Beyond the Battlefields: Käthe Buchler’s Photographs of Germany in the Great War

6 September 2017 | Liz Robertson

20 October 2017 – 14 January 2018: University of Birmingham & Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

2 February – 3 March 2018: Holden Gallery, Manchester Metropolitan University

15 March – 5 May 2018: University of Hertfordshire Galleries

Beyond the Battlefields is assembled from a unique series of images made by Photographer Käthe Buchler (1876-1930) before, during and after the First World War in Germany and which are part of the collection of the Museum of Photography, Braunschweig – where Buchler lived and worked. Buchler’s exquisitely posed portraits and landscapes are the vision of a respectable, bourgeois wife and mother with significant technical expertise and a remarkable (and little known) aesthetic vision.
Through different picture cycles Buchler examines the care of orphaned children and wounded troops, Germans at work and at leisure – including a fascinating series made late in the war entitled ‘Women in Men’s Jobs’– and presents the dislocations of war along with striking moments of human warmth. In so doing she offers us a fascinating window on the preoccupations of ordinary Germans in World War One living and working hundreds of miles away from the fighting.

The exhibitions in Hatfield and Manchester include a series of ‘Autochromes’ – the first ever colour photographic process – which offer an ‘escapist’ vision of Germany in the aftermath of World War 1, and in which Buchler seems to be seeking solace from the economic and political turmoil of the interwar period.

Buchler’s photographs offer fascinating comparisons with images and memorabilia from the same period in the UK. They pose searching questions about the class and status structures of Wilhelmine German society and the role of women as Europe’s dynastic empires tore themselves apart giving way to revolution, chaos and eventually the second world war.

Beyond the Battlefields is a touring exhibition co-organised by the University of Hertfordshire Galleries, Photomuseum Braunschweig and the AHRC funded First World War Engagement Centres at the University of Birmingham and the University of Hertfordshire.