Sunday, 22 February 2009

When images are painful - 1

Sometimes you have to make painful images, sometimes images become painful through time. Alfredo Jarr has talked about his images of Rwanda being left for a couple of years before exhibiting them in boxes, while Tom Stoddart refers to taking images when it hurts because that is what you are there for and what you can do. Sebastio Salgado ceased being an economist and turned to photography as a means of telling the world about what was happening outside of BBC24 and CNN. Some people will not photograph the unlovely; others find an element of beauty to capture from within it. Simon Norfolk’s images of sites of genocide contained the most beautiful images as he looked back through history, whilst his work in Afghanistan presents at one level an amazing collection of landscapes to die for until at the second level you realise that is just what happened. With his image of a balloon seller you require the key that balloons were not allowed under the Taliban. So do these painful images speak and what do they say: if they don’t speak how do you obtain the key to unravel them?

Consider these
two images:

Do you require the key?

It is not a shed and a billiard table.

This was 1975 in North East Austria near the Czechoslovak border. We had entered the place in late afternoon and heard the main doors close whilst we were there. Everything appeared new, freshly painted just ready for occupants. We thought we heard a wolf in the forest and we were told there were still no birds around.

Picture 1 is of a ‘guest’ room, Picture 2 is of a dissection table.

Do you need more?

This was one of Hitler’s ‘medical experiment’ concentration camps: twins, dwarfs, and any other group that became undesirable were suitable subjects for research both whilst alive and shortly afterwards:


It was kept as a multinational memorial to those who died there and we saw some communist bloc officials who came over regularly to attend their memorial on the site. A couple of yeas ago I saw a a documentary about a classical concert given in the camp quarry, a place where many died 'working'. As a fit 20 something it was not much fun climbing down and back, but they had to do it with heavy rocks on their back... in all weathers... for long days... with little food... and in atrocious living conditions.

I could show you images of the towers, the ovens, some of the prisoners' items or someone I met in a home where staff told me he had survived being one of their brain experiments of the "how much can we remove" variety ... and who reacted violently to hearing the word "Mauthausen".

I believe these speak more.

Here shortly will be two other photographs from Mauthausen. They do not require any key to speak.

We were very quiet when we left.

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