Postcards are a medium of the masses. Irrespective of existing differences in class and status, they were bought, written on, send and collected by the millions. It is not by coincidence that the rise of the postcards occurred around 1870. This was the time that a market for mass media products such as the press, cinema and gramophone began to emerge in Germany. While the postcard, standardised to 9 x 14 cm, was initially used purely as a writing medium, the triumphal procession of postcards began around 1880, showing not only landscapes and cityscapes but also public figures.
GÖTTINGEN’S PROFESSORS IN SERIES
The series of postcards of Göttingen professors exhibited here, was distributed in the 1930s and 1940s by various local sellers and was mainly aimed at a student clientele. They served as personal devotional objects but also sent to parents and friends as showpieces of one's status. In addition, they can also be viewed as early marketing attempts for the city as well as the University, designed to extend the popularity of Göttingen’s Science elite beyond the local borders.
FACES OF TIME
The iconography of Göttingen’s professor postcards developed along similar lines to contemporary portrait practice. Elements of film star postcards from early cinema can be seen in them, as well as the effects of avant-garde portrait photography of the interwar period, focusing strongly on faces.
SEVEN POSTCARDS OF GÖTTINGEN PROFESSORS IN THE MUNICH MEDICINE WEEKLY NEWSPAPER
photographers: Erich Retzlaff, A. Schmidt, photos, State and University Library of Göttingen, Voit Collection
Many of the exhibited postcards focus on the faces of the Professors. The faces almost take up the entire space and appear as if they had emerged from it. By frequently leaving the base of neck and shoulder blurry, the person is fully reduced to countenance alone. This focus is in the tradition of portrait photography of the interwar period. As society changed, becoming more urban and industrialised, many contemporaries feared a loss of the personal. The photographic work on the face, as it was carried out primarily in popular photographic portrait series of the 1920s and 30s, was intended to counteract this impending loss and, via the visage of a person, refocus on the individual itself.
THE TYPICAL FACE
The focus on the face had another dimension. Photographers on the left and right of the political spectrum of the Weimar Republic attempted to classify and order the social world via the face. Individual expression was replaced by ethnic groups or professions.
Erich Retzlaff’s popular illustrated books are representative of this. In the 1930s, he staged the face as an expression of ethnicity in his photographs with a strong emphasis on ethnicity.
The way in which the faces were highlighted can be found in a series of postcards showing Göttingen professors, whose photographs were also taken by Retzlaff.
TEN POSTCARDS FROM THE SERIES “PORTRAITS OF GÖTTINGEN’S PROFESSORS”
Hg. Deuerlich’sche bookstore, studio Hanna Kunsch, date unknown, postcards, State and University Library of Göttingen, Voit Collection
THE PROFESSOR AS A CELEBRITY
The postcards of the Göttingen student alliance, on each of which the portraits had an autograph-like signature, follow the style of star photographs from Weimar era cinema. From the 1920’s onwards, the major movie production companies began to offer postcard collections of their actors in order to create a deeper emotional bond with the new film celebrities. In particular from the 1930’s onward, in addition to the handwritten signature on the front of the postcard, autograph postcards were available, which were provided with a pre-printed signature of the person depicted.
SEVEN POSTCARDS FROM THE SERIES “PORTRAITS OF GÖTTINGEN PROFESSORS”
Free Student Body Göttingen, Atelier Fr. Struckmeyer Göttingen, date unknown, postcards, State and University Library of Göttingen, Voit Collection / City Museum of Göttingen