Auschwitz – Birkenau. Unseen and un-photograpahble?
This context for this assignment is unseen and un-photographable. Every image also contains reference to numbers. The numbers of people who were unseen, literally and figuratively, for many years during and after the second world war in the extermination camps at Auschwitz. I feel the narrative is self-explanatory and I feel that the images do not need a caption or a title. A picture paints a thousand words for me with this set.
Image 1 represents a place that was one seen and for thousands, never experienced again. This is the place of selection, of Life or Death. Photography was banned here in the second world war, although there are a number of images that have survived.
Image 2 shows a suitcase left behind, after selection. The name of the victim, their date of birth and their status as an orphan are clearly written in white. This was one of many such cases that were packed when the Jews were deported. It would be contain Heinz’s possessions which would be stolen after selection and his death. Judging by his age, he would have been murdered almost on arrival.
Image 3 illustrates 9 bunk beds. Each bunk held up to seven inmates. There was no heating and the temperature swing experienced at Auschwitz, was from -30 degrees Celsius to +40 degrees Celsius. Note the brick work floor. These bunks are where hundreds of thousands of people lived and died and the majority of photographs taken of this area of the camp are mainly after the camp was liberated.
Image 4 places some further context into the human loss that occurred there. Over 800,000 pairs of spectacles were discovered after liberation. The Nazis exported many more back to the Third Reich, for use by the German population and army. This image shows only my selection, of what is an unimaginably huge pile of glasses, which survived, in spite of the Nazi efforts to destroy what was left prior to the camp liberation.
Image 5 continues the narrative of the human element, with hundreds of thousands of shoes which were stolen from the inmates. I was drawn by the colour of the two main shoes in the image, although the other shoes tell their own story, by the drabness
Image 6 is of some portable gallows that was not visible with the naked eye at the time I took the shot. I was drawn by the light of widow and the leading lines in the image. It was only afterwards when viewing this image on my laptop that I noticed the gallows. Maybe death was light at the end of the tunnel for some of the inmates who were tortured so much.
Image 7 shows a number of the Zyclon B gas canisters. This poison was the tried and proven main method of killing in Auschwitz. There are thousands of these stacked up. I was drawn to this image due to the light, colour and the skull and cross and bone symbol. The word GIFT drew my attention in an ironic sort of way.
Image 8 is a small crematorium (comparatively to Auschwitz II) that was used to dispose of the bodies of the inmates. The place had an unforgettable heavy and odious atmosphere and I remember tears rolling down my face whilst photographing this.
Image 9 shows the effects of the Nazi cruelty and how this affected whole swathes of families. I came across this image in a Jewish cemetery. No more words needed.
Image 10 is one that I believe shines some light and some hope on such a tragedy. The image is of a memorial to the victims of Auschwitz and the Ghetto in Krakow. The light illuminated one of the figures really well for me and I feel this image is balanced by the photographs of inmates in the background and the apparent face on the right-hand side of the images. Is there hope that man will never do this again?
These 10 images are but a small fraction of the ones I have taken in Auschwitz and I believe they show the narrative of photographing the unseen/un-photographable. The project was set up over a long period of time and I am grateful to the curator (Wanda) of the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum for allowing me to photograph the un-photographable. I am going back in the next year, to complete further work.
The images have been taken with a variety of settings and cameras, with ISO cranked up to 3200 at some times and as low as 100 and having to shoot through glass, barbed wire, prison bars, and a barrage of tears.
I have never had such a project before. This was amazing and I cannot remember having felt under such stress when photographing. It was the most emotional day of my life.
I am sure you will agree the narrative is strong within the context of the Nazi’s final solution.
I dedicate these images to the gentleman who accompanied me and my wife on this journey. He was a prisoner in Auschwitz when he was four years of age. His mother was there too. They were in separate barracks! It is amazing that we found the hut where is mother was incarcerated. Hut 17C. This gentleman was an Austrian-Jew. It is incredible that he survived, as over 90% of children were murdered within two hours of arriving in Auschwitz.
“MAY THEIR SOULS BE ETERNALLY BLESSED”
This quote was taken from image 8 above.