Interwar body culture

Broken dream of the free body

Interwar Body Culture promotion


Photo essay on interwar body culture

The interwar period initiated many trends in art still relevant to our times. It was a melting pot of new ideas and insights closing off the previous, rather bourgeois era. The First World War is known as a confronting turning point in modern history. In the Twenties and Thirties political and technological evolutions mixed up the existing securities. Man felt abandoned and sought a new way of life. Many subcultures started to arise.

In this period a new body culture, with its roots in the last years of the 19th century, flourished. A healthy and radiant body had become a purpose for many. A lot of time and means were invested in the achievement of this ideal. This renewed attention for the body occurred all over the world. This ‘body culture’ originated in the pursuit of a new and ideal world.  But at the end of the interwar period the fragile dream was brutally destroyed and abused by Nazism and its race policy, with the Endlösung and the concentration camps as a consequence.

A healthy body had become the symbol of a powerful nation: the body had become the subject of the Nazi propaganda campaigns.

Nowadays body culture is still very much alive. Models and actresses are today’s heroes; they are the icons of a certain popular culture. As its social impact has increased enormously, the stardom of the models in advertising and in fashion photography is controversial. Hence the parallel with the interwar period: a basically ‘healthy’ phenomenon generating perverse consequences.

In photography the human body has always been a rewarding subject. On the other hand the medium photography is historically an important instrument in the promotion of an idealized image.  We shouldn’t be surprised that the body culture of the interwar period was extensively captured in photography and film. In this period photography experienced the same formal liberation as the other media. The source of today’s photographic language of the body is in the interwar period.
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