Mein Kampf, the polaroids: Toy Nazis blur photographer's Holocaust vision

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The American photographer David Levinthal has always made it his business to challenge the possibilities of photography by constructing and re-inventing his own reality. And his photo-series - narrative colour polaroid photographs produced within the confines of his studio - are never less than intriguing. Vivid tableaux peopled by toys evoke a sense of childhood reverie merged with the stuff of adult nightmares. His latest series on the Holocaust, Mein Kampf, is no exception - if not his hard-hitting best. But he's also ventured into the realm of 1950s TV cowboy series in Wild West, glamour-girl stereotypes in American Beauties, the lonely landscape of city life (a la Edward Hopper) in Modern Romance and pornography in Desire. All five series are now represented in Levinthal's first British retrospective at The Photographers' Gallery.

Levinthal has been working with toy models since he first tried photographing toy soldiers at art school in 1972. He'd already tried photo-documentary, when he discovered Atget's photograph of shop dummies with hats on which signalled 'a definite connection and the start of his avid search for different types of toy soldiers, cowboys, bathing beauties and then tiny Japanese sex-toy figurines. He made the decision to 'blur' the focus initially to make the toy figures less obviously toylike, but found the technique became integral to his work, literally blurring the boundaries of reality.

The effect is particularly unsettling in Mein Kampf where antique 1930s toy figures of Hitler, SS soldiers and Nazi youth play out Levinthal's reflections on the dark and compulsive side of the human psyche. Through a haze of confusing shadows and layers of colour, light and focus, are swastikas, raised guns and arms (in the Nazi salute) and pale, prone bodies. You'll find yourself squinting to work out what's going on, while willing yourself not to find out.

11am-7pm Tue-Sat, Photographers' Gallery, Great Newport St, WC2 (071-831 1772) to 25 Jun

(Photograph omitted)

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