Page 67-69, Methods of source criticism of historical photographic images
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Translation of contents with the friendly permission of Verlag Dr. Kovač Hamburg.
Author information: Miriam Y. Arani
Publisher: Verlag Dr. Kovač
Place of publishing: Hamburg
Document type: Book (Monograph)
Year of completion: 2008
Publishing Institution: Universität der Künste Berlin
Date of release: 23.02.2022
GND keyword: Wartheland; Poland – people; Germans; photography; self-image; foreign image; Wartheland; Polen – Volk; Deutsche; Fotografie; Selbstbild; Fremdbild
Page number: 1014
License (German): No license – copyright protection
From Chapter II: Methods and Findings
Pages 67 – 69
II Methods and Findings
1. Methods of source criticism of historical photographic images : the external and the internal criticism of the source
Against the background of the controversies surrounding the photographs of the so-called Wehrmacht exhibition [Wehrmachtsausstellung] , the necessity of a source-critical approach to historical photographs has become particularly clear. Although the general statements conveyed in this exhibition were scientifically secured, controversies developed over the photographs presented, which had not been subjected to a thorough and careful source criticism by the exhibition organizers. It had also not been sufficiently taken into account that the locations where most of the photographs were taken were outside of today’s German territory and that the events that took place there at that time, which are depicted in the photographs, cannot be reliably reconstructed solely on the basis of German-language sources and secondary literature 
The present study aims to objectify the problems of source identification, source criticism, and interpretation associated with photographs from the World War II period. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss source-critical methods in more detail.  There is no method of source criticism for photographs developed by university-based historical scholarship.  This has led to the assumption among numerous historians that there are no specific methods for critiquing photographic image sources. But fruitful methodological approaches to the criticism of photographic sources do exist, especially in art history, ethnology, and the social sciences:
1) The art historical methods that can also be applied to non-art photographs include, in particular, object identification and determination, comparative vision, and Panofsky’s iconography and iconology (insofar as it can be applied). In particular, the procedures of item securing and item description  commonly used in art history are very pertinent, as they lead one to pay more attention to the overall nature of an individual image – both the image carrier and the image content – and to view it analytically.
2) A number of methodological approaches to the critique of photographic image sources have been formulated specifically in relation to photographic sources on history.  This is a transfer of source-critical methods commonly used in historical studies to photographs, which have been modified in interaction with empirical experience in working with historical photographs according to the specifics of the medium.
3) In addition, applicable media-sociological approaches have been developed in the social sciences, as well as methods for more precisely determining the sociological information content of photographs as data sources. 
Here, we first discuss the critique of photographic sources from a historiographical perspective. In historical research, a distinction is made between external and internal source criticism. External source criticism is an authenticity check that is carried out on the basis of external characteristics of a source. It is supported by a description of the source, which contains information about the form of the source, its origin and tradition. Internal source criticism, on the other hand, serves to determine the message content and epistemological value of a source. For this purpose, the source is analyzed in terms of how the author depicts a state or an occurrence, what he was able to depict and what he wanted to depict. To determine the value of a historical source, external source criticism is not sufficient; for this purpose, internal source criticism is always required as well. The surest method of determining source value is a comparative analysis of several contemporaneous sources, independent of each other, that report the same event or condition. 
1.a. External Source Criticism: Authenticity Verification
Methods for verifying and ensuring the authenticity of historical photographs are particularly important in the case of photographic images of politically controversial event-fields. These accusations usually relate only to individual elements of the photographic image and completely ignore the overall context of the creation and transmission of a photograph. This, however, is of crucial importance in the authentication process. The rejection of photographic information that does not correspond to the prejudice structure of the recipients has also become known within the social sciences.  Since in the case of politically controversial historical event-fields and facts, one must expect primarily politically motivated doubts about the authenticity of photographic sources whose content contradicts the political-historical prejudice structure of individual population groups, a careful external source criticism to prove authenticity is the indispensable basis of any further analysis and interpretation of photographic sources.
Proven methods of authenticity testing of historical photographs have been described by Wolf Buchmann  and Diethart Kerbs . While Kerbs presents methods related to the material form of transmission and the real history [Realgeschichte] of photography, Buchmann is oriented towards the traditional methods of historical science, which are also used for authenticity testing of written documents. Both methods of source criticism complement each other: while Buchmann deals with general methods of source criticism that can also be applied to photographs, Kerbs deals with methods that relate specifically to the historical modes of production and material forms of transmission of photographic image sources. Buchmann’s essay grew out of his work at the Bundesarchiv; it, too, was confronted with accusations of forgery regarding photographs from its own holdings that had been used in the first exhibition of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research on the crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941-1944.  In the following, the methods of authenticity testing for historical photographs presented by Wolf Buchmann are briefly described. They form a framework for the specific photo-historical-realistic methods  as presented by Diethart Kerbs. These methods can be used to ensure that the photographs are indeed “genuine” photographs from the period under investigation. Wolf Buchmann distinguishes between two procedures for checking the authenticity of historical documents, which can also be applied to photographs:
a) the examination of the document itself (shape of the source) and
b) the examination of the origin of the document (origin and transmission of the source).
It is through the application of these two examination procedures – which together constitute external source criticism – that the authenticity of a historical photographic record can be assured. As has been shown in the course of this investigation, the examination of the gestalt of the photographic source requires special attention in a decidedly photo-scientific and photo-historical approach. Therefore, the examination of the gestalt of the sources is explained here in great detail. The examination of the origin of the document, on the other hand, is only sketched out in outline and presented in the individual chapters in relation to the concrete photographic traditions.
 The methods of critiquing photographic sources are presented here in relation to the findings collected in this research.
 The actual title of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research exhibition was “Vernichtungskrieg. Die Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941-1944“; see Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung, 1996.
 The most influential critics of the first exhibition (Bogdan Musial and the magazine “Focus,” cooperating with the Polish weekly “wprost”) substantiated their theses with Polish-language sources and findings of historiographical research in Poland. On the second exhibition, see Hesse 2002 and Arani 2002.
 Among the methodological approaches that have been published in historiographical discussion contexts, there is a relatively strong tendency to apply the iconographic-iconological method of interpretation, familiar from art history, to historical photographs of contemporary historical interest (see Jäger 2000, pp. 75f.; cf. for example Berg 1994). Such attempts often amount to interpretations of the meaning of individual pictorial elements of a historical photograph without being able to prove the authenticity of the photograph to outsiders. In these cases, the images are not subjected to any source criticism, as is usual with written sources. This tendency to interpret images without using source-critical methods opens up the possibility of doubting the authenticity of both the photographs and the photographically documented facts and probably also leads to the fact that no general progress in knowledge is achieved with regard to the producers and production methods of the photographs that have been handed down.
 Cf. Bartov et al. 2000; among the few professors of history who persistently advance an examination of images is, for example, Gerhard Paul; cf. Paul 2006.
 Cf. Sauerländer 1988; also M. Schmidt 1994.
 Cf. Sauer 2002; Jäger 2000, pp. 65-88, esp. pp. 72-75 (realienkunde and social-historical consideration); Buchmann 1999; Kerbs 1990, p. 24.
 See remarks on visual sociology in the appendix.
 Faber/Geiss 1992, pp. 96f.
 Cf. Wagner 1979.
 Buchmann 1999, pp. 296-306.
 Kerbs 1990, pp. 241-262.
 Buchmann 1999.
 Cf. Jäger 2000.