of lying as is the typewriter.33
This is not to suggest of course, as Susie Linfield does, that Brecht “really did loathe photographs” (Linfield 2010, p. 20). Photography, it is true, is cast here in no uncertain terms, as an obfuscating force wielded by ideology. However, as J.J. Long points out, despite his apparent indictment of it, Brecht goes on in the same piece of writing to praise the Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (A-I-Z, Worker’s Illustrated News)—which sourced photos not just from picture agencies but from worker-photographers—for its role in supporting a break with the bourgeoisie. And if the camera is to be used as a weapon against the truth, then so too, it is tacitly suggested here, can it be enlisted for a better cause (Long 2008, pp. 197–224). A similar point is made by Tom Kuhn, who stresses Brecht’s fascination with photography, arguing that his critique is not of the medium per se, but of the assumptions and uses of photographic reportage (Kuhn 2008a, pp. 179–80). Finally, the point is reinforced by Philip Brady who argues that, for Brecht, photography’s value lies not in its ability to document, but its ability to capture assumptions about the social order and to “expose those assumptions as vulnerable” (Brady 1978, pp. 270–82).
Kriegsfibel’s appeal to readers to ‘learn how to learn’ is clearly positioned then, in a re-deployment of photography’s radical force and emancipatory potential. Wrested away from bourgeois ideology, photography can be exploited—precisely as a weapon—to break people’s identification with those same ideologies.34 The epigram is thus a kind of irritant that leaks into the routine press photos of war that Brecht has ripped from the pages of Life or gleaned from the illustrated Fascist weeklies. It creates interference in the reception of the photograph: dominant ideologies are undermined, and readers are provoked into interrogating the world of social relations within which they are embedded.
‘Learning to learn’ does not just produce a Marxist corrective to a capitalist system of picture production, or to a western history of WW2. Instead, readers are roused to practice a more “complex seeing” (Brecht [1931] 2014, pp. 70–85). What is necessary is not just that people learn to ‘decipher’ the world of press images, but ultimately, that they start to generate a livelier, more productive consciousness so that they can start to alter the world of social relations and the relations of social forces within it (Benjamin 1973a, p. 4; Squiers 2014, p. 42). In this way then, Brecht’s Marxian-aesthetic is the trigger for conceiving of the Kriegsfibel precisely as a fibel—an introductory primer of the kind used to help schoolchildren learn their alphabet.35 And so Brecht gradually starts to amalgamate a paradoxical picture-book of war photographs—paradoxical because it is a book that one has to learn how to read—as if, as Didi-Huberman puts it, “it were possible to invent a particular kind of water in order to learn how to swim.” (Didi-Huberman 2009, p. 198. My translation).
The vitality of Brecht’s emancipatory pedagogy is palpable right through his career. His Lehrstücke or ‘learning plays’ similarly exemplified the principles of his emancipatory political aesthetics, in which audiences were invited to participate actively in plays that were described as “collective political meeting[s]” (Brecht [1931] 1967, p. 118; Kellner 2010, p. 34). And, as Brecht himself says in his introductory note to The Measures Taken, “the learning play [Lehrstück] is essentially dynamic; its task is to show the world as it changes (and also how it may be changed)” (Brecht [1936] 2015, p. 6). Even his ‘great’ plays are pedagogically driven: Mother Courage, for example, as Frederic Jameson has shown, “is laid out end to end, like a negative learning process” (Jameson 1998, p. 44).
The connection between pedagogical theory and praxis is thus very evident in the early part of the Kriegsfibel project. Press images of the war are presented as both vulnerable and suspect. They are not there to be consumed but actively interrogated in an effort of memory and thought that is based on a historical debt. “Comfortably installed” as Didi-Huberman puts it, in front of our picture book of the past (Didi-Huberman 2009, p. 195. My translation), we must “never forget that men like you got hurt/so you might sit there, not the other lot.” (Brecht 1998, Plate 85, not paginated.) Thus, images of war are positioned both as weapons and at the same time, as part of a larger ethical imperative. Readers are primed not just to mistrust ‘historical’ images of the war, but to do their bit in a deadlier ideological conflict—to intervene in the dominant Weltanschauung.

Act 3. War Primer Re-Loaded

Kriegsfibel’s interventionist approach occurs then, precisely in the context of pictures of war and conflict, which are construed as weapons of war rather than mere documenters or depicters of it. This is the case for both Brecht’s and as we shall see, for Broomberg & Chanarin’s project—where images of war do not so much represent ‘historical’ conflict, as they knowingly carve into it, pulling it apart and putting it back together again before sending it out into the world as something else. On one level perhaps, this is an obvious enough point to make. But in a world in which photojournalists still win major prizes for their ability to ‘report’, ‘capture’, ‘inform’, ‘portray’, ‘document’, ‘cover’, ‘testify’ and ‘expose’ ‘news’ of conflicts around the world, it nevertheless bears repeating.36 In stark contrast with photojournalistic values of ‘war coverage’, the Kriegsfibel assemblage that Brecht initiates, pushes back against the mere consumption of pictures of war and conflict, and instead attempts to provoke active interrogation of the images presented and ‘interventionist thinking’.37 Take for instance, Plate 63, first in Brecht’s (Figure 4) and then in Broomberg & Chanarin’s Primers (Figure 5).
By the time Kriegsfibel came to be first published in the German edition of 1955, this image (Figure 3) by Life photojournalist Robert Capa had already become one of the most influential of WW2.39 The now infamously blurred close-up seems to evoke a scene of adrenalin-pumping chaos—as a US soldier under fire, half swims, half crawls through the surf. Just faintly perceptible in the background of the picture are the iron ‘hedgehogs’ used by German defences to rip through enemy landing craft.40 And of course the fate of the depicted soldier is mirrored, just out of shot but equally palpable, by that of the war photographer. It’s an image that can only have been taken a yard or so away from the soldier, from within the same roiling surf. It is this image perhaps more than any other, that secured Robert Capa’s status for years to come, as the very epitome and model of ‘heroic’ war reporters. It presents an out-of-eyeshot eidetic picture that is at least as vivid as that of the depicted US soldier. Not only this, but the image is soon supplemented by Capa’s own intensely dramatic account of the landing at Omaha, as he dodges “between floating bodies”, pausing only to take pictures, bullets chasing him from all sides (Capa [1947] 2015, p. 16). Here, the very blurriness of the image seems to chronicle, or so it is assumed, something of the chaos and the carnage against which the soldier and the photographer both struggle. The blur seems to indicate that, in the heat of the moment, ‘professional’ standards have been compromised by the urgent need just to fire the shutter. It is the blur, not the represented scene, that persuades readers that the conflict is ‘real’—by suggesting that the photographer is simply too busy staying alive to have time to manipulate or stage-manage the pictured events.
In this way then, the rhetorical qualities of the blur produce ‘truth-effects’—in a knowledge-power interplay that operate in the image, pace Foucault, at an ‘archaeological level’ (Foucault 1995, p. 96). By 1955, the date of Kriegsfibel’s first publication, the war is well over. “The catastrophe”, as Roland Barthes once said of photography generally, “has already occurred” (Barthes 1982). But with the act of looking back at the war, the rhetorical effects of the blur now take on additional mnemonic force, in the depiction of what seems to be a ‘historic’ event. The ‘bona fide’ blur gradually becomes a technique for eventalising an image of war—it orders war around what Foucault might have called a discursive “truth-game”—i.e., “an ensemble of rules for the production of truth…which can be considered in function of its principles and its rules of procedure as valid or not”.41 As time passes, the events of Omaha Beach are increasingly subject to memory and discourse, the combination of which, as Foucault suggests, produce a truth-game that “act[s] as a real force” (Foucault 2007, pp. 32, 61). Brecht however, responds forcefully to any such ordering of ‘historic events’, slicing off the caption provided by the editors of Life42 and plonking in his own quatrain:
  • A Summer day was dawning near Cherbourg
  • A man from Maine came crawling up the sand
  • Supposedly against men from the Ruhr
  • In fact against the men of Stalingrad.
In one fell swoop, the apparently obvious ‘truth’ of the picture comes under heavy ideological fire. Thus repositioned by the quatrain, any “supposedly” (to use Brecht’s term) valiant attempt on the part of the US to liberate the oppressed peoples of Western Europe, is now interrogated and positioned as part of a larger American mission to impede the Red Army’s advances into Europe.43 In this way then, the ‘obvious’ or official rationale for American involvement in the war, is frankly undermined and made to look “phoney”.44 Capa’s image, complete with signature blurring, apparently the very register of authenticity and urgency, is immediately disavowed.
Of course, Brecht may well have been right to be suspicious of the image and its captioning. Life Editors used the magazine caption to suggest that the blur was caused by “the immense excitement of [the] moment” (Capa 1944, pp. 25–31) or alternatively, by “seawater that had seeped into his [Capa’s] cameras” (Whelan 1994, p. 214). In later years however, it was widely accepted that the blur was caused by a banal darkroom accident which led to the film’s emulsion being melted (though more recently, this theory too has been strongly contested).45
Broomberg & Chanarin’s entry for Plate 63 in War Primer 2 appears at first glance, to be a somewhat abstract response to Brecht’s ‘original’ photo-epigram. The artists’ foreword has stated that War Primer 2 will “update Brecht’s piece with images of the conflict generated by both sides of the so-called ‘war on terror’” (Broomberg and Chanarin 2011, p. 3). But now Brecht’s quatrain, though positioned just as before, seems to bear no relation to the image that Broomberg & Chanarin now interpose into Plate 63. With only the outer edges of Capa’s black and white photograph visible, the newly inserted colour picture seems to have been processed using Photoshop’s ‘Twirl’ feature. The image is now a digital morass, at the centre of which, one can just make out a man’s upper torso and head with some kind of strapping attached to it. The accompanying note in War Primer 2 offers little assistance: the internet source is cited only as “http://?” Printed in a larger red type directly on top of Brecht’s (in the 1998 Libris edition of War Primer), the effect created is that of a self-clashing palimpsest in which both sets of notes take part in a confrontational, intertextual battle. Similarly, the two Plates vie with one another in a confrontational jockeying of genres, technologies and discursive effects.
One clue to Broomberg & Chanarin’s insertion is offered by David Evans, who suggests that the image depicts a “digital distortion probably caused by a Photoshop filter in the case of the anonymous downloaded image from an American soldier’s blog” (Evans n.d.). Certainly, it is the paradigmatic blur, rather than the emblematic battlefield which is now subjected to interrogation in the artists’ intervention into and expansion of the Kriegsfibel assemblage. Re-versioned into War Primer 2, Capa’s picture—or rather, Brecht’s Capa—is partly erased, partly resurfacing, in a dynamic and complex clash of media, themes, techniques, moods, and registers. It is not the depiction of conflict per se, but the blur that has survived the passage of time, in transmogrified form. What once was taken as a register of eventful intensity46—is now merely a standardised effect, reproducible by any ordinary Photoshop-user. Capa’s distortion has been pixelated—digitally out-manoeuvred. The blur has been separated completely from what Barthes once called “photographic knowledge” (Barthes 1982). No longer of a chemical order responding to the action of light on substances; the blur has now become fully procedural—a code-able technique, an ‘image operation’.47 And in the stand-off between two versions of Plate 63, there is no contest—the chemical image is clearly in retreat.
But this shift from chemical to electronic images and from photographic event to photographic operation, is worth marking for another reason too. Because, in the passage from Brecht’s Plate 63 to Broomberg & Chanarin’s “re-activation” (Buckley 2017, n.p.) of it, a parallel shift has occurred in the military use of images. ‘Image operations’ and ‘visualisation technologies’ are now routinely integrated into ‘electronic warfare’ as part of what are now known as “Information Operations”.48 Interestingly, this ‘integrated environment’ is attested to in quite another kind of War Primer—that of the US Army College’s Information Operations Primer which describes ‘Information Operations’ as “the integrated employment of the core capabilities of electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception, and operations security, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities” (US Army College 2008). In this way then, Broomberg & Chanarin’s intervention into Plate 53 reminds us that images do not depict military conflict, so much as they are embedded and deployed within the integrated environment or network of operations that is the diffuse horizon of electronic warfare. This situation is perhaps more obvious in other images used in War Primer 2, which, unlike those of Brecht’s (whose selections, with very few exceptions, are almost entirely made up of printed press images) are not taken by press or professional photographers, but instead are ‘automated’ or in some way procedural. Broomberg & Chanarin’s Plate 71, for instance, depicts the ‘7/7 bombers’ caught on CCTV at Luton railway station; Plate 24, shows 9/11 hijackers passing through airport security, in Portland, Maine; and Plate 21, consists of a still from Collateral Murder—the notorious helicopter gun-sight video released by Wikileaks. Similarly, War Primer 2 evidences different forms of ‘image-procedure’, for example as evidenced by Plate 16 which depicts a ground control station for an MQ-9 Reaper drone, or again, by Plate 12, which shows the US army’s use of iris and fingerprint scanning—a standard operating procedure, following battlefield deaths. Likewise, the ‘image operations’ suggested by Plate 63 (Figure 5), are intensified elsewhere in War Primer 2, for example, to show that the deliberate use of digital images as ideologically-loaded weapons49 is virtually impossible to control.50
The spread of ‘propaganda by image’ for example, is attested to by Plate 69 (Figure 6), which shows a still from video footage generated by Chechen militants in the Moscow Theatre Siege. These, after all, are images of conflict that are generated for the camera, rather than by it. Once made, they are fired out into the world in ways that can no government can regulate against.
And of course, military-mandated images too, are also released into the media in an attempt (albeit not necessarily a successful one) to act as ideological missiles in the ‘battle for hearts and minds’. Take for example, Plate 55 of War Primer 2—the 2003 Associated Press image depicting US Army officer Joseph Dwyer carrying a wounded boy to safety in Iraq. (See Figure 7).
This ‘iconic’ Associated Press image was widely read as strategically supporting the US’ government’s official justification for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The strategy rebounded dramatically in 2008 however, when the image was used once again to report on Dwyer’s premature death from a drug overdose, after failing to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.54 Obviously, as the Kriegsibel assemblage overall makes only too clear, the attempt to deploy images as weapons, regardless of their success at hitting their intended ideological targets, is in no way new. In this respect, the electronically-generated or electronically-circulated image, simply gives a new twist to a plot that has undeniably been around for a lot longer. But it is partly too, the very unreliability of images as ‘weapons’ that gives Kriegsfibel its rhetorical and resistive force. It recognizes the persuasive power of images and sets out deliberately to challenge and re-set that power, prodding readers to object to the ‘hieroglyphs’ of conflict, goading them (this is certainly the case in War Primer 2)55 into a more confrontational and “complex seeing” (Brecht [1931] 2014, pp. 70–85).

Act 4: Ceci n’est pas une Appropriation

In the final act of this essay, we come full circle back to the image of the duplicitous speechmaker with which we started.
The image (Figure 8) casts Hitler at his lectern—not just as a soldier but as an artful speech-maker and politician posing before multiple microphones. The accompanying quatrain gives the image a typically Brechtian, interventionist twist, making it clear that it is not merely the Nazi faithful that Hitler is addressing, but we, the readers of War Primer:56
  • As one who has often ridden it in his sleep
  • I, chosen by destiny, know the path,
  • That narrow path that leads to the abyss:
  • I could find it in my sleep. Coming?
The poem manages to capture both the prophetic tone of the bible and that of Nazi rhetoric, re-tuning both in a deeply ironic Brechtian key. Here we readers are, being led down “the narrow path” (Matthew, 7:14)58 under the visionary leadership of the Führer, when all at once, the words “I could find it in my sleep” click together with the image of Hitler’s arms, gesticulating outwards and upwards. On second look, we realise that we are being taken down this path “to the abyss” by a sleepwalker.59 But more than this, the image of Hitler conjured by the photo-epigram is a cartoon sleepwalker—his arm outstretched in quasi-comic style, in a gesture that can only be described by invoking another of Brecht’s neologisms—that of the gestus.60 The combination of text with image thus has the effect of re-casting Hitler as a kind of sleepwalking, Chaplinesque, performing clown.61
It’s worth dwelling for a moment here on the way that this situates Kriegsfibel’s use of war photography as essentially strategic: pictures of conflict are deployed, not for their representational qualities but for their ludic potential. They are ordered, arranged and positioned like chess pieces in a game, the object of which, if not to destroy the ideological opposition, is to back it into zugswang. Brecht had long since played with the idea of Hitler as a kind of comedic actor, referring to him as “the housepainter” (Double and Wilson 2006, p. 30), and repeatedly mocking him as a political clown.62 The Chaplinesque potential of this image would have been immediately evident to him.63 In this way then, the opening move in the Kriegsfibel game has been played for its gestic, not its representational qualities, in a point-blank attack on idealised heroism.64 The picture of Hitler at his podium is clearly ‘staged’ not to ‘document’ a ‘historical’ leader’s powers to rally the party faithful, but to set up a political clown who can, in the War Primer assemblage, be moved around as part of a two-dimensional, ludic version of Epic Theatre.65 And, if the Hitler that is ‘cast’ by Brecht for Plate 1, has more in common with Chaplin’s Hynkel/Hitler in The Great Dictator (1940) than with Leni Reifenstahl’s Hitler in Triumph of the Will (1934),66 then so much the better. Disconcerting readers would not only help bring out the inadequacy of the Nazi ‘pose’, but would help puncture the reader’s prior familiarity with the image, “engender[ing] pleasurable distance” in a perfect rendition of Brechtian Verfremdungseffect.67 By the time War Primer 2 comes to make its move then, the dice thrown down by Brecht’s Plate 1, are already fully loaded.
In the context of the Iraq occupation and the ‘war on terror’, the image of Donald Rumsfeld on a unicycle (Figure 9) is now set up, literally, to fit into and magnify out the Brechtian gestus: Rumsfeld’s out-stretched hand is montaged together with that of Hitler’s, the latter of which pokes out from Rumsfeld’s own, like the over-sized comedy-glove in a clown-costume. Hitler’s inclined face and always-erect microphones continue to poke up over Rumsfeld’s shoulder. As Donald McManus explains:
Brechtian characters, like all clowns, are not meant to be probed by the audience for hidden meanings or motives, rather, they display their motives by concentrating on economy of motion and striving for precision of action in order to show the audience the reason for their emotions and intent behind their actions as clearly as possible”.
Thus, not only does the re-working of Plate 1 re-double and intensify the absurdity of the Brechtian verfremdungseffect, but it forces the reader to have “two thinks at a time” (Joyce [1939] 1992, p. 583) as they are led back and forth between the two clowns, in what is now a fully-blown satire on the continued dramas of imperialistic war-making. There is no catharsis for the reader here, nor are there for that matter, any grandstanding villains—only your average clowns that continue to wheel their merry ways around and around in cycles into the abyss.
In this way then, the Kriegsfibel machine does not so much attempt to depict the violence of war as to startle us into recognition of the symbolic violence of power and ideology, when mobilised in picture form. What is required of readers, as Didi-Huberman observes, is to take a position. Of course, as Didi-Huberman also acknowledges, there is “nothing simple in such a gesture”. Rather, “it is a question of confronting something. It is therefore necessary to stand in two spaces and in two temporalities at a time.” Not only this, but for the reader’s complacency to be disrupted, a cut is necessary: “you have to get involved, agree to enter, go to the heart, do not tack, cut.” (Didi-Huberman 2009, p. 11. My translation).
It is this formal, physical act of cutting, that is at the heart of the Kriegsfibel machine: for Didi-Huberman, montage necessarily involves the mounting, remounting and dys-posing [dys-poser] of images (Didi-Huberman 2009, p. 33. My translation). It shows, only by dismembering, disfiguring, disorganising the given order of appearance. The cut is necessary, in response to a prior symbolic violence, to move images “to another order […] to another level of intelligibility, readability. Because a document contains at least two truths, the first of which is always insufficient” (Didi-Huberman 2009, p. 33. My translation).
With Broomberg & Chanarin’s dialectical response to Brecht, this ‘cut’ becomes even more physical: as Adam Broomberg describes, in order to silkscreen onto their one hundred copies of War Primer, the artists had physically break the books’ spines: “No professional silk-screener would do it…we had to break each copy…literally the spine”. (Buckley 2017, n.p.). Here we have a physical demonstration of how, as Brecht once put it, “the new must overcome the old” but it must also “contain within itself the old that’s been skipped over, it must ‘sublate’ it” (Brecht [1938] 2003, p. 235).
This then is no ‘appropriation’ by Broomberg & Chanarin of Brecht’s ‘appropriated’ images of war.68 Rather, it recalls again, Brecht’s duplicitous speechmaker from ‘The Organon’ discussed at the very start of the essay. It’s not the “good old things” that come back to haunt the speech-maker’s words, but the “bad new ones”.69 The term ‘appropriation’70 is ill-equipped to capture the clashing, dialectical, two-way process at work in the cross-fire between the two War Primers. In the Kriegsfibel assemblage what counts is the dialectical relationship between Brecht and Broomberg & Chanarin. As mentioned above, after War Primer 2, Brecht’s Kriegsfibel is never quite the same, and vice versa. This is what Jameson describes as a Brechtian dialectics—i.e., a re-ordering process in which juxtapositions are re-structured, producing and multiplying new dissonances. Not only this, but it is now impossible to conceive of an understanding of ‘appropriation’ divorced from the characteristics it acquired in the 1980s, the latter of which are now the paradigmatic settings for any ‘art historical’ understanding of the term. However, this ‘selecting and taking possession’ of an external source is entirely against the spirit of the Brecht’s Marxian project71 which, rather than ‘appropriating’ images of the war, seeks more often than not, to vandalise them, by effectively scrawling all over them in a kind of poetic hijack.72 The effect is less to ‘appropriate’ a prior image than to demolish it, ideologically speaking. Similarly, Broomberg & Chanarin’s re-visioning of the Brechtian manoeuvre, does not so much re-appropriate a prior appropriation than it hacks into a Brechtian hijacking.73 The latter, as Broomberg suggests, is a more “brutal gesture”—one that links suggestively back to Didi-Huberman’s emphasis on the cut. And indeed, the term ‘hack’ is as redolent of chopping as it is of hiring.74 By comparison, the term ‘hacking’ evokes links with computing and the production of new code in the creation of potentially infinite versions of some pre-existing programme.75 Indeed, McKenzie Wark’s ‘Hacker Manifesto’ expressly defines ‘hacking’ in terms of the production of new knowledge, rather than the ‘appropriation’ of the old.
Whatever code we hack, be it programming language, poetic language, math or music, curves or colourings, we create the possibility of new things entering the world […] in any production of knowledge where data can be gathered […] new possibilities for the world are produced, there are hackers hacking the new out of the old […] We do not own what we produce—it owns us.
The stress here is a on hacking as a collective, creative endeavour, as well as a highly political task. Not only does hacking build and create, but it explicitly re-versions a Marxist-inspired rejection of private property:
As the abstraction of private property was extended to information, it produced the hacker class as a class. Hackers must sell their capacity for abstraction to a class that owns the means of production, the vectoralist class—the emergent ruling class of our time.76
The collective struggle which Wark’s Manifesto appeals to, is certainly one that Brecht would have endorsed and the hacker ethic—which is precisely bent on ‘interventionist thinking’—seems to generate a better context for the Kriegsfibel assemblage. The point is not just to smack the reader over the head, so to speak, but to rouse him/her to collective, creative action. Brecht hacks into press images of World War 2 and Broomberg & Chanarin hack into Brecht’s hack, as well as into images of the ‘war on terror’. And these moves prompt more and more dialectical encounters with ever more readers, artists and fellow hackers. Still more hacks are produced: for example, Ali Cherri’s Ventriloquism 2013, which “brings War Primer to Syria”, or Lewis Bush’s War Primer 3 (2015), which restructures War Primer around the text of Brecht’s poem A Worker Reads History.77 Photographs traditionally were supposed to stop time, by “preserving fragments of the past, like flies in amber” (Wollen 1984, p. 118). But the continued re-versioning of Kriegsfibel first reminds us of the photograph’s historicity, only to then renege on it by eschewing any obvious historical chronologies, and by building up a network of deliberate anachronisms that reveal the epistemological status of representation (Didi-Huberman 2009, pp. 21, 68. My translation). To reiterate Didi-Huberman’s point once more, the Brechtian “art of historicizing breaks the continuity of narrations” by exposing heterogeneities that deliberately “dys-pose the truth” [dys-poser la verité] in an artistic act of ‘showing’ that exceeds rationally constructed arguments and “disarticulate[es] our usual perception of the relations between things or situations” (Didi-Huberman 2009, pp. 68, 93, 69, consecutively. My translation).
Rather than ‘appropriating’ the past then, the hack creates two-way (or multiple) passages between it and the present. In this way, it cultivates anachronisms that layer up on one another before again knotting together in a determined act of artistic freedom and political intervention.78 If Brecht’s Kriegsfibel can “gesture[s] insistently forward” in ways that “still resonate for us today, even with a certain urgency” (Giles et al. 2003, p. 3), then so too can Broomberg & Chanarin’s work reach back into history, to unhinge Brecht’s work from any vertical chronology and to inject it deeply with echoes of the future.79 Thus the present and the past are woven deeply together, re-figuring one another in a perpetual play of renegotiations, reworkings, re-versioning. For if, as Brecht claimed, photographs are “weapons against the truth”, then so too, as we have seen, can they be re-made and re-functioned for better use (Brecht [1931] 1967, p. 42f). Or as Roland Barthes once put it, “photographs are signs which don’t take, [but] which turn, as milk does” (Barthes 1982, p. 6). Images can always be turned. And it is precisely their capacity to turn and to be turned that makes photographs of war such formidable and at the same time, such unreliable weapons.
Indeed, for all his talk of ‘truth’, Brecht showed remarkable prescience in terms of what we now call ‘post-truth’.80 Some seventy odd years on from Brecht’s Short Organon, the image of the speech-maker whose echoes (or tweets, perhaps) return to contradict him is after all, a hugely suggestive one in a post-Trump, post-Brexit, context.81 Indeed, it seems unlikely that the architect of Kriegsfibel would have been in the least surprised by the concept of ‘post-truth’, as latterly conceived. Kriegsfibel’s attempts to re-function photographs of Hitler for example eating stew with ordinary folk or shaking hands with elderly ladies (Brecht [1955] 1998, Plates 26–27), springs from Brecht’s deep anxiety about our ability to dismiss the facts of war as inconvenient barriers that could be crashed through with enough rhetoric, sentiment and ideological determination. “The flood of sentiment and wilful ignorance of social conditions” produced by such images were, Brecht realised, powerful enough to “overwhelm even the starkest document of real reality.”82 And indeed, Brecht’s critiques of the ideological power and sentiment that lay behind the use of terms like ‘volk’ (as opposed to the term ‘population’) or ‘soil’ (rather than ‘landownership’) seem to confirm this.83 From this perspective, the Kriegsfibel assemblage seems to speak readily to any ‘post-truth condition’ in which “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”84 Certainly for Brecht, it was the perceived ‘naturalness’, “the irresistible flow of events” in pictures of war85 that itself constituted a kind of ‘fake news’ and on this point, Broomberg & Chanarin, whose War Primer 2 reproduces in full Brecht’s ‘Five Difficulties in Writing the Truth’, seem fully to concur.86 In this way then, the very truthfulness—perhaps one should say ‘truthiness’87 of historical events are the target of the Kriegsfibel assemblage as a whole. But the sword is of course, edged on both sides. Leaders, even powerful ones, can be opposed, confronted, contradicted. The mechanisms of truth production can and should be, as the Kriegsfibel assemblage proposes, actively intervened into—by “anyone who want[s] to fight lies and ignorance” (Brecht [1935] 2003, p. 14). In a Brechtian register then, it is not just a question of opposing truth to lies, but a question of producing “a practicable form of truth” (Brecht [1935] 2003, p. 147. My italics). Images of war need not just to be ‘interpreted’, situated, re-framed, but ultimately re-mastered88 so that readers can themselves practice “the art” of making the truth manageable “as a weapon” (Brecht [1935] 2003, pp. 141–57). The Kriegsfibel mission is not merely to wake us up to how ‘hieroglyphs’ of war work. If Kriegsfibel attempts to show us how to re-load the weaponry of truth production, then that is because it understands that the real struggle is for our imagination. The future depends on our abilities to re-invent and experiment with the far from perfect imaginaries of the present and the past.


I am deeply indebted to Rod Dickinson for his incredible generosity, wisdom and indefatigable support. My thanks go also to Mary Ikoniadou and Jim Aulich for their intellectual and editorial guidance; to the blind reviewers for their kind words and insightful suggestions; to Adam Broomberg who very generously agreed to be interviewed at an inconvenient time; to Nora Mercurio of Suhrkam Verlag and Morgan Crowcroft-Brown of MACK, who kindly gave permission for the reproduction of images. All photo-epigrams from Brecht’s War Primer 1998 have been re-printed here, courtesy of the Bertolt Brecht Heirs and Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin. © Bertolt Brecht Erben/Suhrkamp Verlag. All images from War Primer 2 have been reprinted, courtesy of Broomberg & Chanarin/Mack.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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The title of the work, in both English and German, as David Evans points out “recalls the textbooks used to teach elementary school children how to read.” (Evans 2003). In-depth discussions of the Kriegsfibel are still largely confined to the margins of the Brechtian cannon. This lack of analysis is more pronounced in the English-speaking world: Kriegsfibel was not translated into English until 1998, and the only book-length analyses of the work remain to be translated. See (Kienast 2001). See also (Didi-Huberman 2009).
Indeed, such has been the impact of War Primer 2 that it has recently been re-published by Mack. Originally a limited-edition hardback, a new unlimited paperback edition has been released to accompany Broomberg & Chanarin’s new solo exhibition at the Pompidou. See Divine Violence, 21 February–21 May 2018, Pompidou Centre, Paris. The 1955 edition of Brecht’s Kriegsfibel had an initial print-run of 10,000 copies. Subsequent editions in French and English are described in notes below, up to its most recent version, published by Verso in 2017.
Originally associated with Hito Steyerl, this point about ‘the poor image’ is repeated by Oliver Chanarin in an interview about War Primer 2, published in Photoworks. See (James 2011). See also (Steyerl 2009).
Brecht’s love of paradoxes and parables is discussed at length in Frederic Jameson’s Brecht and Method. As Jameson puts it in discussion of Brecht’s Me-ti (Book of the Turning Ways): “it is evident that the form of these parables—short anecdotes, which suggest pointed lessons that the reader must deduce—is characteristic enough of the episodization and systematic fragmentation we have attributed to Brecht.” See (Jameson 1998, p. 109).
There is not space here to describe Brecht’s dialectical method in any detail. However, in ‘The Short Organon’ Brecht articulates his approach as a ‘materialist dialectic’. See (Brecht [1949] 2014, p. 242). Stephen Giles describes this as a “mode of cognition that discloses transformative contradiction […] the contradictory processes uncovered by dialectical thinking are themselves ontologically real and thus able to resist the closure imposed by cognitive patterns”. See (Giles 1998). Frederic Jameson describes a “sly” Brechtian approach to dialectics as method. He argues that “for Brecht, the dialectic—the ‘Grosse Methode’—is defined and constituted by the search for and discovery of contradictions […] it is a re-ordering process that is necessary to grasp the dialectical method in Brecht: as the re-structuring of juxtapositions, dissonances, Trennungen, distances of all kinds, in terms of contradiction as such.” See Jameson 1998, pp. 79–80.
Both Brecht’s War Primer and Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer 2 are routinely described as ‘appropriations.’ See for example here: Evans (2012). The relevant quotation is on p. 174: “Brecht’s War Primer sits comfortably in any expansive history of appropriation art.” The term is used again in Skinner (2011, p. 237) and in (Ruchel-Stockmans 2015).
Scholars differ considerably as to how to refer to the work. Some insist that the title Kriegsfibel should be reserved exclusively for the German 1955 edition and that the English editions edited by John Willets (Brecht [1955] 1998; Brecht 2017), which include additional plates, should be referred to specifically as War Primer. (See Notes 9, 14 and 19 below.) Tom Kuhn largely follows this approach in his various essays on the work. See (Kuhn 2008a). Reprinted in (Broomberg and Chanarin 2011, pp. 212–36). See also (Kuhn 2006; Kuhn 2007). Also, (Kuhn 2008b). Similarly, Kristopher Imbrigotta specifically notes that that he does not “conflate” the two titles. See (Imbrigotta 2010). Others, such as Willett and Evans blur the relationship and do not use the title of the work to differentiate between the various editions, though they do address these differences in substance in their essays. For my part, I see the confusion between the various editions and titles as a productive one, which rather than being disambiguated should, I argue, be acknowledged and built upon. My reasons for this are developed in the passages below, but for the moment, suffice it to say that the disorderly relationship between images, which continually cross time and space to speak to one another, is a major concern of this essay.
Ruth Berlau was Brecht’s long-time collaborator, editor and lover, “whose technical assistance was essential to the work [and who] put together a whole series of sixty-six photo-epigrams, now under the title Kriegsfibel”. See (Kuhn 2008a, p. 176). Elsewhere, Kuhn states that “the whole book is carefully constructed (this artwork was, as far as we know, largely the work of Berlau)” and again, that “the role of Berlau is not entirely clear…” Perhaps, he says, “one should say ‘they’”. See (Kuhn 2008b, pp. 144–45). Didi-Huberman makes an analogous point: “Like many of Brecht’s works, the Kriegsfibel is also the result of a collective effort. The model was entrusted to Peter Palitzsch, the brief comments to the photographic documents were written by Günter Kunert and Heinz Seydel. But, above all, it was to Ruth Berlau that the dramatist entrusted most of the formatting, as well as the actual presentation of the book.” See (Didi-Huberman 2009, p. 33). [My translation].
As Tom Kuhn notes, “No. 15 is provided with a caption—possibly by Brecht or Ruth Berlau, or, more likely, by the designer (Peter Palitzsch) and editors (Günter Kunert and Heinz Seydel) of the first book publication in 1955.” In an accompanying note, Kuhn goes on to observe that “The 1994 edition includes material which it was deemed impolitic to publish in the GDR in the 1950s. The order and numbering of the images in the English edition, War Primer, translated and edited by John Willet differs substantially and includes some pieces which, although they are photo-epigrams, were never part of the original Kriegsfibel…” See (Kuhn 2008a, pp. 167–70).
“A book is a little machine.” (Deleuze and Guattari 1988, p. 4).
Mary L. Dudziak provides a useful and interesting interrogation of the notion of ‘war-time’ showing that the narrative cohesion of ‘war’ is largely illusory, and that military conflict and terrorism spills across time-lines in ways that make assumptions about war’s temporal limits, difficult to sustain. Here she follows Benjamin and Agamben’s insights developing the argument that war is “not an exception to normal peacetime, but instead an enduring condition”. See (Dudziak 2012, p. 5). My own use of the term ‘war-time’ perhaps builds on such a view, not least because, Brecht’s condemnation of war-mongering is in no way directed exclusively at what are normatively assumed to be acts of ‘war’—indeed his most stringent condemnations are often reserved for the ordinary brutality of capitalism. For example, as he says very explicitly in ‘Five Difficulties in Writing the Truth’: Fascism is simply “the most naked, brazen, oppressive, and deceitful form of capitalism… The monopoly capitalism of factories, mines and estates creates barbaric conditions everywhere; however, these are not so immediately visible. Barbarism becomes visible as soon as that monopoly can only be protected by open violence.” See (Brecht [1935] 2003, pp. 145–46). In addition to this, Ruth Berlau, Brecht’s close collaborator on this project, in her foreword to the Kriegsfibel of 1955 never explicitly uses the word ‘war’ to describe the book. See (Berlau 1955, not paginated). (This text is omitted in the English–language version.) As Kristopher Imbrigotta notes in his essay, “Instead she mentions the “images of history”, playing on the expectations of the viewer of such a collection of photographs with “war” in the title. We see history as war and war as signified through the images of history.” See (Imbrigotta 2010, p. 7).
In journal entries in 1940, Brecht describes his discovery of Oehler’s “lovely epigrams” in Meleager’s Wreath which inspired him to have “a shot at one or two” himself. He goes on to describe the epigrams’ “splendid unity, so full of contradictions”. He is particularly interested in the ancient Greek use of weapons and man-made utensils as a fitting subject of lyric poetry and pastes a photograph of an airplane cockpit into his discussion. See (Brecht 1993, [Entries on 29–30 July and 22, 28–29 August 1940], pp. 79–80, 88–95). See also, (Evans 2003, pp. 8–9).
This was Brecht’s own amalgamated term for his combination of photographs and quatrains. See Brecht [Entry on 20 June 1944] 1993, p. 319.
The Kriegsfibel’s route to publication is, as Willett says in his account of it, a rather ‘shabby story’. See Afterword. In Bertolt Brecht. War Primer. Translated and edited by John Willett. (Brecht 1998, pp. vii–xviii). It should be noted that a new English edition edited by Willett has recently been released by Verso. See (Brecht 2017). The Verso edition differs from Libris’ in that it does not include a blank, or minimally annotated left-hand page. See also, Didi-Huberman’s account of the various versions of Kriegsfibel given in (Didi-Huberman 2009). Similarly, Tom Kunn provides an account of the genesis and appearance of the work. See (Kuhn 2007, pp. 69–89). The table of concordance at the back of Willet’s edition of War Primer shows how the sequence of plates in Libris’ English (1998) edition differs substantially from the German edition of 1994—with only the first fourteen plates remaining the same order. See (Brecht 1998, p. xxiv). Willett also notes that alternative photographs were provided for epigrams 15, 30 and 41 and that photo-epigram no. 29—Friedrich Ebert in Libris’ 1998 English edition—had been replaced by no. 82, Gustav Noske) in the German edition. Evans notes that photo-epigram no 27 (in Libris’ 1998 English edition) was not included in the 1955 German edition. See (Evans 2012, p. 173). Evans’ essay was re-produced in (Broomberg and Chanarin 2011, pp. 165–88).
Didi-Huberman 2009, p. 31. [My translation]. This is a necessarily truncated version of events and there are many more components that could be described in a longer account of the ever-evolving Kriegsfibel ‘machine’. See for example, Willett’s discussion of Brecht’s ‘German War Primer’—a set of anti-Nazi epigrams written in 1937 and published in the Moscow magazine Das Wort. Similarly, from time to time, Brecht spoke of compiling a ‘Peace Primer’ and, as Willett goes on to explain, “quatrains like no. 84 (which dates from 1950) were supposedly to be part of that.” See Willett, in (Brecht 1998, pp. viii–xii).
Brecht himself did not use the term ‘work journal’ or Arbeitsjournal as it has come to be known. The Arbeitsjournal contains important reflections about his work and has been the subject of major analyses in itself—notably it is the subject of a major study, along with Kriegsfibel by Georges Didi-Huberman, which has not been translated into English. See (Didi-Huberman 2009).
For example, Plate 6 in the German 1994 edition of Kriegsfibel and in Libris’ English 1998 edition of War Primer, was included in Brecht’s Journals. Similarly, Plate 54 (in the Libris’ edition of War Primer—Plate 88 in the 1994 German edition) was also included in the Arbeitsjournal. See here, (Brecht 1993, pp. 320, 429, [Entries on 20 June 1944 and 10 June 1950]), consecutively.
See (Didi-Huberman 2007). Didi-Huberman goes on to argue that “Here autobiographical fragments, poems, theatre sketches and philosophical notes coexist in a montage of texts and images that is just as disorienting as the Documents assembled by George Bataille or in Aby Warburg’s Bilderatlas.” [My translation.]
Some of this re-ordering has already been referred to above. Additionally, Willett describes how versions of the book sent to Kurt Desch and later to Volk and Welt were either rejected in their entirety or subjected to censorship. In the latter case, particular images (e.g., Brecht’s selection of images of Goering and or Bevan were deemed to be “too flattering” while the picture of Ebert was thought to be offensive to “socialist comrades”. Likewise, the GDR publishing watchdog considered the book to be “too broadly pacifist in its opposition to the war”. Willett goes on also to describe Eulenspiegel’s request to include a new photo-epigram as well as to amend several quatrains—some of these Brecht agreed to, some he did not. See (Brecht 1998, pp. xii–xv).
John Willet describes how, sometime after Stalin’s death in 1953, in his Chausseestrasse flat, Brecht shows the poet Günter Kunert, “a closed folder containing large black sheets of card, each with a news picture cut from the press, and a quatrain beneath it.” Willett in (Brecht [1955] 1998, p. xiv). Similarly, in the German 1955 edition, the photo-epigrams are set against a black ground. However, in the 1998 Libris version, used by Broomberg & Chanarin, the background is grey.
Unless otherwise indicated, I refer to the plate numbering used in Willet’s English-language edition of War Primer, firstly because this is the version developed in Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer 2 and secondly because, as I argue below, it is the relay between these two particular versions of the work which is of greatest interest here.
As Kristopher Imbrigotta notes, though Brecht rejected the Dadaists as a whole, he “publicly endorsed the photomontages of John Heartfield, in particular, for their biting social commentary and defended them against criticisms of being too formalistic in their approach to the masses”. Imbrigiotta shows how Brecht was influenced both by Heartfield’s visual aesthetic, which cultivated “relationships between the text and the pictorial fragments, between the images and social commentary and between the issues raised in the photomontages and the perspectives of the articles in the magazine” but also by his “disdain for the rise of the Nazis in Germany and Fascism in Europe”. See (Imbrigotta 2010, p. 30). It’s worth mentioning also, that while on exile in Sweden, Brecht’s images were mostly drawn from press cuttings from Swedish illustrated magazines. Later he relied heavily on images taken from the American magazine Life. See John Willett’s Notes in (Brecht 1998, p. i).
‘Brecht-fatigue’ became a commonly used term in the 1970s. See (Jameson 1998, p. 18). However, Elizabeth Wright traces its original use to Werner Mittenzwei, who defined the term as a symptom of the “aesthetic emancipation of socialist literature.” See (Mittenzwei 1977), p. 12.
See (Broomberg and Chanarin 2011). War Primer 2 is also available to be viewed online: (accessed on 30 August 2017).
Broomberg & Chanarin’s version follows Libris’ English edition, translated and edited by John Willett and published in 1998. This edition differs significantly from previous ones—the ordering and numbering of the images are different and importantly, Willett’s version includes photo-epigrams that were not a part of the 1944 unpublished sequence nor the sequence published in German in 1955 under the title Kriegsfibel. Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer 2, 2011 won the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2013. The artists continued to rework aspects of Brecht’s War Primer in their work Poor Monuments, 2011 which “silkscreened an opaque red rectangle representing the contemporary image onto original pages from disassembled copies of The War Primer. Whilst the selected image is not pictured, the title of each individual work describes the source image and supplies a web address at which it can be found.” See (accessed on 30 August 2017).
This, and all of the photo-epigrams from Brecht’s War Primer 1998 have been re-printed here, courtesy of the Bertolt Brecht Heirs and Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin. © Bertolt Brecht Erben/Suhrkamp Verlag. Throughout Broomberg and Chanarin’s War Primer 2, the original quatrains used by Brecht are retained.
Figure 1 above includes an original photo from Life of unknown date. The accompanying quatrain reads: “O thrill of marching bands and banners flying!/ Teutonic myth of swastika-crusaders dying!/ Till all objectives were reduced to one:/ To find yourself some cover. There was none”. An explanatory note is provided by John Willett: “Rommel, whose Afrika-Korp landed in Libya in March 1941, advanced to within Europe and was pushed back at the Battle of Alamein in October 1942. Poem attributed to 1944”. See Willett, Note 43, in (Brecht 1998, p. iv).
The quatrain in Figure 2 above reads as follows: “O thrill of marching bands and banners flying!/ Teutonic myth of swastika-crusaders dying!/ Till all objectives were reduced to one:/ To find yourself some cover. There was none”.
In War Primer 2, the note accompanying Plate 43 reads: “Worn-out civilian shoes of dead Iraqi soldiers tell the story of an ill-equipped army in a David-and-Goliath battle for their lives. (accessed on 30 August 2017). See Broomberg & Chanarin, p. 98. Photographer David Leeson commented elsewhere on this image, saying that he was: “…very struck by this photo of a dead Iraqi soldier when I first came across it a couple of days ago. Of course, it is because of the shoes. They look like the dress shoes that my Dad used to wear. And they turn a picture of an Iraqi soldier into a picture of an Iraqi who was someone’s father, or brother, or uncle or husband or son.” (accessed on 30 August 2017).
Brecht 1998, epigram accompanying Plate 85 (See overleaf). In a note on Plate 85 made in the Libris edition, John Willett explains that “The quatrain is the third stanza of Brecht’s poem (c.1955) ‘To the Students of the Workers’ and Peasant’ Faculty; a note in the one-volume edition of Brecht’s poetry ascribes it to the projected ‘‘Friedensfibel’ or ‘Peace Primer’ (cf. no 84).” See (Brecht 1998, p. vi).
See especially, (Brecht [1936] 2003). It should be added that, as Jameson observes, for Brecht, “official pedagogy” is in no way privileged. Rather, pedagogy is a “two-way street of a genuinely dialectical relationship…the doctrine is simply the method itself”. See (Jameson 1998, p. 99).
Broomberg and Chanarin 2011, Plate 85. For the final plate in War Primer 2, Broomberg & Chanarin have silkscreened an opaque red rectangle representing the contemporary image onto original image of the students in their lecture theatre. Unlike their interventions over other Plates, here, their selected image is not pictured, though a web address for the source image is provided in their notes. (Broomberg and Chanarin 2011, p. 101).
Two main points are worth making here. Firstly, critics disagree as to the exact dating of Brecht’s shift to Marxism. To this end, the following note provides a useful steer: “The first clear indications of Brecht’s interest in Marxist theory may be found in his September 1926 notes ‘On Art and Socialism’ (no. 9), and in a letter to Helene Weigel in 1927, where he asks her to send him Marxist writings dealing with the history of revolutions. The subsequent development of Brecht’s Marxism in the Weimar Republic was strongly influenced by his encounters with the sociologist Fritz Sternberg, and the philosophers Otto Neurath and Karl Korsch.” See (Giles et al. 2003, p. 58). Secondly, critics also disagree as to the nature of the relationship between Brecht’s Marxism and his aesthetic theories and practice. The majority of critics seems to support Andrew Squiers’ view that the two are deeply integrated. For a detailed account of Brecht’s emancipatory Marxist aesthetic, see (Squiers 2014). See also (Kellner 2010). Though Brecht’s Marxian approach is generally acknowledged, some scholars have attempted to disassociate Brecht from his Marxism or downplay his relation to it. See for example, Esslin (1961). See also (Bentley 1999).
Brecht’s own experience in attempting to have the Kriegsfibel published itself demonstrates the shifting historical context of photographs of war. As John Willett describes, in a Cold War context, the ‘Kultureller Beirat für das Verlagswesen’ (the publishing watchdog of the newly founded GDR) rejected the book on grounds that it was too “broadly pacifist in its opposition to the war”. In a typed response by Brecht, which may or may not have been sent, he argued that the book “had to be taken historically.” See Willett. Afterword. In Brecht 1998, p. xiii. It’s worth noting here also in passing that Brecht (and Berlau’s) views on photography recall Allan Sekula’s discussion of the “fantasy of a collision between photography and hieroglyphics”. For Sekula as for Brecht, photography inevitably “depends on larger discursive conditions” and any claims or assumptions as to photography’s ‘universality’ should be considered, at best “dubious”. Interestingly however, both Brecht and Sekula ultimately view photography as both “a simultaneous threat and promise”. See (Sekula 1981). Quotations on p. 17 and 16, consecutively.
The sentiment in Brecht’s quatrain is echoed in Berlau’s introduction. As Grimm puts it: “Berlau maintains that…people cannot escape the course of events by ignoring them, it is justifiable and even necessary to show and interpret “at this particular time” such “gloomy pictures from the past”.” See (Grimm 1975, p. 266).
(Brecht [1931] 1967). English translation cited in Grimm 1975, p. 266. Another oft-cited quotation from Walter Benjamin’s Short History of Photography supports this point: “For, says Brecht, the situation, is ‘complicated by the fact that less than at any time does a simple reproduction of reality tell us anything about reality. A photograph of the Krupp [armament] works or AEG [general electricity company] yields almost nothing about these institutions. Reality proper has slipped into the functional. The reification of human relationships, the factory, let’s say, no longer reveals these relationships. Therefore something has actually to be constructed, something artificial, something set up.” See (Benjamin [1931] 1972). Citation from p. 24.
Brecht’s thinking on ideology as a force of domination and on the necessity of breaking people’s identification with bourgeois ideology was strongly influenced by his friend Karl Korsh’s emancipatory Marxism, see (Kellner 2010). See also, (Korsh 1970, pp. 70–73; Brecht [1931] 1967, pp. 156–58).
It is interesting to note that, in his sole journal entry of 1935 Brecht reflects on how, “years after I had made my name as a writer…I didn’t yet understand the abc of politics.” Brecht goes on to add: “it was then and only then that I did read Marx. And for the first time, my own scattered practical experiments and impressions really came to life.” See (Brecht 1993, [1935], pp. 4–5). It is notable that the French edition of Kriegsfibel is subsequently named L’ABC de la guerre—the ABC of War. See (Brecht 1985).
These descriptors are all taken directly from the Pulizer Prize, the World Press Photo of the Year, The Robert Capa Gold Medal Award and the Pictures of the Year International competition websites.
Brecht’s ‘interventionist thinking’ has been noted by many scholars. See for example, (Tatlow 2010, p. 26). The following quotation from Brecht’s Five Difficulties in Writing the Truth also serves to summarise his approach: “So is it not possible to exploit the thinking which has been propagated, that is to say to shape it for the purpose of intervention? [My italics] See (Brecht [1935] 2003, p. 153). Similarly, Tom Kuhn submits that “Brecht is clearly and increasingly less interested in the representation of reality, than in what he calls the “Meisterung der Realität.” See (Kuhn 2008a, p. 182).
Figure 4 contains an original photo from Life, 19 June 1944, taken during the Allied landings in Normandy. Brecht’s original poem (quoted below) is attributed to 1944, revised in 1954 and is reproduced below. The relevant explanatory note from Libris’ 1998 English Edition reads: “The last three lines of the earlier version read: The man from distant Essen on the Ruhr saw the man from distant Maine rising up from the sea at daybreak, and didn’t understand.” See Willett. Notes in (Brecht 1998, p. v).
In his book on Robert Capa, Alex Kershaw notes that “Capa’s photograph of the eighteen-year-old Edward K Regan has been published thousands of times and remains the definitive image of the first minutes of ‘Bloody Omaha’”. See (Kershaw 2003). See also Capa’s own description of the Omaha Beach landing in his own book: (Capa [1947] 2015, pp. 159–79). Note that Capa’s book was published eight years prior to Kriegsfibel (German edition) of 1955.
Some ‘hedgehogs’ were also rigged with explosives that would detonate on impact. See the Imperial War Museum’s description of the German defences used on D-Day at (accessed on 30 August 2017).
See consecutively, (Foucault 2007, pp. 32, 164). Foucault’s ‘truth-games’ are more dynamic than the ‘regimes of truth’ that he describes in earlier work. See also, (Foucault 1988, pp. 1–20). It should be noted that Foucault is thinking about ‘truth-games’ in relation to the construction of subjectivity, which is not the focus of this paper. However, in a Brechtian register, Foucault’s concerns with agency are nevertheless still pertinent. Arguably, his notion of ‘self-governance’—the extent to which, we as agents are able to constitute and reconstitute ourselves according to the games of truth that we choose to participate in—is, in a sense, anticipated by Brecht’s emancipatory pedagogy, albeit expressed not in terms of subjectivity but in terms of the production, as Benjamin had it, of a ‘livelier more productive consciousness’.
The original image was published in Life, 19 June 1944 as part of a longer photo-essay. Its original caption reads: “Crawling through the water, US solider edges toward the beach. Immense excitement of moment made photographer Capa move his camera and blur picture. The Germans were still pouring machine-gun and shellfire down on the beach, apparently from concrete pillboxes.” See (Capa 1944, pp. 25–31).
The perceived ‘Soviet threat’ was not mere paranoia on the part of the exiled Brecht. In fact, as eventually revealed, by 1945, Churchill had already developed two separate plans, code-named ‘Operation Unthinkable’ in response to concerns about the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of the war, and the perception that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was unreliable. The Soviet Union had yet to launch its attack on Japanese forces, and it was feared that the Soviet Union would ally with Japan if Western Allies invaded. The first of these plans—a surprise attack on the Soviet forces stationed in Germany—was abandoned and the code name was used instead for a defensive scenario, in which the British were to defend against a Soviet drive towards the North Sea and the Atlantic. See (Walker 2013). It is interesting to note that the ‘myth’ of the American contribution to WW2 continues to be questioned by historians. See for example, (Cambria 2015). In his short on-line essay for Either/And David Evans also analyses this image from both Primers. He considers Brecht’s quatrain in light however, of the official “‘line’ taught to generations of school children in the Soviet Union and its satellites throughout the Cold War era.” See (Evans n.d.).
This is the term that Brecht uses in an entry in his Arbeitsjournal on 19 August 48, to describe the effect of “overpowering” “bourgeois propaganda”. See (Brecht 1993 [19 August 48], p. 392).
As Alex Kershaw describes, it was normal procedure to put film in a wooden locker with a heating coil at the base. This legendary account of the darkroom accident went unquestioned for many years. Richard Whelan, Cappa’s biographer accepted John Morris’ account (Morris was then Picture Editor of London Life), that in their rush to send the images to press, darkroom staff had put Capa’s images in a drying cabinet and closed the doors. Out of four rolls of film, only nine prints were thought to have survived. See Kershaw 2003. In recent years however, this version of the story has been strongly contested by A.D Coleman, who has put forward an alternative theory of what happened to Capa’s negatives. Coleman claims that the “missing and supposedly destroyed D-Day negatives—the ones … purportedly “ruined” in a freak darkroom accident” are “hidden in plain sight in the Robert Capa and Cornell Capa Archive at the International Centre of Photography in New York.” Coleman claims that the ‘legendary’ darkroom accident was manufactured; that all four 35 mm films survived processing and that the contents, apart from the frames of Omaha Beach, were deliberately suppressed. Coleman published his correspondence by email exchange with Morris online. The correspondence ends with Morris accusing Coleman of “false accusations” and calling for a public apology. Others such as Rob McElroy and J Ross Baughman joined Coleman in expressing reservations about the story. See:; (Both sites accessed on 2 March 2018.) Here, my thanks go to the Guest Editor who pointed me towards this exchange.
From another perspective, the blurring in photography has also been seen as a mark of “defiance”—For example, Roland Barthes speaks about how “great photographers” can deliberately exploit “certain defects (blurring, deceptive perspectives, trick framing). Barthes describes this as one of the four ‘surprises’ of photography. See (Barthes 1982, pp. 32–33).
The term ‘image operations’ is used widely in Informational Sciences. A typical definition summarises these as: “The types of operations that can be applied to digital images to transform an input image a[m,n] into an output image b[m,n] (or another representation).” See (Wriggers n.d.). The term is also used more generally by Jens Eder and Charlotte Klonk to include “operations on images, with images and through images, but also operations by images.” See (Eder and Klonk 2017), p. 13.
‘Electronic warfare’ is itself hardly new—radio and radar systems have been used in ‘technological battle’ since the Second World War. See for example, (Price 2017). However, the development of visual interface technologies and the integration of simulated and augmented reality, computer modelling, and various kinds of digital imaging systems including retinal scanning are now also routinely used in electronic warfare.
An extensive discussion has grown up around the role of images as weapons of war or instruments of terror in recent decades. For an indicative but by no means comprehensive account, in order of publication, see: (Baudrillard 2002; Sontag 2003; RETORT 2005; Bleiker 2006; Croft 2006; Slome and Simon 2009; Buckley 2009; Butler 2010; Mitchell 2011; O’Loughlin 2011; Apel 2012; Kellner 2012; Bolt 2012; Stallabrass 2013; Roger 2013).
See here for example, Hoskins and O’Loughlin’s discussion of how the geographically-dispersed ‘war on terror’ creates a condition of ‘diffused war’ in which there may be no identifiable ‘field’ to control. See (Hoskins and O’Loughlin 2010).
Broomberg & Chanarin’s image and notes are printed directly on top of those included in the 1998 Libris edition of Brecht’s War Primer. Brecht’s original poem (quoted overleaf) remains visible and unchanged. The note for Plate 63 in War Primer 2 is cited only as “httpp://?”.
Brecht’s accompanying quatrain reads: “I say all pity, woman, is a fraud/Unless that pity turns into red rage/Which will not rest until this ancient thorn/Is drawn at last from deep in mankind’s flesh.” The note for Broomberg & Chanarin’s entry includes a now-defunct url.
The accompanying quatrain by Brecht reads: “Best take your enemy’s little lost brother/ Out of the battle line that you’ve defended./ That he and your son live to tell each other/ Just how it was that wars like this were ended.
Operation Iraqi Freedom was announced by George Bush on 19 March 2003. In his live presidential address to the nation, Bush justified the operation as both necessary for “American national security” and to “help[ing] Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country”. See (accessed on 30 August 2017). As above, the image was widely seen as endorsing the American case for occupation in Iraq—that is at least until 2008, when Dwyer “took his own life with an overdose of pills and canned aerosol fumes at his home in North Carolina, after struggling to deal with a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder.” See (accessed on 30 August 2017).
Many of the images included War Primer 2 are controversial and/or situated in such a way as to provoke the reader. The complete list is too numerous to detail in full, but see here especially, Plate 25 and 53 (decapitated head and skull) Plates 20, 42, 49, 50, 57, 67, and 76 (‘trophy’ photographs involving dead or mutilated prisoners); Plate 56 (terrorism fashion shoot); Plate 58 (Guantanamo waterboarding); Plate 45 (Rabbi, Moshe Aryeh Friedman embracing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad).
J.J. Long makes the point that “The use of “ihr”—the informal plural form of “you”—appears to situate Brecht’s collective readership in the uncomfortable position of being the direct addressees of Hitler’s speech.” See J. J. Long 2008, p. 211.
Photo from Life, 19 June 1944. Brecht’s poem attributed to 1944, revised in 1954. The quatrain reads as follows: “Like one who dreams, the road ahead is steep/ I know the way Fate has prescribed for us/ That narrow way towards a precipice/ Just follow. I can find it in my sleep.” See Willett. Notes. In Brecht 1998, pp. iv–v.
“Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life.” See Matt. 7:13–14. In The Holy Bible. 2011. (NIV). Peabody MA: Zondervan. There are three points worth noting here. Firstly, when asked by the Berlin magazine Die Dame, which book had made the deepest impression on him, Brecht answered: “you’ll laugh—the bible”. See (Murphy 1977). Certainly, as Martin Esslin claims, the “vigorous outspoken language” of the Lutheran bible pervades his entire body of writings, informing fundamental aspects of Brecht’s notion of Epic Theatre. See (Esslin 1961, p. 106). The second point worth noting here however, is that Brecht took the same interventionist approach to his bible as he did in Kriegsfibel, annotating it in red and in pencil and pasting cuttings into it, including for example, on the title page, the image of a smiling Buddha and, on the back inside cover, a photo of a racing car. The third and final point, is that in 2013, Broomberg & Chanarin provocatively re-worked his Holy Bible in another extended encounter with Brechtian approaches to imagery. Using images from the Archive of Modern Conflict, The Holy Bible project includes many shocking pictures, including for example, the bodies of Holocaust victims piled up in a heap, next to the words “princes of the congregation” (Joshua 9:15) or the photo of a Palestinian child dressed as a suicide bomber—paralleling the image of an older child also dressed in a suicide bomber costume, used in Plate 72 of War Primer 2. See also, (Broomberg and Chanarin 2013).
Long notes that the photo-epigram offers the reader a “fundamentally ambiguous position” by making at one and the same time, an “imputation of blindness and irrationalism (sleepwalking)” and an ironic declaration that “Hitler is going to lead Germany not to some apotheosis but to an abysmal end.” See J. J. Long 2008, pp. 210–11. See also Kienast 2001, p. 41.
Brecht defined the term in several different ways, sometimes emphasising physical gesture, sometimes the way that historical determinants are made concretely manifest in such gestures. As explained by Silberman, Giles and Kuhn, etymologically, Brecht’s term ‘gestus’ derives from the Latin gestus “a masculine noun derived from the verb gerere (meaning to carry or to bear) … [which] refers to physical bearing or body movement, especially of the hand or the arm. More specifically, it alludes to a speaker’s or actor’s use of gesturing. The related neuter noun gesta in turn means action or deeds. In other words, the Latinate gestus refers to everything related to mime and mimicry, including facial expressions, body posture and body language, which contribute to the telling of a story.” See (Silberman et al. 2014, p. 32). Mumford summarises the amalgam of ideas that lie with the term gestus: “Sometimes Brecht used it [gestus] in the sense of ‘gesticulation’ to refer to a complex of different types of gesture, including verbalisations. However, from the late 1920s onwards, he became increasingly interested in gesture as socially encoded expression…To show the Gestus came to mean to present artistically the mutable socio-economic and ideological construction of human behaviour and relations.” See (Mumford 2009, pp. 53–54). Frederic Jameson also provides an overview of the gestus in Jameson 1998, pp. 99–105.
Brecht’s admiration for Chaplin and for clowning more generally, is attested to in many sources. See for example, (Thomson and Sacks 2006). See also: (Gordon 2006; McManus 2003). According to Meg Mumford, Brecht first saw a Chaplin film in 1921 since which time, he continued to be inspired by Chaplin’s work. See Mumford 2009, p. 54. Brecht also made explicit use of clowns in his plays. For example, The Baden-Baden Lesson on Consent Lehrstück contains a grotesque clown scene where a man is sawed to pieces in the name of helping him.
Interestingly, in the context of a discussion about War Primer, Brecht’s mockery was employed specifically in another of his ‘primers’—the opening letter of his ‘Alphabet’ for children. The entry reads: “Adolf Hitler’s facial hair/ Is a curious affair./ It’s what I’d call uncouth:/ So small a toothbrush for so big a mouth.” (Brecht 1987, p. 239).
There is also much evidence to support the suggestion that Brecht looked on Hitler as a kind of actor. Certainly, the Hitler that emerges in the Arbeitsjournal, is an actor with comic potential: Brecht’s clippings show him in a sequence of twenty images taken from German newsreel and reproduced in Life. The newspaper caption adds to the comic effect: ‘Hitler Dances: Führer does Jig for Victory’. Brecht [Entry on 17 June 1940] 1993, pp. 60–69. Elsewhere Brecht remarks, with considerable glee, on the “wealth of material” that there is in the Fascist illustrated weeklies: “these poseurs”, he says, “understand the art of epic theatre, giving banal events a touch of the historic”. Brecht [Entry on 8 October 1940], 1993, pp. 103–4. Brecht was well aware that Hitler had taken lessons in elocution and deportment from the comic actor Fritz Basil and in On the Theatricality of Fascism, he describes in detail, the way that the ‘housepainter’ acts when speechmaking: “First of all, by all sorts of tricks, the expectation of the audience—for the people must become an audience—is aroused and provoked […] He’s an individual, a hero in the drama, and it’s his purpose to make the people (or rather the audience) say what he says. Or more precisely, feel what he feels […] Without doubt, the house painter […] has taken up a theatrical method, by which he can persuade his audience to follow him almost blindly.” (Brecht [1939] 2003), p. 198. Similarly, Brecht’s play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941) casts Hitler’s career in terms of a Chicago gangster’s takeover of the city’s greengrocery market. The play chronicles the rise of Arturo Ui, a fictional 1930s Chicago mobster and his attempts to control the cauliflower racket by disposing of the opposition. It satirises Hitler’s rise to power, along with that of Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels, Ernst Röhm (Head of the Nazi brown-shirts) and von Hindenburg, (President of the Weimar Republic). Scenes in the play are loosely based on real events including the Reichstag fire and the Osthilfeskandal scandal. (Brecht [1941] 2016) See also Brecht’s Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, which though completed in 1938, was banned until the end of the war. (Brecht [1945] 2009).
Brecht had a deep admiration for Charlie Chaplin, who inspired him “to invent stage characters who could be described as political clowns”. [My italics.] Galy Gay, for instance, the central protagonist in Man is Man, is a distinctly Chaplinesque character, who turns, in the course of the play, into a bloodthirsty fighting machine. In fact, Brecht referred to Chaplin as a kind of model performer for his Epic Theatre. See (Silberman et al. 2014, p. 200). See also (Gordon 2006, p. 224) and (Schechter 2006, p. 90).
Brecht’s alertness to the gestic potential of photographs of Hitler is also evidenced by his use of photography in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. He stuck four photographs of “Hitler the Orator” into Scene 6 of his first script. See Brecht 2015, p. 342. Other photographs were similarly studied for their gestic potential in various stage productions of Brecht’s plays. For example, the Life photograph of a mother and her dead child taken after the bombing in Singapore (Plate 48 in the 1998 Libris edition) was stuck into Brecht’s Journals in his entry of 5 April 1942. The picture was also used directly to inform Weigel’s interpretation of Mother Courage in Berlin, 1949, as described in a first-hand account by Ekkehard Schall. See (Brecht 1993, [Entry for 5 April 1942], p. 218). See also, (Schall 2015, p. 32).
David Evans makes a similar point: Kriegsfibel, he says “can plausibly be described as the continuation of epic theatre by other means.” See (Evans 2012, p. 170). As he and other commentators remind us, Brecht is separated from the stage during this entire period, when as Brecht himself says, “It is impossible to finish a play properly without a stage.” (Brecht 1993, [Entry on 30 June 1940], p. 73). While, Brecht himself was not Jewish, his wife Helene Weigel was and the Brechts lived as exiles in Denmark from 1933, before fleeing again to Sweden in 1939 and then to Finland in 1940. They departed for LA in 1941 and then for Switzerland in 1947, before eventually returning to Germany in 1949.
Willett and Manheim allude to the obvious parallel between Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and Brecht’s Arturo Ui. See (Brecht 2015, p. 339). For Brecht, there was nothing inappropriate about using comedic devices to address big, even tragic themes. For more about Brecht’s use of comic devices (including slapstick, commedia dell’arte exaggeration, burlesque and stagey playfulness) to convey serous messages, see (Silberman 2012).
Verfremdungseffekt is generally translated as ‘estrangement-effect’ in newer translations of Brecht’s work. This replaces John Willett’s previous translation of the term as ‘alienation’, which, as Fredric Jameson argues in Brecht and Method, is potentially misleading in that it assimilates Brecht’s term to Marx’s Entfremdung. (Jameson 1998, p. 85). For a fuller history of translations of the term, see (Silberman et al. 2014, pp. 24–26). Brecht provides a key to his usage of the term in Short Organum for the Theatre, where he describes it as an attempt to “free socially-conditioned phenomena from that stamp of familiarity which protects them against our grasp today…A representation that alienates is one which allows us to recognize its subject, but at the same time makes it seem unfamiliar.” See (Brecht [1949] 2014, p. 544).
Both Brecht’s War Primer and Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer 2 are routinely described as ‘appropriations.’ See for example here, (Evans 2012). The essay was re-produced in (Broomberg and Chanarin 2011, pp. 189–201). The relevant quotation is on p. 174: “Brecht’s War Primer sits comfortably in any expansive history of appropriation art.” The term is used again in Sam Skinner’s Split/Subject—Notes on War Primer 2. In (Broomberg and Chanarin 2011, p. 237). It is similarly used in (Ruchel-Stockmans 2015, pp. 57–73).
At the end of Conversations with Brecht, Walter Benjamin quotes a Brechtian maxim: “don’t start from the good old things but the bad new ones”. See (Benjamin 1973b, p. 57). The phrase is requoted by Broomberg & Chanarin as the title of their exhibition at C/O Berlin (2016), which exhibits War Primer 2 as well as their re-functioned version of Brecht’s The Holy Bible (see Note 58 above).
There isn’t space here to detail the history of ‘appropriation art’, (or indeed even, the history of the history of appropriation) which tends to be very expansively conceived to include anything from ancient Greek re-use of cultural forms in statues, to the Byzantinian ‘spolia’ of Islamic architecture, to the methods of Dadaists, Pop, and the Situationists, and including for example, the work of Levine and Kruger in the 1980s, or the re-use of corporate logos by Negativland. Indeed, it is a feature of the ‘history of appropriation art’ that it continues endlessly to extend itself, including more and more forms, genres, techniques and gestures. See for example: (Graw 2004). See also (Brilliant and Kinney 2011). David Evans gives a similarly expanded understanding of ‘appropriation’, dividing contemporary practices into seven categories of appropriation activity including Agitprop; The Situationist Legacy; Simulation; Feminist Critique; Postcolonialism; Postcommunism; Postproduction. See (Evans 2009). See also, (Nelson and Shiff 2010). Arguably, what all of these approaches have in common is their focus on the ‘appropriating agent’ and the act of “taking as one’s own” (Nelson and Shiff 2010, p. 162) an external work which is then brought into and used in a newly created artwork. Two things are notable here: firstly, there is no evidence of Brecht ever having conceived of Kriegsfibel as an ‘artwork’ and secondly, that such an approach is unequivocally one-directional. As Nelson observes, approvingly quoting Edward Said, “in every cultural appropriation there are those who act and those who are acted upon.” See (Said 1993). In (Nelson and Shiff 2010, p. 172). In comparison with this, the Kriegsfibel machine is markedly dialectical both in method and theoretically conceived.
For the Brecht of Platform for Left-wing Intellectuals, Fascism can only be resisted by those who renounce private ownership of the means of production, and everything which goes with it, and who want to fight together with the class which fights most passionately against private property”. See (Brecht [c.1937] 2003, pp. 172–75). Quotation on p. 175.
Similarly, in the medieval Grusinia of Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle, we see how justice and prosperity for all is made impossible by a private property and class system in which ownership is determined by the ruling elite through their soldiers and law courts. Likewise, Brecht’s scattered comments in the Arbeitsjournal demonstrate his Marxian take on property relations. For example, in the entry on 16 November 1940, he discusses a play he has seen in the Finnish National Theatre, entitled The Young Landlady of Niskavouri. The play is the first in a trilogy that he says, “demonstrates how the farm is not there for the people, but the people for the farm; how the property shapes the family and destroys all individual relationships.” (Brecht 1993, [Entry on 16 November 1940], p. 113).
Finally, Brecht’s Marxian approach to private property is evident not least in his attempt to recuperate the term ‘plagiarism’, which concept is, as Michael D Richardson explains, “derived from increased emphasis on property (with an implication here for intellectual property) concomitant with the development of capitalism.” See (Richardson 2007). It should be noted also that Brecht’s notoriety for plagiarism was built on his tendency to ‘aggressively’ rework ‘classical’ texts. However, as Jameson says, in a sense “everything in Brecht is plagiarism in one way or another—whether from past or present, from other people or the classics—the Grundgestus also suggests the uniqueness of some Brechtian ‘mode of production’ in which there is always a pre-existing raw material that requires a reworking based on an interpretation.” See (Jameson 1998).
Indeed, Brecht did also seek to recuperate the term ‘vandal’ in terms of material use—in this view, it is not the vandals that are ‘barbarous’ but the fear of vandalism: “People shouldn’t have been so afraid of being accused of vandalism. Fear of vandalism turned people into philistines. People ought to be much more careful when they pass judgement on the Vandals. They probably burnt those wood carvings not simply because they disagreed with their style artistically, perhaps not even because they were against wood carvings as such, but because they needed wood for the fire… For a while, our vandalistic efforts promised quite a lot, even though they were fought against every step of the way.” (Brecht [1929] 2003), p. 79.
Indeed, in interview, Adam Broomberg says: “I don’t think it’s an appropriation.” Bernadette Buckley. Interview with Adam Broomberg. 28 August 2017. Broomberg goes on in the interview to use the term “hijack” to describe War Primer 2’s relationship to Kriegsfibel. He also argues that it is their questioning of the “economy of images” that makes War Primer 2 “at least for me, true to the Marxist tradition”. There is not space here to develop this thinking in more detail, but for more information, see the artists’ own essay critiquing The World Press Photo Awards: (Broomberg and Chanarin 2008). The essay is also available from their website at (accessed on 30 August 2017). However, the artists’ critique of this “economy of images” is apparent from their knowing use of images in War Primer 2. For example, see here Plate 44, in which Brecht’s photo (of unknown origin) depicting an African woman carrying a pot on head, is replaced with an image of the dead Fabienne Cherisma, a 15-year girl shot by police for looting two plastic chairs and three framed pictures, shortly after the earthquake in Haiti, 2010. The image shows a group of photographers crowding around Cherisma’s body and is obviously attempting to take issue with the ways in which photographs of violent death are sold to media outlets around the world. However, Broomberg & Chanarin’s re-functioning of the image in War Primer 2 seems, ironically to remind us, that Paul Hansen, the photo-journalist who took the picture, is later rewarded for his ‘critique’, by being awarded the International News Image of the year in the Swedish Picture of the Year Awards, 2010.
The term carries multiple connotations including both the notion of chopping (going back to the old English verb c. 1200, tohaccian, meaning ‘to hack to pieces’) and that of hiring (referring to a “person hired to do routine work”, c. 1700—this sense of the term derives from a hackney ‘a horse or carriage for general service or hire’). Secondary meanings include those of ‘a broken-down nag’, ‘a prostitute’ (1570s) and ‘a drudge’ (1540s—especially a literary one who writes according to direction or demand). The term ‘Hack writer’ was first recorded in 1826 and the term ‘computer hacker’ is used from 1984. See (Oxford English Dictionary 2009). 2nd Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
A useful disambiguation of the term ‘hacking’ is provided by Otto von Busch and Karl Palmås: “Hacking is a term usually connected to the world of computers. It has often a connotation of an ingenious geek, breaking into forbidden networks, bypassing security systems, making free and anonymous phone calls to others in their hidden sects to break into a bank. But in computer jargon there is a big difference between the curious hacker and its vicious counterpart the cracker […] hackers build things, crackers break them” “Hacking is breaking into the flows on the channels.” See (Von Busch and Palmås 2006), pp. 29, 37.
It is worth noting that Wark’s Marxian approach focuses precisely on a challenge to normative values of private (intellectual) property. His emphasis makes for an uneasy fit with notions of ‘appropriation’ which, as the etymology of the term shows, derives from the Latin ad (to) propriare (take as one’s own) from proprius (one’s own), the latter of which gives rise to and belongs to the same semantic family as the term ‘property’. Indeed, the late 14th century usage of the term ‘appropriate’ as the OED explains, points explicitly to the “Late 14c., “the taking of (something) as private property”. OED, 2009. It’s also worth observing that Robert Nelson’s essay on appropriation as a ‘critical term’ in Art History discusses the etymological underpinnings of the term approvingly: “to appropriate today, means to take something for one’s own use”. See Appropriation, in (Nelson and Shiff 2010).
Ali Cherri’s Ventriloquism 2013, “brings War Primer to Syria” by projecting Brecht’s voice onto short “looping gifs, lifted from YouTube clips” and juxtaposing them with his quatrains See ‘Ventriloquism: A project by Ali Cherri’, 2013. See (accessed on 30 August 2017). See also Lewis Bush’s War Primer 3 (2015), which restructures War Primer around the text of Brecht’s A Worker Reads History, adding new images and text. Available at (accessed on 30 August 2017).
Brecht saw the construction of deliberate anachronisms as a useful distantiation technique. In the Arbeitsjournal, he ponders over how to “keep in the social anachronisms” [my italics] in the Szechwan Parable, insisting that the use of French white bread in a play set in China is “not intended as a joke” but rather, as a “poetic conception”. (Brecht 1993, [Entry on 2 July 1940], p. 76). I am indebted here also to Didi-Huberman’s discussion about anachronism in (Didi-Huberman 2002).
Frederic Jameson makes a parallel argument albeit from a different direction, to the effect that Brecht is now irrevocably mixed up in contemporary practices: “ the framing of artificial arguments and reasons why Brecht would be good for us today and why we should go back to him in current circumstances seems hypothetical in contrast to the concrete demonstration that we have in fact ‘gone back to him’ and that his thought is present everywhere today without bearing his name and without our being aware of it.” (Jameson 1998, p. 171).
Oxford Dictionary’s explanation for the increasing prominence of the compound term ‘post-truth’ is an interesting one. In an interesting justification of their choice for nominated ‘post-truth’ as their ‘word of the year, Neil Midgley explains that the prefix ‘post’ is not used to suggest a time after truth but something “more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant’”. (accessed on 30 August 2017). Midgley goes on to characterise this use of the suffix post- in relation to other terms originating in the mid-20th century, in formations such as post-national (1945) and post-racial (1971). The original use of the term (in its current meaning) is traced to a 1992 essay by the Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation when reflecting on the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf War. “Post-truth”, it claims, “has gone from being a peripheral term to being a mainstay in political commentary, now often being used by major publications without the need for clarification or definition in their headlines.”
Perhaps the most notorious examples of ‘post truth’ claims include Sean Spicer’s insistence, following Donald Trump’s inauguration speech, that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe” (see (accessed on 30 August 2017); Kellyanne Conway’s defence of these claims in her appeal to “alternative facts” (accessed on 30 August 2017); the Leave campaign’s false claims, repeated by Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and numerous others during the British EU Referendum, that EU membership costs of £350 million pounds a week would be spent on the NHS. Of course, these are only a few of the many markers that could be cited in support of a ‘post-truth’ political climate. A much longer and wider trajectory of ‘post-truth politics’ could include, amongst other things, mention of Holocaust denial, climate change denial and the numerous ‘truth and reconciliation’ commissions, Persian Gulf War, across the world.
Kuhn discusses how Brecht, having been asked to judge a poetry competition, bemoans the photograph’s inability to be able to offer sufficient political resistance to the ideologically self-assured convictions of the bourgeoisie: “What is the point, in terms of propaganda for our cause, of publishing photographs of big cities, if all around us we see a rising generation of bourgeois opinion which can be entirely refuted simply by such photographs?” See (Kuhn 2006, p. 264). Other times, Brecht attempted to ‘restore’ the truth, when deliberately masked by the Fascists. For example, in his short piece entitled ‘On Restoring the Truth’, he includes two columns. On the left-hand side, he quotes, almost verbatim, original newspaper reports of speeches by Göring and Hess. On the right-hand side, he offers a “restoration of the truth” matching and decoding the original speech, line by line. Truth, Brecht implies, can only be unmasked and restored through a meticulous and deliberate un-working of propaganda. (Brecht [1934] 2003)
For Brecht, these emotive and ideologically-loaded terms need to be actively re-interpreted in order that the proletariat could start to perceive their exploited position and emancipate themselves. He accuses users of these terms of “divest[ing] them with a lazy mysticism”. See his critique of these and other Nazi terms in (Brecht [1935] 2003, pp. 141–57). It is interesting to note that the difficulties of writing the truth were such that, this text, which was originally published as a leaflet for distribution, had to be smuggled back into Nazi Germany for clandestine diffusion under the disguised title, Practical Tips for First Aid. See (Brecht [1935] 2003, p. 156). Brecht also wrote often throughout his career about the impact of Nazi propaganda on young people. Of course, there are many more similar examples that could be offered here, for in fact, Brecht’s attempts to challenge commonly-accepted and internalised techniques of ‘truth production’ were a major part of his aesthetic and political undertakings. For more about Brecht’s views on bourgeois ‘truth production’, see (Squiers 2014).
This is the recent definition of ‘post-truth’ given by Oxford Dictionaries. For more information, see (accessed on 30 August 2017). It seems unlikely that the concept of ‘fake news’ would have held any surprise for Brecht who, as we have seen, was more than aware of how photographs could become ‘weapons against the truth’. In the fourteen years of his “in-between time” (as he referred in his diary to his exile), he spent many hours pouring over newspaper articles and photographs and indeed, at one point in the Arbeitsjournal he even commented specifically on the harmful effects of “tarted up”, “doctored reports”. See (Brecht 1993, [Entries on 19 August 1940 and 17 August 1943], pp. 89, 305), consecutively.
The quotation is from Brecht [Entry on 3 January 1948] 1993, p. 382. Brecht satirises those who believed Fascism to be “a wave of barbarism which has descended on several lands with the force of a natural disaster”. Similarly, examples of Brecht’s attempt to challenge the perceived naturalness of events abound in the Abeitsjournal but see especially Brecht’s entries on 2 and 3 August 1940 where he provides appendices to the Messingkauf. The need to break up an imposed schema” lies behind Brecht’s infamous Verfrumdungseffect, which is described in Note 68 above. (Brecht 1993, [Entries on 2 and 3 August 1940], pp. 82–84).
See Brecht [1935] 2003, p. 145. The essay was first published in the anti-Fascist journal Unsere Zeit, 1935, before being smuggled as a leaflet into Nazi Germany. See (Brecht [1935] 2003, p. 156). Frequently cited as one of his most important discussions of political aesthetics, it is centrally concerned with the ‘truth’ of literature, and the capacity of art to contribute to the struggle against Fascism. For Brecht, there was nothing inevitable, or ‘natural’ about Fascism—on the contrary, it was “a historic phase which capitalism has entered into”. The seeming inevitability of events was simply a “symptom[s] of the surface of things and not the deeper causal complexes of society.” (Brecht 2007, p. 73). The essay is reprinted in (Broomberg and Chanarin 2011, pp. 103–21).
The term ‘truthiness’ was infamously coined by the US comedian Stephen Colbert in the pilot episode of his political satire program The Colbert Report on October 17, 2005. Colbert satirized appeals to emotion and ‘gut feelings’ as a rhetorical device in contemporaneous socio-political discourse. See Nathan Rabin. Stephen Colbert—Interview. Available online: (accessed on 30 August 2017). Colbert infamously applied the term to U.S. President George W. Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and also to his decision to invade Iraq in 2003. More generally, the term can indicate anything from ignorant assertions of falsehoods to deliberate duplicity or propaganda intended to sway opinions.
Brecht speaks several times, both in Arbeitsjournal and elsewhere, of the need to “master reality”. This is a point that is picked up by Tom Kuhn in his seminal essay on Kriegsfibel. See (Kuhn 2008a, p. 182). Kuhn’s essay is reprinted in (Broomberg and Chanarin 2011, pp. 211–36). Other references to Brecht’s comments on the need to ‘master reality’ are made in Federica Chiocchetti, Realism and Photography in Brecht’s War Primer. In (Broomberg and Chanarin 2011, pp. 144–64). See especially, p. 146.
Figure 1. Plate 43. From Brecht. War Primer. 1998. Rommel’s flight across Libya.25
Figure 1. Plate 43. From Brecht. War Primer. 1998. Rommel’s flight across Libya.25
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Figure 2. Plate 43. From Broomberg & Chanarin. War Primer 2. 2011.26
Figure 2. Plate 43. From Broomberg & Chanarin. War Primer 2. 2011.26
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Figure 3. Brecht. 1998. War Primer. London: Libris. Plate 85.
Figure 3. Brecht. 1998. War Primer. London: Libris. Plate 85.
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Figure 4. Bertolt Brecht. 1998. War Primer. London: Libris. Plate 63.38
Figure 4. Bertolt Brecht. 1998. War Primer. London: Libris. Plate 63.38
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Figure 5. Broomberg & Chanarin. 2011. War Primer 2. London: Mack. Plate 63.51
Figure 5. Broomberg & Chanarin. 2011. War Primer 2. London: Mack. Plate 63.51
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Figure 6. Plate 69. Broomberg & Chanarin. 2011. War Primer.52
Figure 6. Plate 69. Broomberg & Chanarin. 2011. War Primer.52
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Figure 7. Plate 55. Broomberg & Chanarin. 2011. War Primer 2.53
Figure 7. Plate 55. Broomberg & Chanarin. 2011. War Primer 2.53
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Figure 8. Plate 1. Bertolt Brecht. 1998. War Primer. London: Libris.57
Figure 8. Plate 1. Bertolt Brecht. 1998. War Primer. London: Libris.57
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Figure 9. Plate 1. Broomberg & Chanarin. 2011. War Primer 2.
Figure 9. Plate 1. Broomberg & Chanarin. 2011. War Primer 2.
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Buckley, B. The Politics of Photobooks: From Brecht’s War Primer (1955) to Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer 2 (2011). Humanities 2018, 7, 34.

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Buckley, Bernadette. 2018. "The Politics of Photobooks: From Brecht’s War Primer (1955) to Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer 2 (2011)" Humanities 7, no. 2: 34.

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