World War II

by Walter Henisch

World War II by Walter Henisch

This photo shows silhouettes of the three backlit riders in twilight, shadowed against dramatic cloud layers, the angle of the light creating an emotional atmosphere makes this photograph unique. Henisch’s Balkan photograph is not presented as a documentary image shot in the midst of battle, but a mythical, atmospheric image, dominated by a dramaturgy oriented towards composition and content – borne aloft by the interplay of clouds and light, and by the immediacy of the war. 

Having begun his professional life as a press photographer, Walter Henisch experienced the high point of his career as a war reporter and propaganda photographer of the German Wehrmacht. He photographed the most important war scenes in Poland, Russia and Germany, among others. Especially his images of the Russian campaign and the war in the Balkans – which include the three vintage prints created between 1941 and 1944 – were widely reproduced in the contemporary press.

His son, Peter Henisch, based an insightful novel on his father’s life story, dealing with his father’s work for the Nazi regime, but also his relationship with the ruling system. Henisch himself always insisted on his neutral attitude as a photo reporter, no matter who commissioned his work – claiming he took photographs without judging, interested only in good pictures, not in events themselves. He was a war photographer par excellence, always suspended masterfully within the field of tension between being a direct witness of the horrors of war and his role as a supposedly invisible observer, always ready to shoot a picture at the right moment.

Photo credit: © WestLicht Photographica Auction