The Politics of Photobooks: From Brecht’s War Primer (1955) to Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer 2 (2011)

Buckley, Bernadette. 2018. The Politics of Photobooks: From Brecht’s War Primer (1955) to Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer 2 (2011). Humanities, 7(2), 34. ISSN 2076-0787 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This essay intervenes in debates about the depiction of conflict since 1945, by comparing two highly significant photographic ‘hacks’: Brecht’s War Primer (Kriegsfibel) 1955; and Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer 2, 2011. Kriegsfibel is a collection of images, snipped from wartime newspapers and magazines, which Brecht selected and situated alongside the four-line verses that he used to comment upon and re-caption his pictures. These acerbic ‘photo–epigrams’ captured Brecht’s view, firstly, that photography had become a ‘terrible weapon against truth’ and secondly, that by repositioning the individual image, its political instrumentality might be restored. When, more than half a century later, Broomberg & Chanarin decide to re-work Kriegsfibel to produce War Primer 2, they effectively crash into and redouble the Brechtian hack; updating and further complicating Brecht’s insights; re-animating his original concerns with photography as a form of collective historical elucidation and mounting, literally on top of his pictures of wartime conflict, images from the ‘war on terror’. This essay argues that the re-doubling of War Primer performs multiple critical tasks. It explores the Kriegsfibel as a dynamic confrontation with images of war and stages the enduring need to interrogate and actively re-function images of conflict from WW2 to the present day. It re-examines debates about images as weapons of war in themselves, and finally, it situates the Kriegsfibel assemblage in relation to contemporary understandings of ‘post-truth’.

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Identification Number (DOI):


Brecht’s Kriegsfibel; Broomberg & Chanarin; war/anti-war photography; hack/hijack; radical pedagogy; truth-games; anachronism; interventionist thinking

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Politics > Research Unit in Contemporary Political Theory (RUCPT)


2 April 2018Published
1 March 2018Accepted

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

04 Apr 2018 11:52

Last Modified:

03 Aug 2021 15:04

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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