In October 1936 ‘Agfacolor Neu’ colour film was introduced for general use in Germany. ‘Agfacolor Neu’ was a subtractive three-layer reversal film with a single chemical process that greatly simplified the taking of vivid colour images and meant that photographers could process their own films without undue difficulties (unlike the American Kodachrome process that required lab processing). Special photographically illustrated books were produced such as, Agfacolor, das farbige Lichtbild [Agfacolor, the colour photograph] (1938). The proliferation of these colour images after 1936 by, for example, photographers such as Erich and Hans Retzlaff (not related), situated these images as truly ‘modern’ objects. The contemporary gaze is reminded of the nearness of these images to our own time – it is part of a strident, vibrant end to two revolutionary decades of speed and innovation that marked the postwar world. Most importantly [for the propagandist] there is an enhancement of the connectivity with the ‘real’. Colour seemed to introduce a resonance with the physicality of the subjects that black and white could not render. They were still grizzled, hardworking, labouring, youthful, elderly, peasant faces - but they were also now blond, blue eyed examples of one aspect of the German racial ideal. Bathed in the ever-present sunshine of the ‘Heimat’, colour underscored once more the notion of  ‘Volksgemeinschaft’. These photographs were made as part of a larger effort to affirm the notion of the nation as one that contained beautiful ordered landscapes, where man and nature worked together in harmony and where town and village were neat and architecturally rich. But, most of all, they proposed that the best is represented by the relationship between the ethnic German and the earth of his homeland. Moreover, these images of the country people themselves, young and old, are linked by common physical attributes and their connection with the earth, blood and soil, which neatly ties the entire physiognomic portrait together. For even when the photographs are not specifically ‘portraits’ they still ‘portray’ the same core values: richness, purity, order, history and a unifying spirit. Within these photographic portfolios, there are no derivations from the singular notion of the 'Heimat-bound' German. As Erich Retzlaff stated in the introduction to his colour photography book Niederdeutschland - Landschaft und Volkstum [lower Germany - landscape and ‘folk-tradition’] (1940):

"Without doubt, colour photography is a tremendous asset to the scientist, especially for the 'Heimat' researcher, but also for the ‘Heimat friend’, for through faithful colour reproduction they have a unique educational material to hand…To make visible this harmony between the native people and their homeland, between landscape and ‘Volkstum’, is the intention of this book..."*

Colour accentuated this heady mixture into a reassuring recipe that would have confirmed ideological currents. Colour was an enriching element in these careful constructs of the ‘volk’ identity and, like the black and white work  before it, they are often powerfully conceived and presented. These are fascinating politically motivated (but aesthetically guided), photographs from a pivotal period of social, philosophical, and economic rebirth in Germany.

*Erich Retzlaff and Wilhelm Pekler, Niederdeutschland. München: Verlag Knorr & Hirth, 1940, 62. [Author’s translation].


Agfacolor, das farbige Lichtbild. Eduard von Pagenhardt (editor). München: Verlag Knorr & Hirth, 1938.

Retzlaff, Erich. Niederdeutschland, Landschaft und Volkstum. München: Verlag Knorr & Hirth, 1940.