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Friday, 31 January 2014

Sans Souci,soldiers and Hitchcock

Here's a picture of my uncle at Sans Souci in Potsdam, Germany in 1936.

Sans Souci means without a care and  is also the name of a book by Christian Boltanski (he's the partner of Annette Messager whose Voluntary Tortures featured here a few weeks back).

Sans Souci features pictures of German soldiers relaxing - visually they are without a care in the world. It's an album kind of book, complete with glassine sleeves. The pictures were picked up at flea markets with key images selected to make up the final album.

The strangeness of the album is seeing German soldiers at play. The album  is a kind of counter balance to the Kuleshov Effect. The Kuleshov Effect states that when you see one picture it affects how you interpret the next one. Hitchcock exemplified it best with his Nice Man/Dirty Old Man examples.

The first sequence goes: 1.  Look there's Hitch, 2.  Look there's a nice lady with a baby, 3. Look there's Hitch, he's being kind and thoughtful. What a nice man! Ahhh!

The second sequence goes: 1. Look there's Hitch,  2. Look there's a lady in a bikini, 3. Look there's Hitch, letching after the lady in the bikini like the dirty old fecker that he is! Disgusting!

That's the theory anyway, but I think he looks homicidal and lecherous in the first one and then lecherous in the second one. Which still proves the point.

So the Sans Souci pictures of Nazis at play works in the same way, but there's a counterbalance. We see people in German army uniforms, so we are geared up to see atrocities and death. But that doesn't come.

That's the basic operation of Sans Souci; pictures that defy expectations. In Private Pictures, Janina Struk (and thank you Mr Fox for recommending it to me)  describes audience reactions to an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum of German soldiers pictures that were taken during the occupation of the Netherlands.

In 2007, these everyday pictures were interpreted by the audience as a 'homage', connections were made not only to the Holocaust but also to the war in Iraq and American propaganda. Struk writes that 'Some said they portrayed the humanity of war while others said they protrayed its cruelty. One elderly Dutch visitor looked at the photographs and began to weep and rushed outside. No one knew what he had seen in those seemingly innocuous pictures.'

The picture at the top of the page is of my uncle, but it's from an album from the 1930s. So there are people in army uniforms, there are swastikas and there are Nazi salutes. Which changes the meaning of just about every picture in the album and makes it hard to untangle.

But untangle it I must. That is my challenge. So my latest book purchase is Sans Souci. I'm looking forward to its arrival.

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