„Today he would probably be influencer“ – DSM researches photographic collection of Hanns Tschira
He was one of the most famous on-board photographers of his time and a companion of Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL). The work of Hanns Tschira (1899 – 1957) is now the focus of a research project at the German Maritime Museum / Leibniz Institute for Maritime History (DSM).
A young lady smilingly leans against the railing of a ship to which a rescue tyre with the inscription „Columbus Bremen“ is attached. She wears a captain’s cap on her head. Her short blonde hair protrudes just below. She wears dark Marlene trousers, a striped polo shirt and poses for the camera. She was the companion of the man behind the camera: Hanns Tschira, one of the best-known on-board photographers at Norddeutscher Lloyd. The DSM has owned a collection of his photographs since 2003. It comprises around 55.000 negatives and slides as well as 850 private photo albums with photographic material taken by Hanns Tschira on board the ships BREMEN and COLUMBUS.
At the beginning of the 20th century, on-board photography was a professionally offered service for wealthy passengers. „In the history of photography, onboard photography represents a niche in applied travel photography that has so far been under-explored, and which deals exclusively with maritime topics,“ explains art and photography historian Dr. Hanin Hannouch, who works as an International Research Fellow at the DSM since January 2019. As a commercial activity, on-board photography is located at the border between advertising and art and is an important segment of a developing photography market in connection with shipping companies. According to Hannouch, on-board photographs give an impression of contemporary perceptions of home and identity. This reflects social values as well as collective and personal prejudices, desires and dreams of people shortly before the Second World War.
Tschira’s motifs during his time as an on-board photographer at the NDL from 1927 to 1940 portray the glamorous lives of passengers. Among them are famous personalities such as Marlene Dietrich, portraits of captains, but also photos of workers on board, of individual ships and special line trips. „In particular, Tschira photographed the last voyage of the BREMEN, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, when the ship was camouflaged from New York to Murmansk, and later published the images in the propagandistic book „Die Bremen kehrt heim; deutscher Seemannsgeist und deutsche Kameradschaft retten ein Schiff“ (The Bremen Returns Home; German Seamen’s Spirit and German Comradeship Save a Ship) in 1940,“ reports Hannouch.
Hannouch’s research focuses on Tschira’s photographs, which were used in the context of the Nazi era, and the „exotic motifs“ from European colonies. She examines the visual culture of his time to gain a deeper insight into the aesthetics of Tschiras pictures and an understanding of the influence of other media, such as advertising posters and postcards. As historical sources, photos are a good medium to interest people in a certain topic and to illustrate social processes, Hannouch emphasizes. „Because of their immediate visual impact, they are often easier to access than texts and yet have many levels of interpretation. This is what makes them so valuable for museums in particular. However, it is precisely for this reason that correct interpretation and scientific texts in connection with photographs are of fundamental importance. Writing such texts is a first step in her research. Hannouch wants to know what the photos say: „What is behind the photo?“, „What does it say about the commercialization of people from other cultural backgrounds? „What was Tschira’s connection to National Socialism? Hannouch finds this ambivalence particularly exciting.
From 1940 to 1946 Tschira worked in Berlin, where he founded a photo agency with his cooperation partner Kurt Kloeppel. During this period, Tschira portrayed various actors in the cultural life of the Nazi era. Some of his photos from the DSM collection were published in National Socialist newspapers and books. However, so far no NSDAP membership has been proven and no denazification files of Tschira have been found. His personal political attitude remains speculation for researchers. „However, photos have their own biography, which must be understood independently of the photographer’s life,“ says Hannouch. Later Tschira worked in Lübchen, a Prussian county in Silesia at that time.
„All in all, his work can be classified into three phases of life with different aesthetic handwriting: that of the on-board photographer, that of the photographer of various actors of the National Socialist regime and that of the theatre photographer,“ Hannouch states. From 1946 to 1957 Tschira was finally a theatre photographer in Baden-Baden and founded the „Tschira Photo Studio“. This collection, however, can be found at an archive rchive in Baden-Baden. Tschira simply knew how to attract attention and adapt to the respective market. „Today he would probably be an influencer,“ says Hannouch.
German Maritime Museum
Leibniz Institute for Maritime History
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About the German Maritime Museum / Leibniz Institute for Maritime History:
The German Maritime Museum / Leibniz Institute for Maritime History (DSM) in Bremerhaven has set itself the task of exploring the relationship between man and sea and making it possible to experience it in exhibitions. It is one of eight Leibniz research museums in Germany. With more than 80 employees and trainees and around 8000 square metres of covered exhibition space, it is one of the largest maritime museums in Europe. The DSM is currently in a state of flux and combines a building renovation and the construction of a research depot with a comprehensive new concept for all exhibition and research areas. During this phase, which lasts until 2021, the building will remain open – with a varied programme, changing special exhibitions and events. The more than 600-year-old Bremer Kogge and the museum ships in the outdoor area can also continue to be visited. Research projects at the DSM are supported by renowned national and international funding programmes. As an attractive workplace for young and professionally experienced talents in maritime research, the DSM maintains a variety of cooperations with universities, colleges and non-university research institutions.
The museum is supported not least by a total of around 3000 members of the „Förderverein Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum e.V.“, which was the driving force behind the opening of the museum in 1975, and the „Kuratorium zur Förderung des Deutschen Schiffahrtsmuseums e.V.“, the „Board of Trustees for the Promotion of the German Maritime Museum“, which is now accompanying it on its course for the future.
For further information: https://dsm.museum/ueber-uns
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Dr. Hanin Hannouch
T +49 471 482 07 19