Real Men Wear Uniforms: Photomontage, Postcards, and Military Visual Culture in Early Twentieth-Century Germany
This essay examines early twentieth-century German representations of men and women in uniform to consider how mass culture allowed individuals to participate in aspects of gender construction. It also reveals how masculinity was increasingly linked to military ideals. The pictures under scrutiny here were made in two significant but as yet under-researched types of pictures: pre-avant-garde photomontaged soldier portraits and popular postcards. Both of these visual forms originated in the 1870s, the decade that Germany was itself founded, and they both were in wide circulation by the early twentieth century. Individualized soldier portraits and postcards offered a glorious vision of a man’s military service, and they performed what Theodor Lessing has called Vergemütlichung, the rendering harmless of history. These idealized images of soldierly life were available to a broad swath of the public, but their democratization only extended so far. Representations of women in uniform served to reinforce—through stereotyping and humor—the unquestionably male nature of military institutions and, by extension, of public space. At the same time, by making apparent their own constructed nature, these portraits and postcards offered viewers a glimpse behind the masquerade of masculinity. This essay thus also identifies these images’ links to the subsequent work of avant-garde artists and to the National Socialists’ return to the ideal of uniformed masculinity.
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