Raumbild Paris 1937: A Tour of the Exposition – Pavilions and Fireworks

RAUMBILD WARNING: This post contains stereographic images from Raumbild-Verlag Otto Schönstein, a company that was largely controlled by the Nazi party between 1936 and 1945. If you are offended or disturbed by imagery containing Nazi symbols, leaders, salutes, or the like, please click away. In no way do I personally, nor this blog as a forum, support Nazism, and any comments which appear to do so will be removed and their posters blocked.

Please read the introductory post if you have not yet done so!

By way of a brief recap: “Paris 1937” is a book detailing the International Exposition held in the titular year and released the following year. Captured in 100 stereoviews by Heinrich Hoffmann – Hitler’s best friend and an accomplished photographer – the book is a propaganda piece, demonstrating the new German Reich’s supremacy on the world stage. There were lots of nice things in various pavilions around the Expo, but the truly great things were all from Germany – of course. Even the cover screams this message – the Eiffel Tower might be taller, but it is not as sturdy, as imposing, as powerful; it is located behind the German Pavilion. The partial stereoview in the feature image for this post shows fireworks erupting from the Eiffel Tower, with the German Pavilion to the left. With hindsight, this image is almost a metaphor for Germany’s April 1940 invasion of France, with the eagle atop the German Pavilion bombarding a symbol representing soon-to-be-captured Paris.

While on cursory examination it, this book appears to contain beautiful photographs, a more attuned reader might latch on to the fact that this is unmistakably well done and subtle propaganda. It would appeal to the masses, whilst subconsciously getting the message across. A yet more intuitve reader might note that both interpretations are correct – that these are beautiful stereoviews which functioned as effective propaganda in the years before the war. It is likely for this reason that this Raumbild volume differs from others in that the text appears in three languages – German, of course, but also French and English. Hoffman was undoubtedly an incredibly talented photographer as well as an astute propagandist. It would not be a stretch to say that what Leni Riefenstahl was to motion pictures, Hoffman was to the still image, 3D or otherwise.

So an interesting question arises: is it wrong to appreciate these images on an aesthetic level? Hoffmann was, without a doubt, a talented stereophotographer. On the flipside, he was an unapologetic Nazi – years after the war and his four-year sentence for war profiteering, in 1955 he published his memoirs under the title “Hitler was my Friend”. So should we then regard the images as somehow naughty, unmentionable, and unworthy of aesthetic appreciation? I tend to think not, and this is my own personal take on such things. Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia” are both masterful works of cinema, and they are just as propagandistic as this volume. I feel that these stereoviews can be appreciated in much the same way – one can enjoy their aesthetic merits whilst not ignoring the propagandistic nature of the creator or his creations.

Of course, this is just one man’s opinion. If you prefer to put distance between yourself and the imagery – harder, perhaps, with three dimensional images such as these than with traditional photography – then of course, you may. It’s certainly possible to simply study the images, and to put an academic distance between viewer and object. As well as being very well-done stereoviews, these are also documentary in a sense – they capture a certain period in time, certain predilections of the photographer in question, certain intentionality both by themselves and in context with the accompanying text. Me, I’ll do both.

Bilder 11-25

Bild 11: Italian, Hygienics’ and Yachting Pavilions seen from Eiffel Tower
Bild 12: Belgian, Portuguese and German Pavilions seen from Eiffel Tower
Bild 13: Trocadéro Esplanade seen from Eiffel Tower
Bild 14: Iéna Bridge

Note two things at this point – in the above view, the title and putative subject is the Iéne Bridge – but the dominant contrast point is the German Eagle atop the relevant Pavilion. Also notice that, in the above four images, said Pavilion appears. This is certainly not an accident.

Bild 15: Southern end of the “Swan’s Island”: copy of the New-York Liberty Statue, pagoda and “Bayon” (tower with human faces), in the Colonial Division

I tend to think that the caption tying the most famous symbol of America with colonialism is no more a mistake than the fact that it is shot at such an angle as to diminish it.

Bild 16: The Peace Column
Bild 17: The visitors’ crush
Bild 18: Alexander-III-bridge, 300-flagpole, “Grande-Palais” and Cold-pavilion
Bild 19: Beneath the Eiffel Tower
Bild 20: Fireworks on Eiffel Tower; on the left, the German Pavilion

Fireworks from the Eiffel Tower were a frequent occurrence at the 1937 International Expo. Hoffmann no doubt had numerous versions of this photograph in his archives; he photographed for his collections extensively, winnowing large sets of similar images down to his “top 100”. The eagle staring at the fireworks flaring to the left can’t be an accident here.

Bild 21: Alma bridge and Italien [sic] pavilion, seen from the German pavilion

Note here that a much better stereo photograph could be taken of the Italian Pavilion at night from a closer perspective – but that such a photo would not, in combination with the caption, imply the height and grandeur of the German Pavilion.

Bild 22: On the Seine bank: the basque pavilion
Bild 23: Fireworks on Eiffel Tower
Bild 24: Northern Eiffel Tower Pillar and Pavilion for Photography, Movies and Phonography

Two things to note here: first, that Hoffman took an exquisite stereophoto of the pavilion that was representative of his chosen profession. Second, as seen here and in other bilder, that the captioner had an aversion to the Oxford comma.

Bild 25: Yugoslavian Pavilion, inner courtyard

Okay, I’m a photographer, and I find through-the-fence shots to be remarkably difficult to pull off properly. It must be doubly so with stereo photography; I’ve never tried. This through-the-fence stereoview is excellent.

And that’s all for today’s post, though there are 75 stereoviews in the book (and on my hard drive) still to be shared; watch the blog for upcoming posts, as well as Tru-Vue‘s somewhat less impressive offering on the Exposition. I hope that whatever brought you here – the desire to see some really pleasing stereoviews, an academic interest in the propagandistic aspect of the series as a whole, plain old curiosity, or random internet surfing – gave you something to enjoy and/or contemplate. And now, pop on your red/cyan glasses, for it’s time to look at some…


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