Sunday, 10 October 2010

Banality of evil

 Portrait of an old man in Lodz Ghetto - Photograph by Walter Genewein

Two pieces of photography work I've seen this week, stand out as worth mentioning on the blog. Both works have the common link of the photography taking place in areas of systematic control.

The first link looks at the work of Tomas van Houtryve who photographed life in contemporary North Korea. The resulting images are superb with the paranoia of the North Korean regime ever present in every image. Tomas van Houtryve took quite a few risks to get these photographs but the gamble certainly paid off. There is something claustrophobic about the scenes he photographs. Control is the overwhelming feeling that you come away with when viewing these images. Everything is watched and scrutinised to detect any deviation from the system. Paranoia is systemic and a very effective control mechanism. - Secrets and Lies' by Tomas van Houtryve can be found HERE.

The second link takes us back to the dark days of World War II and the even darker events within the Litzmannstadt Ghetto in Lodz, Poland. Three photographers worked in the Ghetto. Two of them, Mendel Grossman and Henryk Ross, were inhabitants of the ghetto, while the third, a German called Walter Genewein, was the main accountant for the Litzmannstadt Ghetto. Genewein's work was shot in colour using Agfa's early colour slide film. This collection of slides surfaced in a second hand book store in Vienna back in 1987. It is a uniquely remarkable, if not cold and uncompassionate, visual colour record of ghetto life as seen from the German perspective. Henryk Ross' work really stands out as quality photojournalism with some truly stunning photographs. Mendel Grossman has a more personal 'this is the world i live in' feel to his images photographing his family as well as events around him.

All three photographers documented the lives of people in the Ghetto in different ways - Ross as an official Jewish photographer appointed by the Jewish Council working within the Ghetto, Grossman as a clandestine photographer trying to avoid detection by the Gestapo, and Walter Genewein as a talented amateur photographer living outside the Ghetto, experimenting with Agfa colour material. Only Henryk Ross and Mendel Grossman's photographic work contain any feeling of compassion for their subjects. Genewein images have a 'banality of evil' feel to them. Everything is ordered and as it should be. There is no questioning of the morality of what is being done, no questioning about the living conditions, no compassion at all. The images are just a systematic recording of what the Nazi photographer deemed ordinary.

Photographer Colin Pantall's excellent blog post about the Lodz ghetto photographers can be found HERE

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