Fritz Kahn: Respiration (top) and What goes on in our heads when we see a car and say car? 1939

Fritz Kahn: What goes on in our heads when we see a car and say car? 1939

Kahn’s fascinating information graphics from the 1920s and 1930s have become motifs for the industrialism and mechanisation of the period – the result of Fordism and the idea of the man-machine, production-line, time-and-motion, rationalisation of work – essentially making man fit in with machine-age capitalism. Kahn’s beautifully intricate graphics echo the zeitgeist that is also illustrated (and summoned) in Raoul Hausmann’s Spirit of Our Times (1921), Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), Lang’s Metropolis (1927), and Karel Capek’s Rossums Universal Robots (1921), etc, etc.


Raoul Hausmann: Spirit of the Age 1921

The fact that Kahn’s work tended to solidify and ratify the mechanistic rationale of how our body and senses work, and that this was the model that determined how many of us (of my generation at least) were taught, makes you wonder at the cybernetic and computer-processing metaphor that is the current zeitgeist model of how we work. It’s inevitable, I guess, that we use these descriptors as metaphors – explaining the complex in terms of the simple. I was aware of this image long before I discovered that it was by Fritiz Kahn. It appeared uncredited in films and prints by Eduardo Paolozzi (History of Nothing, 1960) and Stan Vanderbeek (Science Friction, 1959).

If you’re interested in Fritz Kahn and his work, there’s a great monograph on him by Ute and Philo von Debschitz (Taschen, 2013).