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…
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