Colloquium: Got a Light? Soldiers, Cigarettes, and the Semantics of Wartime Photography

  • Datum: 08.02.2022
  • Uhrzeit: 17:00
  • Vortragende(r): Elissa Mailänder, Sciences Po Paris
  • Ort: online
  • Gastgeber: Forschungsbereich Geschichte der Gefühle

Elissa Mailänder, Sciences Po Paris

Got a Light? Soldiers, Cigarettes, and the Semantics of Wartime Photography

Since the invention of the camera, combatants have documented their experiences of war and violence in photographs. With the Second World War, however, photographic snapshots turned into a mass medium. Equipped with their fast-shutter, affordable 35mm cameras, German, Japanese, and US-American and other servicemen captured images of their workaday service in the Pacific war and the European theatre. In my talk I will focus on the recurrent and allegedly banal gesture of lightening a cigarette in different WWII theatres to peel back the historical performative dimension of war photography: What do these images of Axis and Allied soldiers tell us about the correlation between military and gender, race, sexuality, and war? How can we grapple with the polysemy of the depicted gestures? And, since photographs as a visual medium strike the innermost core of the spectator’s subjectivity: What precisely affects us viewers today when we look at those photographs?

Elissa Mailänder is an Associate Professor at Sciences Po Paris, Center for History. She also serves as Deputy Director of the Centre interdisciplinaire d'études et de recherches sur l'Allemagne (CIERA) and is a founding member of the Hamburg based international and interdisciplinary research group Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict (SVAC). Elissa Mailänder has widely published on perpetrator history and the dynamics of violence in Nazi concentration camps (Female SS Guards and Workaday Violence. The Majdanek Concentration Camp, 1942–1944, Lansing, Michigan State University Press, 2015 – German 2009). Her recent book Amour, mariage, sexualité. Une histoire intime du nazisme, 1930-1950 (Paris, Seuil, 2021) examines friendship, intimacy, and heterosexual relationships in Nazi Germany, highlighting the importance of mass participation and practices of everyday conformity to dictatorship. Her new collaborative project Trophy Photographs in WWII. An Interdisciplinary Transnational Debate explores performative transgressions of soldiers in private photography through the lens of gender, sexuality, and cultural self-assertion.

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