Spring 2010

Machine head

Fritz Kahn commissioned illustrators to realise his surreal pedagogical vision – mechanical metaphors for the human body.

Images of the body interpreted as a machine have always exerted a powerful fascination....[But] images that once looked futuristic, expressing the technological dreams and aspirations of their time, seem dated and even comical, measured against our own command of technology and the biosciences. But this in no way diminishes their appeal.


[Jewish German gynaecologist Fritz] Kahn’s aim was to express the complexities of the body through visual narratives that anyone could relate to and understand. He and his publisher, Franckh’sche Verlagshandlung of Stuttgart, developed a form of anatomical visualisation based on metaphors and analogies drawn from mid 20th-century life and the latest developments in technology.


The reductionist thinking practised by Kahn was already being questioned even while he was at work. One elementary problem, as Borck points out, is that the illustrations contain the evidence of their own failure as explanations of how the body operates…


Uta von Debschitz and Thilo von Debschitz, Fritz Kahn: Man Machine (Springer, 2009; fritz-kahn.com).

See also: Cornelius Borck, ‘Communicating the Modern Body: Fritz Kahn’s Popular Images of Human Physiology as an Industrialized World’ in Canadian Journal of Communication, vol. 32 no. 3, 2007 (cjc-online.ca).

First published in Eye no. 75 vol. 19.



Tracker Pixel for Entry