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).

Janusz Maria Brzeski: Zrwotnice (Crossover) photomontage series 1936

Janusz Maria Brzeski: Zrwonice (Crossover) photomontage series 1936

The Polish artist Brzeski , graphic designer, photographer and film-maker, produced a phenomenal range of photomontage – series of works exploring the zeitgeist motifs- the emergence of modernity – in the 1930s – visions of mechanisation (the Narodziny Robota – Birth of the Robot- series), visions of modern capitalism |(Idylls of the 20th Century), visions of War (Zwrotnice – Crossover series), and of emerging sexual equalities (the Sex cycle). Powerful image-making, pulling printed photographs, drawings, typography, news-clips etc together, Brzeski’s work parallels that of his contemporary  Czech artists/architects Karel Tiege and Jiri Kroha – the second generation of photo-collagists.


What inspires me about these second generation photomontagists is that they shared in a more-or-less common vision of the zeitgeist of modernity – glamour, commerce, industrialism, mechanisation (the robot and the production-line), and the threat of fully mechanised, aerial warfare in a future world war.