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Holocaust Photography and Exhibition Research

Thursday, October 29, 2015

This week I continued working on the Holocaust photography exhibition that I detailed in last week’s post. I was able to see the collection of James Friedman photographs that will make up the core of the exhibition. While I had previously seen the photographs in a book, I had not yet seen the physical prints that we will be using for the exhibition. The photos were very striking and their subjects were even more powerfully conveyed in a larger format. The size also allowed me to pick up on details that I had previously missed. The photographs were handled with gloves and with great care so as not to damage the prints, an important consideration when dealing with art, archival materials, or artifacts.

In addition to seeing the photographs, I continued secondary research on Holocaust photography and memory. I used books from the Klau Library to view other photographs of concentration camps and the Holocaust. The large volume of Holocaust photography materials surprised me, though seeing other photographic collections of concentration camps reinforced the uniqueness of the Friedman collection. Yet, despite noticeable differences between the Friedman and other photographs, the physical sites and subject matter lend themselves to some similar photographic elements, such as depiction of barbed wire and landscapes of the concentration camps. In future weeks I hope to read more about how depiction and interpretation of events is affected by a person’s firsthand or secondary experience of an event.

Also this past week, I had the opportunity to attend Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz: 70 Years Later, an exhibition at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. This moving exhibition featured the stories of local Holocaust survivors interspersed with artifacts and interpretive panels on the history of Auschwitz and the Holocaust. The exhibition not only taught me valuable information about the Auschwitz camp and details of the Holocaust more broadly, but also stimulated reflection upon interpretation and techniques for connecting audiences with information (such as tying the exhibition to current events at the end). The design of the space was reminiscent of the traditional dark colors and black and white photographs used to present information about the Holocaust, which is in stark contrast to the color photography of the Friedman photographs. Reflecting upon exhibition design and curation at the Freedom Center will greatly affect how I approach the “12 Nazi Concentration Camps” installation.

In order to move forward on exhibition plans, I have been in contact with a staff member from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) who helped me locate photographs from their collections. Several of the images that have been considerations for the exhibition were in the USHMM’s collections. We will now have to decide what photographs to include and obtain rights to incorporate them in the exhibition. I also found a photograph in the Wiener Library collection, and will be in touch with them about obtaining rights. There are other photographs that I will continue to track down in the upcoming weeks.

I look forward to reading more about memory and Holocaust photography, making progress with photo acquisition, and refining interpretation for the exhibition in the weeks to come. Next week I will also continue artifact research and see what other educational opportunities arise in the museum.