Tangible perspectives

Kracauer. Photographic Archive presents  largely unknown material from the estate of the German-American theorist of film and photography, ­Siegfried Kracauer and his wife and assistant Elisabeth, known as Lili. The single and group portraits, still lifes, street scenes and landscapes collected in this book all come from the estate of Siegfried Kracauer. Published here for the first time, they are an extensive and representative selection from the enlargements, contact sheets and rolls of film originally archived by Lili Kracauer. With photographs from the late nineteenth century to the 1960s, this book documents the life of two people closely connected for over four decades and their joint photographic archive. The primary focus is not biographical, however, but on the photographs as such—and the shared photographic archive.1 Because this has not been seen as a distinct item up to now, it must be stressed here that it is not a mere adjunct but an integral part of the estate of Siegfried Kracauer, and provides the “image of a precisely ordered … archive, set up by the author himself, of his varied journalistic, literary and academic activities.2 This description of the written part of the estate applies equally to its photographs. Most of these were taken not by Siegfried but by Lili Kracauer, and it was she who ordered the material. However, her system was disbanded when the images from the Kracauer estate, which had been in the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach since 1972, were transferred into the archive’s own system in the 1980s. This means that the photographs and contact sheets that were “roughly sorted and distributed among labeled envelopes”3 by Lili Kracauer are now arranged according to visual motifs, and the labeled envelopes and a series of related notes are stored separately, as a sort of addendum to the photographs. On this basis it would be possible to approximately reconstruct the original order of the photographic archive and to analyze it as a historical ensemble. The aim of this book, however, is to illuminate the collaboration of Lili and Siegfried Kracauer. Its main emphasis thus lies on the photographs taken by Lili (and a very few by Siegfried) Kracauer in 1934–39 and 1945–64.

Prints, contact sheets and film strips from both phases of her autodidactic photography are reproduced in chapters I–IV. This material can be considered the result of a photographic practice in which Siegfried Kracauer participated: on the one hand quite obviously as a preferred subject—his portrait dominates the pictures taken by Lili Kracauer; on the other it can be assumed with some certainty that there was an interdependence between his theoretical considerations and her practical experience. This shared photo­graphic practice also took in the use made of the images and their storage, and thus extended to the ­photographs each brought into the marriage and their joint photographic archive. A selection of these largely anonymous images can be seen in chapter V.

It is significant that Kracauer’s portrait was rarely taken by professional photographers.4 The portraits, familiar from books, publishers’ advertising and the press were almost exclusively taken by Lili Kracauer. One aim of her photography seems to have been to enable the couple themselves to determine which portraits of the author Kracauer were used and to create his public image. The photographs from 1934–39 and 1945–64 should also be seen in this light. They enable us to monitor the types of portrayal that were tried out, modified, discarded or perfected.

The photographs taken by Lili Kracauer are the most extensive and important part of the photographic archive. This book presents them chronologically; that is, within chapters I–IV they are mostly reproduced in the order of their respective film strip and are not grouped according to motifs, with the exception of the street photographs of Paris. The intention was to allow the images to come into their own without removing them from the context of their creation, and thus to bring the act of taking them into play. In this way, for example, it can be seen what arrangements were made for the best-known portrait of ­Siegfried Kracauer, the number of attempts that finally brought it about—and finally, too, that Kracauer took a photograph of his wife at the end of the sitting.

Faithfulness to the published photographic material is an essential feature of this publication, whose structure was determined from the very beginning by the photographic archive itself. The external guideline was to proceed from the photographs themselves in an attempt to outline the photographic practice of Lili and Siegfried Kracauer. The texts of the individual chapters are understood as simple commentaries on the images, and provide the information that seems necessary for their informed viewing and meaningful interpretation. The recurring chapter heading “Travel and Portraits” arises from the fact that apart from the pictures taken in Paris during the couple’s emigration there, all the photographs came about during their travels. “Travel and Portraits” is taken from Lili Kracauer’s labeling of film canisters, envelopes and accompanying slips of paper, which give important indications for dating and localizing the photographs. In this respect the book often implicitly falls back on the roughly reconstructed former order of the photographic archive. The titles for certain images are also found in Lili Kracauer’s notes.

Lili Kracauer herself, the originator of the photographs and the arrangement of their archive, has remained largely unknown until now. The biographical digression on her in the middle of the book sketches her career, her work and her life at the side of Siegfried Kracauer.

The chronology in the appendix provides an overview of both lives, followed by a selected bibliography and a complete list of illustrations.

Essential facets of the author Siegfried Kracauer are highlighted in the following introduction with reference to certain names, figures, and formulas invoked by readers of his work, friends, and Kracauer himself. Some comments about an iconic photograph then bring the focus onto the book’s actual subject matter: ­photography.


1 It goes without saying that this book does not contain photographs from other estates.

2 Translated from Volker Breidecker, “Foreword,” in id. (ed.), Siegfried Kracauer – Erwin Panofsky. Briefwechsel, Berlin 1996, p. VII.

3 Translated from the description of the “Estate of Siegfried Kracauer” by the then picture department from November 23, 1988. Kracauer Estate, Deutsches Literatur­archiv Marbach (hereafter referred to as KE DLA). 

4 The Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach only holds a portrait by Fred Stein from 1966; it is part of the DLA’s portrait collection and was not in the Kracauer estate. The articles on Siegfried Kracauer from newspapers and journals collected in the media-documentation department only show photographs that are part of the Kracauer estate; the sole exception is a portrait marked “Conti-Press” that appeared in Die Welt with the article “Film ist Kunst des Wirklichen,” by Ingeborg Brandt, on July 28, 1958.

  • 1950er Jahre
  • Archiv
  • Sammlung
  • Porträt
  • Siegfried Kracauer
  • Biographie
  • Exil
  • Fotografische Bilder
  • Geschichte der Fotografie
  • 1930er Jahre
  • Fotografie
  • 20. Jahrhundert
  • Paris

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Maria Zinfert

Maria Zinfert

arbeitet in Berlin als freie Autorin, Herausgeberin und Übersetzerin. Sie promovierte über die Romane von Victor Segalen und hat mehrere seiner Texte ins Deutsche übertragen. Sie forscht derzeit über Archivfotos deutschsprachiger Autorinnen und Autoren des 20. Jahrhunderts und hat bereits mehrere Beiträge zu den Fotografien aus Kracauers Nachlass veröffentlicht.

Weitere Texte von Maria Zinfert bei DIAPHANES
Maria Zinfert (Hg.): Kracauer. Photographic Archive

Maria Zinfert (Hg.)

Kracauer. Photographic Archive

Mit Fotografien von Elisabeth Kracauer und Siegfried Kracauer

Gebunden, 256 Seiten

PDF, 256 Seiten

The photography book "Kracauer. Photographic Archive" is a collection of previously unpublished photographic material from the estate of the sociologist, journalist and film theorist Siegfried Kracauer. Portrait, city and landscape photographs give insights into the life of the writer and his wife Elisabeth, known as Lili – a life marked by flight and exile. The photographic portraits of Kracauer from the 1930s on were all taken by his wife, while prints, contact sheets, rolls of film and written material reveal that Kracauer took pictures himself, too. Neither Kracauer nor his wife was a professional photographer, yet their photos testify to the aesthetic and technical achievements of their collaborative photographic practice: the eye of the great photography theorist combined with that of the art historian and observant, self-taught photographer Lili Kracauer. The book also tells the story of Lili and Siegfried Kracauer’s close working relationship – from the early 1930s following their marriage in Germany, to exile in Paris and the war and post-war years in the USA.