Vu: The story of a Magazine That made an era

Stunning Vu of history


By Michel Frizot and Cedric de Veigy
Thames and Hudson, £40

Before television was de rigueur in the living room, it was the picture magazines that showed what was happening around the world. Vu, the subject of this new book, was one of the most popular, fascinating an estimated 450,000 readers with its incisive photographic stories and eye-catching front covers of people and events from Paris to Shanghai.

Published between 1928 and 1940 in Paris, Vu used more photographs than any other magazine, with 3,324 published in its first year. Unusually, these pictures were the main ingredient. They influenced the articles rather than the other way round.

Many of these images were unseen elsewhere, such as the first pictures of life in the Soviet Union by Lucien Vogel or the groundbreaking snapshots taken on the streets by Andre Kertesz, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others.

Human interest stories were also pioneered such as Germaine Krull’s Tramps in the Slums of Paris, thereby creating the reportage techniques and photo-stories so familiar today.

Eight of the 11 key figures at Vu were Jewish

With its breadth of subject matter, the story of Vu provides a fascinating insight into the world of the 1930s as well as a fresh look at the exciting developments of photography.

Interestingly, eight out of the 11 key figures at Vu were Jewish. They included Vogel, the founder and publisher, who set out the magazine’s vision and editorial direction; its art director, Alexander Liberman, whose revolutionary ideas, including the use of full-page photographs and photomontages for front covers are still used today; and the magazine’s main photographers.

Among these were Man Ray, Kertesz, Krull and several other legendary contributors such as Martin Munkacsi, the news, sport and fashion photographer; and Robert Capa, whose celebrated images of the Spanish Civil War, including his Falling Soldier, were first published in the pages of Vu.

Yet, while these people are referred to as émigrés, the book surprisingly fails to mention that they are Jewish and does not discuss the possibility of whether or not this had any influence on editorial decisions.

In any event, these did lead to the magazine’s continuous coverage of the rise of Hitler with such major features, as, The Jewish Question and The Great Suffering of the German Jews or the new, cutting-edge layouts created by Liberman, employing cropped, cut out, overlapping images and dynamic photo-montages, enabled the magazine to undermine the slick Nazi propaganda machine more than other publications.

Yet this is a superb opportunity to see these spreads and early images by master photographers, Jewish or not, as they were originally meant to be seen.

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