Photos & Projects

A Heavy Visit – An Acount of Shooting an Emotive Subject – By Alex Kreisman

And the story goes like this …

A foggy Saturday morning of November we arrived by car. Not too late, not too early. As soon as arrived we were to be separated into groups and put in line in order to pass Security. I have to say that they were not the most comprehensive security I’ve seen, forcing you to empty all your pockets (including jackets).

Anyway, security: check!
Let’s move forward.

The weather was grey, very foggy but the sun was there. I thought it seemed very suited to the place. The buildings didn’t seem any more special than any other place. I like fog, it makes things appears from another era.

We met the guide there and started our visit bypassing the infamous gate. Instead of going to the first house, we went further to try and avoid some of the other visitors.

We were going down a street made of earth and some vestige of blocks in the ground. The street was bordered by single-story brick houses, each of these houses separated by a small garden and beautiful trees. The guide told us that it was originally a garrison, which explains the very square look of the place. The fog was beginning to leave the place and my first real impression was that it was a beautiful place.

I looked at the street and observed the little details such as the little house light with the number on it, very practical. Very clean.

The houses were in a very good state, yet they must have been a hundred years old. I wondered how this place was in the 1940s. I tried to remember accounts I’ve read, films I’ve seen, yet I still found the place beautiful and clean.

What’s wrong with me?!


Then we entered the first house.

Suddenly, the whole feeling changed. In the blink of an eye, I went from admiring the beauty to a mix of rage and sadness.

We entered a corridor several meters long filled with portraits on the walls. I was now looking at men and women, all hair shaved, all with the same blody uniform. They all had something in the eyes – full of so many emotions that it felt overwhelming. I found myself glued to each face. Each description was revolting and my mind just went blank.

The descriptions were very simple: A name, an origin, a date of arriving and a date of death.
On most pictures, the time lapse between the two latter pieces of information was just a couple of days, sometimes a couple of weeks.
It was infuriating and frightening.

Yes, we were in Auschwitz.

As you may have guessed, I’m not much a writer and find it difficult to express myself with words. I find it much easier with pictures. Also, please forgive me for what will follow, as I won’t take you on the full tour with me. I’ll just tell you a mix of thoughts and feelings and try to tell this with as much impartiality as I’m able to muster.

Each house represented a different theme and lets you discover different aspects of what the camp was. There were paintings and pictures on the wall depicting what happened in this place.

No imaginary information, just facts.

And it was heartbreaking.

It went from sleeping quarters with a room filled with 3 story beds where human beings had to squeeze themselves into too-small rooms. The floor filled with people dying and sleeping. All were sick – the “lucky ones” on the top were the healthier ones while the bottom bunks were reserved for the dying ones and the ones who didn’t have the strength to climb. Then there were rooms filled with everyday life items such as razors, glasses, shaving brushes, prosthetics…

Shoes…

Although it was only a very small quantity, the sheer number of items displayed here made me realise how vast the whole enterprise was. I really couldn’t fathom what a million people could represent.

Spine chilling stuff!

Nor can I imagine what it must have felt to be forced out of my home with just a suitcase of my most precious belongings with me to arrive in this place squeezed for days in an animal wagon.

How low my hopes should have been. Would there have been any left?

And now, the tricky part: how do you photograph in a place like this?

Are there any rules, must-dos, must don’ts? Is it ok to shoot such a place with an artistic vision? Not just snapshot but meaningful shots?

I went in the place knowing I wanted to grab strong images that would tell a story. I wanted to be respectful with how I would react and with the people I would photograph but at the same time, I wanted to photograph as much of this place as possible!

And then I was there.

And then I didn’t think at all.

The place was so full of emotion that I switched to autopilot and just got on with it. It seemed so easy and fluid. Notice a scene, focus, adapt the diaphragm, compose and shoot.

I rarely felt more “in my picture” and yet at the same time present and aware of my feelings. I guess it also has to do with the kind of photographer you are. Whether you do not care at all to be seen or if rather like me you prefer to lurk in the shadows, being a witness to what is happening around you. I like to steal moments, appropriate them for myself. Re-live them and go back for more!

As always, the best part for me is in front of my computer or in front of the enlarger when I see the image pre-post. All those feelings come back, sometimes I even feel the weather I had when shooting. I remember the intent and I see the transformation I want to do on that flat image. I want to make it live, I want to push the emphasis on some part and tell as much as I can of that image.

I rarely succeed, but when it does, it’s so rewarding!

Shooting is the chase, printing the delicate dessert that finishes a divine meal!

From a technical view, all pictures were shot on Hp5 @ 400 iso, developed in D76 @ 1+1 with a mixed of M lenses: Voigtlander 21mm, lux 35 FLE, 75mm apo-cron and a touch of 50mm apo-cron.

Thank you for the reading, I hope that you enjoyed the images
Alex

 

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30 Comments

  • Reply
    JimSangwine
    March 18, 2020 at 10:08 am

    Wonderful images Alex, they convey the atmosphere beautifully and the graininess of 35mm HP5 feels so appropriate. I guessed from the first shot where you were, although I’ve never been.

    • Reply
      Alex Kreisman
      March 18, 2020 at 10:53 am

      Hi Jim,
      Thank you for your kind comment.
      Actually i’ve shown a couple of these images around and a lot of the people i’ve shown the photo didn’t have a clue of the place.
      Cheers
      Alex

  • Reply
    Loris Viotto
    March 18, 2020 at 10:12 am

    leggere questo Tuo articolo mi ha fatto “male” al cuore, profondamente! comunque, bravo e grazie.!.

    • Reply
      Alex Kreisman
      March 18, 2020 at 10:55 am

      grazie mille Loris, mi sono fatto male al cuore quando li ho presi

  • Reply
    Alex Bacon
    March 18, 2020 at 10:24 am

    Excellent!!!

  • Reply
    Terry B
    March 18, 2020 at 10:50 am

    “I really couldn’t fathom what a million people could represent.”

    I’ve extracted the above comment as it encapsulates the horror that was the holocaust. And that was at least six million jews plus the disabled, homosexuals, communists, intellectuals and any other group that the depraved Nazi elite, and their willing followers who carried it out, didn’t approve of. These figures do make it difficult to comprehend.
    History usually records the images in b/w, but I find it hard, if not impossible, to get out of my mind that in the summer months these camps may have looked more like holiday camps. The mind boggles at what the poor victims must have gone through.
    Thank you for your images and thoughts.

    • Reply
      Alex Kreisman
      March 18, 2020 at 11:00 am

      Hi Terry,
      Thank you for your comment and precision. I really appreciate it.
      Actually there were around 9 to 10 million that perished in the camps. (i was referring to Auschwitz)
      I was thinking like you about the summer months, however the guide told us the temperature are around 40c°. I let you imagine the smell and the propagation of sickness.
      Cheers
      Alex

      • Reply
        Terry B
        March 18, 2020 at 4:26 pm

        Hi, Alex.
        I do appreciate that you were referring to Auschwitz alone with the one million quote. As the vast majority of us can’t comprehend what this figure is related to the heinous crimes committed there, what chance have we of understanding the true figure?

        • Reply
          Alex Kreisman
          March 18, 2020 at 4:34 pm

          Hi Terry,
          imo : none, it’s just too much.
          The sad thing is this has continued throughout the century but less attention
          anyway, this might be a subject for another time :o)

  • Reply
    brian nicholls
    March 18, 2020 at 11:08 am

    Dear Alex,
    Your images and story have portrayed hell on earth. You’ve done extremely well and it would be impossible for anyone not to be moved by your posting. I can’t imagine a better set of images to support the narrative.

  • Reply
    Anton Yakovlev
    March 18, 2020 at 11:33 am

    My grandfather was among those who fought to free this place in january 1945. Captain Semyon Slesarev, 22nd guards motorized rifle brigade, 6th guards tank corps, 3rd guards tank army, 1st Ukrainian front. He lost a leg fighting on the outskirts of Berlin a few months later, in April.

  • Reply
    Roger B.
    March 18, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    Thank you, Alex, for a presentation that is emotionally powerful and artistic at the same time. Fog and grain seem to strengthen the sense of unreality that most 21st century viewers bring to this place, yet do not mask the cruel and harsh conditions that prevailed there. My stepfather-in-law just celebrated his 95th birthday. A Romanian Jew, he survived a year in Herzogenbusch Camp; his parents and two siblings were executed. He credits his survival to his physical strength (the Nazis needed good workers) and to the sovereign hand of God. Your essay is a tribute to men and women like him.

    • Reply
      Alex Kreisman
      March 18, 2020 at 4:02 pm

      Hi Roger,
      thank you for yoru kind words, I’m glad you liked it.
      I wish a Happy Birthday to your stepfather and i hope he will live some other years and maybe share with you on the subject.
      This is something i never got.
      Take care
      Alex

  • Reply
    Peter
    March 18, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    A very honest and thought provoking read with evocative photos to accompany it. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Stuart L Marcus
    March 18, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    Thank you, Alex, for your sad yet evocative piece. The buildings seemed to be floating in a “mist” of time until you entered and then the images seemed to me to become sharper. I notice you were using M mount lenses. If you were indeed shooting with a Leica camera, did the irony strike you? Germans have a nearly untranslatable word, tuchtigkeit, which embodies super-efficiency + technological advancement. This allowed them to develop the uniqueness that is still Leica rangefinders, and also the most efficient crematoria in the world (both patented, of course). I fear our world is heading there again.

    • Reply
      Alex Kreisman
      March 19, 2020 at 5:54 am

      Hi Stuart,

      I did shoot the whole project with various M’s. I did felt the irony (my older one is from 1959, not old enough but not that far either ;o) )
      All in all this helped me discovery the Leica Train and the rôle the Leitz family took in protecting and saving jews and other “unter menschen” during WWII
      And yes these cameras are nearly indestructible, so easy to use and for me so fun to use.

      Is our world really going there again or has it ever left it ?
      Have a great day!
      Alex

      • Reply
        Stuart L Marcus
        March 19, 2020 at 1:17 pm

        Thank you for telling me about the Leica Freedom Train, Alex! I knew nothing of Ernst Leitz’s successful efforts to save Jews by “assigning them” to offices outside Germany from 1933-1939 and the fact that he provided each of them with funds and their own Leica camera, which they could sell to obtain additional funds. The fact that Ernst never spoke of it, even when he was accused of being a Nazi collaborator, speaks to great menschlichkeit. It fell to his son to tell the story of the Freedom Train. To me, the story only adds to the mystique and venerability of the Leica Brand.

  • Reply
    Brian Pearcy
    March 18, 2020 at 9:20 pm

    Such moving photos…Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Kitty Murray
    March 18, 2020 at 10:19 pm

    Incredible shots. You really capture a mood and a texture that evokes the very soul of Auschwitz.

  • Reply
    Adam Bonn
    March 19, 2020 at 12:13 am

    The photos and the choice of film are perfect for the mood and how I imagine (never been) the place feels.

    I hope you’re proud of your work here

    For a certain sense of scale.. if we take the death toll as 1m at Auschwitz, and if we held a minute’s silence for each, we’d (if I’ve got the maths right…) be silent for about 11.5 days. (And that’s one million, not six or the entire 85m death toll of WWII)

    • Reply
      Alex Kreisman
      March 19, 2020 at 5:49 am

      Hey Adam,
      Thank you for your kind comment, i a proud indeed, and this helped me discover i like hard subject and want to do more!
      Even 11.5 days doesn’t do it for me and as say said the ramification and the total toll is so much more that it doesn’t help either!
      Happy shooting :o)

    • Reply
      Justin Kingery
      March 19, 2020 at 9:23 pm

      Adam, I believe you meant one SECOND of silence for each of the million lives lost. If we held a minute of silence for each of the million lost, we’d be silent for 695 days, nearly two entire years. The scale is nearly incomprehensible.

  • Reply
    eric
    March 19, 2020 at 6:32 am

    Marvelous great pictures !
    They are fantastic : they can show an incredible human suffering, an incredible horror !
    May we remember for ever that nobody can not do that again !

  • Reply
    Nigel Haycock
    March 24, 2020 at 3:53 am

    Thank you. Excellently done and very fitting.

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