World War II in Believable Miniature: The Work of Levinthal & Trudeau

In 1973 photographer David Levinthal and cartoonist Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury) began collaborating on a project while studying together at Yale School of Art and Architecture. Levinthal took grainy sepia photos of World War II era Nazi toy soldiers and equipment in battle. The result was Hitler Moves East. For Levinthal, the work launched his distinctive approach to object-driven narrative photography.

levinthalUsing toy soldiers, constructed dioramas, and HO models of railroads, bridges and buildings, the Levinthal and Trudeau recreated Hitler’s 6th army’s push into the USSR over the course of 1941-42, and their eventual rout and surrender to Soviet forces in the winter of 1943. The original 1977 book, Hitler Moves East; A Graphic Chronicle, 1941-43, was published as a limited edition. Now a new version with an introduction by Roger Rosenblatt and the original preface by Trudeau has been released by the Andrews McMeel Publishing imprint.

levinthal 1Herein photographs, illustrations, and text excerpts are arranged in a documentary style that describes the tragic campaign, from initial victories to final defeat. The photographs reference the battle field images of Robert Capa, amongst others. “Levinthal’s photographs deploy a constricted depth of field and a narrowed focus rendering his images all the more illusionary in their ability to suggest a war torn realism,” noted a catalog for a 2008 exhibition. “Within the context of this project these depictions discover a new dimension for photography, one where the camera’s capacity to both accurately record and seductively suggest is pointedly married to our appetite for constructing documentary and composing narrative; in short, for formulating history.”

The photos are so believable that when published in 1977 bookstores placed the book in history sections. Levinthal actually prefers that the viewer to “peer into the photograph and perceive the artificiality at work there, but in so doing to catch something of the truth which is leaking from these creations,” notes the catalog. “Truth and artifice are not diametrically opposed, but complexly related and interwoven.”

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For more Steven Heller, check out Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility, one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.

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