Hugo Jaeger was a highly trusted, official photographer of both Adolf Hitler and of Nazi public events, such as rallies and speeches. In addition, he covered news events such as the Nazi move into Bulgaria and other occupied nations. Jaeger was one of the early masters of colour photography, a medium that was in its infancy back in the 1930’s and ’40s.
The London Daily Mail noted back in 2012 that Jaeger took some photographs in 1939 and 1940 of a Jewish ghetto in Kutno, Poland. These photographs stood in stark contrast to the Hitler photographs, the pageant and rally photos and the series of photographs of military campaigns. Jaeger’s photography drives home the point that the Third Reich was many different disparate worlds tied together under a malevolent and cunning leader.On the surface was the finely tuned glimpses of Hitler as well as the precisely planned torchlight rallies and public displays. Another facet of the Third Reich was the face it presented to the public as a “people’s movement”. The Nazis passed out government benefits such as food, summer camps for children and medical benefits. (As long as you were not Jewish) But with those benefits came a bill. Kristallnacht and other Nazi atrocities were carried out in good part by mobs who felt they owed the regime a favour.
The Nazis used not only brute force, but cunning in subjugating Europe. On the one hand,the Nazis were able to tell Germans that they were the master race, meant to rule “inferior” nationalities such as Slavs and Asians. At the same time, the Nazis presented themselves as liberators when they took over a country. Croats and Ukrainians were told that they would be freed from Serbs and from Russian domination. It was only with time that the cunning manipulation by the German occupation was revealed to be a monstrous betrayal.
After the war, Hugo Jaeger went on to work as a photographer for Life Magazine.An overview of Jaeger’s work shows that he is just as much at home photographing a Jewish ghetto as he is a Nazi rally or a quiet evening at home with Hitler.
How are people conditioned to accept a totalitarian regime, to not only accept it but to love it? How are people bought and seduced into accepting a regime as it presents itself? What is the tidal pull between the different worlds that exist within the boundaries of even a single city?The photography of Hugo Jaeger raises all of these issues. Whether through advertising or political propaganda, through music or television, there is a multitude of attempts in progress to win hearts and minds for products, for lifestyles and for political agendas. Hugo Jaeger, with his jarring diversity of subject material, brings this into focus.
How are our perceptions being shaped today? Who decides what we see and how we perceive it? It is questions like this that one can not help but ask when looking at the photography of Hugo Jaeger.