By Anne Fuchs (auth.)
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Extra resources for After the Dresden Bombing: Pathways of Memory, 1945 to the Present
G. Sebald in his famous essay on the air war and postwar German literature:44 the iconicity of such photos that have been in circulation since the late 1940s points to the presence of a lasting trauma narrative in postwar Germany. Peter’s photograph of the destroyed city with bonitas in the foreground belongs to a handful of photographic icons that have shaped the postwar imaginary globally. Its iconography exudes such a powerful appeal because the melancholic reflectiveness of bonitas transcends the historical context in which the shot was taken.
38 The skeleton is the first direct reminder of the loss of human life; it points the viewer to the next full-page photo, showing the exterior wall of a house with graffiti from survivors who were looking for their loved ones. As we turn over, the photographer exploits once more the aesthetic of shock: we are now confronted with two full-sized, close-up photographs of mummified corpses, a woman on the left and a man with a swastika on his arm on the right. 39 After this representation of the Dance of Death, the final section turns to an affirmation of human life.
The socialist iconography is evident in the photographer’s technique of de-individualisation; Peter tends to photograph his subjects from behind while they are engaged in some collective effort. These workers are too busy to stop and gaze at the camera. The collective will to make the city rise from the rubble is further aggrandised by photographic shots from a low angle that lend dignity to the project of reconstruction. Richard Peter’s iconographic depiction of a socialist future culminates in the final picture which adopts an upward angled shot to glorify a worker who appears to be climbing into a socialist heaven.