In August 2015 the European Summer School at Ravensbrück Memorial Museum addressed the topic of Photography in Concentration Camps. Practice, Function and Reception. Over a period of five days the participants of the summer university discussed this complex issue. Images of perpetrators, SS-Albums, private snapshots of SS-Members as well as photographs taken by the Allies while liberating the camps were considered alike.
The conference – as well as by now three decades of German-language and international scholarship on photography from the Nazi period – demonstrated that photography was used in the concentration camps of the Nazi regime in multiple ways and with very different intentions. The issues raised in Ravensbrück gave the impulse to pursue the topic with a conference. A particular paradox of those photographs that have been passed down lies in their mere existence. After all, at the time of their production there was an official ban on photography in concentration camps. The enormous inventory of handed down photographs demonstrates the existence of something which, by the camp commander’s instructions, wasn’t supposed to exist. If permitted at all, only official photography was allowed. As, among others, Didi-Huberman has shown in Bilder trotz allem (Images malgré tout), the process of dealing with these photographs is still in motion.
The conference thus pursues the certainly not simple challenge posed by these photographs: to get a picture of it and to remember. Moreover, against the historical context of the shift of generations – the disappearance of the eyewitnesses – the question of the significance and effect of handed down photographs becomes urgent in a new manner.
The conference will focus on exemplary readings of selected photographs. Particularly welcome are presentations which work with a particular image or clearly defined set of sources (such as images in a photoalbum) and which can present the source in a defined case study. Papers presented at the Photography of the Camps conference may range from considerations of single photographs and albums to the official photographs of the SS-Identification Services, photographs published in magazines, secret photographs by inmates, and Allied so-called « liberation photography. » They may also address « the afterlife of the photographs » in the process of memory after 1945. The focus of these papers should be an image-specific examination.
Besides sharing a characteristic of mass production, one of the distinguishing features of these photographs is their simultaneity of historical source and media artefact. Thus, a serious examination of these sources must consider the underlying conditions of their production and the context of their origin. At the same time, these photographs are also artefacts which frame and reproduce just a segment of reality.
This raises questions such as:
– What do the individual photographs show, what do they omit?
– How can we approach those pictures for which we have no further information? Is a reading and interpretation based on the genre-specific pictoral history possible?
– Can we observe a recurrence of specific motifs and is it possible to deduce a visual history of these images?
– Which significance did the photographs have for the self-understanding of the Nazi regime?
– In what manner is the gaze of the image producers included in the photographs?
– What conclusions do they allow about the perpetrators/victims?
– Can or must we read these images next to any other, comparable category of images?
– What pictorial traditions (iconographic motifs, image codes) are used in the photographs?
– What aesthetic and media principles of design do they follow or is it possible to notice particular aesthetic differences between Soviet and American liberation photography?
The conference committee welcomes abstracts of max. 500 words. Please send your abstract and a brief biography to firstname.lastname@example.org
The closing date for submissions is April 15, 2016.
Conference languages: German and English. The conference committee is trying to raise funding for assistance with travel and hotel costs.
International Conference Photographs from the Camps of the Nazi Regime
Center for Jewish Studies, Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz