This essay examines the work of German-French photographer Gisèle Freund during the interwar years, with special focus on her volte-face from black-and-white depictions of the collective subject of political demonstrations in pre-exile Frankfurt to color portraits of individual French intellectuals after her arrival in Paris. Pivoting around the short period between 1938 and 1940, when using color became the standard rhetorical maneuver of Freund's portrait series, this essay will trace the photographer's change in practice as a response to the mounting crisis within France's Popular Front and its aesthetic strategies in the face of the rise of fascism. One of the essay's claims is that Freund turned color photography from a material and commercial commodity into the emblem of an alternative, mass-mediated culture—the culture of Americanism—that she, like many European intellectuals of the 1920s, imagined capable of competing with and ultimately countering the fascist mobilization of spectacle.
I owe my foremost thanks to Benjamin Buchloh and Robin Kelsey, who supported this project from its inception, and to Yve-Alain Bois for his invaluable editorial critique. I am also grateful to Maria Gough for her advice and insight. Thanks are due as well to Trisha Banerjee and Dongwan Ha for advice on early drafts. Adam Lehner and Rachel Churner contributed their indispensable editorial expertise, for which I am deeply grateful. A preliminary version of this argument was presented at the 8th biennial meeting of the International Feuchtwanger Society in October 2017; my warm thanks to the audience members there for their helpful comments and suggestions.