She was perfectly suited to the task of glorifying ANYTHING. Look also at the Nuba or her underwater photography.This is not a common talent. Its misapplication does not mean she wasn't good at it, and to compare her with Hitler as a painter is frankly risible.
Originally Posted by c6h6o3
If she'd been on the right side politically, she'd be lionised beyond belief. Because she did a lot of Nazi propaganda, her genius is understandably attacked. Few decry National Socialism more than I but to issue blanket condemnations is to abdicate from rational thought or artistic regard.
Interesting discussion, and difficult.... I've only seen snatches of her film and don't know how much of a Nazi she herself was, so forgive me for that, but aside from the idea of whether her work should be the focus of discussion or not, if it's O.K. to set that aside for a moment, and just concentrating on this photograph, it just strikes me that one kind of irony about the Berlin Olympics and this photograph is - didn't Hitler hate the Olympics in the end because he wanted them to show that the Aryan Race was superior in all ways, which they obviously weren't and he hated Jesse Owens because he was such a superior athlete. If I remember correctly, he hated this photograph (correct me if I'm wrong). You could say the message of the photograph runs counter to Nazi ideals. Hilter was an out-an-out racist, not the sort who thought that black people were O.K. as athletes....And this photograph stands as a powerful celebration of Jesse Owens...
I guess seeing the prints in person must add something. Nevertheless, when I look at reproductions of her photographs I see masterful documentary illustrations. I don't see art.
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks
The quandry about how to square her political aquiescence with her talent is well described in this review of a documentary about her.
I really didn't want to get into this, but here are just a couple of quick (hopefully) accurate factoids:
All Germans had to be evaluated after the war so that they could be "de-Nazified" and they were categorized from 1 (Nazi) to 5 (totally innocent). Reifenstahl was found to be a 4. I can't remember where I read that, but wikipedia says it as well.
The Great Depression was already over by 1939, though job levels didn't return to 1929 levels until 1941 (before Pearl Harbor). (I just confirmed this on wikipedia too.)
The goal of the photographers of FSA (and RA) was to present the plight of the small farmer so as to save them, and they needed all the help they could get. Though I will admit that "some" could certainly call it propaganda for Communism "some" also think the Earth is 6000 years old and call themselves "scientists".
I far prefer "Native Land" to "Triumph of the Will" (OK that's not really a factoid though it is true)
I "wish" I could stop using quotes.
"I am an anarchist." - HCB
"I wanna be anarchist." - JR
This assumes she had no choices. Was there no work for photographers in Switzerland? England?
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks
If she had been on the right side politically--well, first we should note she would have been on the right side morally--she could have still been an artist. She still could have found work. Too bad it would have meant leaving her country behind. However, if more excellent people had done this, perhaps the problem would have gone away.
Here is an alternate situation. C. Everett Koop, surgeon general under the Reagan adminstration, chose to have his portrait done by Mapplethorpe. This was clearly not a decision that would have pleased the administration.
Yes, it doesn't rise to the same level. But, I have a lot of respect for Koop.
Another way to look at it, if by doing the propoganda she made more people volunteer, made people work just that little bit harder, made the war last just one day longer. If by supporting the effort, just one more person died--does she have no responsibility?
So, my point (as asked in another post). Well, it is clearly stated, who is the better person. If you want another take, then it would be this.
Yes, the image is good. Yes, she had talent. Yes, she had a major impact.
Yes, I wish none of it existed. The world would be a better place without the image of Jesse Owens and a few more people surviving the war.
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Originally Posted by Roger Hicks
While there may be degrees of moral relativism - at some point there is an absolute. That point is different for each of us. For some of us, it is impossible to neutrally separate the artist from her soul. Using her talent, as she did, to advance a malevolence, is derisive of that talent and leaves me with no interest in her work.
The entire Nazi death machine was designed by very talented people and worked extremely efficiently. I don't celebrate their talent any more than Leni's
Finally, going back "on topic" to the OP original posit. Is this one of the best sports portraits ever made?
Frankly, I don't think it is - even if I didn't know who the photog was. It's no more "great" than many pre-race closeups of runners in the blocks that you see on television! And, in fact, I think it was included on the web site page as a means of distracting viewers from the true nature of her work assignment at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It certainly seems to have done so for you and a number of others here.
Since probably very few of us have lived in totalitarian regimes we probably have knee jerk reactions to certain things.
Her initial glorification of the National Socialism ideal, which was a political party that eventually took over the country, was originally pretty early on in the history of the regime. Whether she ever really knew the scope of the later madness of the regime, who knows.
Lindberg was a Nazi lover as were a number of prominent Americans, but does that mean he was a terrible pilot.
The people in Iraq that joined the Baath Party to get work, and I believe if you wanted govt work, you had to join, are they as bad as Saddam. There were many artists there worked at glorifying Saddam, are they criminals now.
I think we should be able to look at artistic works and determine if they are good, bad or indifferent by what they are, not by political or moral references to the artist or the time in which they operated.
Nobody here is saying that Hitler, National Socialism, or any of his policies were anything but abhorent, but does that mean that an artist that worked within that system should be negated because of it.
I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.
Very well put, Michael.
Originally Posted by blansky
Clearly your range of moral relativism is simply broader than mine.
If you google (er, excuse me, search the internet) for:
"Leni Riefenstahl" + "George Rodger" + Nuba
you will find many other discussions about her, and specifically how
George Rodger didn't trust her with respect to photographing the Nuba people.
(Or, if you have a copy of Russell Miller's book on Magnum on hand, you can
look for her name in the index.)
I first became aware of her in 1967 when I was watched "Triumph of the Will" as a college freshman. (Those long loving shots of the soup kitchens were just the thing for a hungry 1930's audience.) There is no doubt the film was very effective, and
that she was good at what she did. Only much later did I become aware of her still photography.
I like the Jesse Owens portrait, but...but...but...I can't dismiss the other baggage that comes with her name.
"I bought a new camera. It's so advanced you don't even need it." - Steven Wright
Originally Posted by copake_ham
I'd certainly agree that she did a lot of better pictures. But equally, I think your point about 'distraction' is a red herring. As I said, I have seen a lot of her work, and my view is that she was a very great photographer, even if that isn't one of her best pictures (and as I've said, I don't think it was).
My real objection is to the idea that she was a Nazi and therefore can't have been a great photographer. This is exactly the same as saying that Alexandr Rodchenko can't have been a great photographer because he was a communist or that Mapplethorpe can't have been a great photographer because he was gay.