Birkenau is a horrific place, a scene of unspeakable brutality and a constant reminder of where nationalism, racism and bigotry can lead to.
From a photographic perspective, it’s best to document what’s there for one’s own memory or reflection – certainly not a place for selfies. The visual imagery of course is instantly recognisable so I kept it simple especially in a harsh winter’s afternoon light.
Over the years there has been media reports and online discussions over the conduct of student groups visiting Auschwitz/Birkenau with Israel flags and chanting, sometimes with reported unruly behaviour. I was visiting with a group of Irish students including those studying video/ photography and we had a lot of discussion before the visit on how to approach using cameras as well as discussion afterwards on the content we shot. The photos below are of a group of Israeli students who were behaving in the manner described above. I took a picture but didn’t video it. Is the behaviour appropriate? Coming from Northern Ireland where we’re also in a permanent state of dealing with sensitivities of recent past and 300 years of turbulent history, we wouldn’t condone such behaviour from our own students.
Auschwitz is somewhere everyone should really visit – to witness the scene and symbol of the descent from civilised society to the depths of human depravity in less than a decade. This wasn’t my first trip to a concentration camp – I’d been to Buchenwald and Begren-Belsen in Germany – so the shock to the system was a bit subdued compared to others in my group experiencing this for the first time.
Like most visitors, I brought my camera but how should you go about photographing what is a memorial, a museum, a crime-scene albeit one on most tourist itineraries to this part of Poland. The debate on taking selfies at Auschwitz has of course broken the internet over recent years, but photographing what’s there to try and capture its impact or simply to document what’s there now is as valid as writing about it. A bit of sensitivity goes without saying.
The two sites are visually very different. Auschwitz 1 is the better-preserved site and has more of a memorial/museum feel to it while Birkenau is unrelentingly bleak and appalling. To compare I’ve shown Auschwitz 1 in colour and Birkenau in monochrome.
When you enter the camp, the first striking visual is the sign. It’s a replica to replace stolen the original but doesn’t lessen its impact. We all know the context.
As you walk round the site, the barbed wire and lookout posts are all around.
Even the shape of the posts and the street lamps lend to the sinister feel of the place
Several of the blocks retain their designation with some explanatory signs. Block 10 was notorious for medical experimentation.
Inside the blocks there are some restrictions on photography. The office looks innocuous until you see the Hitler portrait. I’ve often found the bureaucracy and industry behind the Holocaust to be especially chilling.
Many blocks have exhibits of possessions taken from those killed at Auschwitz. One of the better known exhibits is of the shoes
I’m not sure if photography was permitted in this area but the crematorium below – interior and exterior – is a reminder of the industrial brutality.
And that’s Auschwitz 1. Next, was the quick bus ride to Birkenau.
I’ve had the good fortune to visit the US on 3 separate occasions in recent years – and most of that time has been spent in Indiana.
These were working visits – it’s one of the more unlikely holiday destinations if you’re heading across the Atlantic but it has a quiet charm and warm feeling that makes me want to return.
The city of Indianapolis is a smart place with an accessible downtown area, the speedway and is home to my weekly dose of NFL.
I spent quite a while at two of the state’s Universities – Ball State and Taylor – and travelled around some unheralded places.
Gas City – the smallest ‘city’ I’ve ever been to, but home to Friday speedway. Noise, fumes and fried food.
One of the most striking visual features I noticed was the signage. Sometimes grander than the actual place, sometimes unintentionaly funny but something we’ve lost over here.
Baseball. If ever a sport is more enjoyable watching live rather than on TV, it’s baseball. This was my first experience at Fort Wayne.
I hope to go back to Indiana next time I visit the US. It’s an unassuming place with warm, friendly people, incredibly photogenic and seems to exude a laid back form of conservatism. Sometimes, though you have to be immodest, especially if you are the best damn sports bar.
Summer in Indiana and I got to experience that colourful cultural experience – the County Fair. We have, of course, fairs in Ireland – it’s usually cold and wet, they’re often like outdoor shopping malls, and they’re a bit… two dimensional. Now whether it’s the novelty of travelling or enjoying a trip to somewhere like parts of Indiana that are well off the tourist trail, there are things you just don’t get at home.
Forget Healthy Eating
There was a serious diet and a gym membership organised after this trip. It wasn’t just the grilled/fried everything – it was the sheer size and volume of portions. All delicious, of course.
We The People With the fine weather and good food, everyone seemed chilled.
Bit of Politics
I have to say that these guys had considerably less attention than the food, agricultural shows, sports and entertainment. The Tea Party strangely had no tea.
Tractors we have at home. Horses at agricultural shows, ditto.
Demolition derbies and pig wrestling, not so much.
Sorry about this Dave, but we were on the lookout for you the whole time.
Hancock, Grant and Delaware County Fairs, I salute you. Every conceivable type of food and entertainment, everyone enjoying themselves and so, so much to photograph.
ColorEfex Pro was used to punch the Raw files taken off the Olympus E450. It’s a great free tool.
It was while watching a recent documentary about Magnum Photos, a segment on Dennis Stock’s photos of James Dean reminded me I’d been to his home town of Fairmount on a trip to Indiana. Due to lack of time, I ended up in Fairmount early on a Sunday morning, had a walk, took some shots of the town and some James Dean related sights with the Olympus E450, and in the absence of any other souls or open cafes, headed on to my next stop.
I then forgot about Fairmount and the photos sat on a hard drive for a few years. Looking at them now and running them through a quick Color Efex filter, Fairmount looks to these European eyes exactly like how a mid west US town should look. with added James Dean.
It doesn’t take long to find visual sightings related to Fairmount’s most famous son, and it’s all reasonably tasteful.
I never got to the James Dean gallery, museum or his grave site – it was a fleeting visit at an early unsociable hour – but I’d love to go back. I’d orginally had a look at these shots in black and white but a town like Fairmount deserves colour – and Kodachrome would have been wonderful. Sadly like Fairmount’s most famous resident it’s another much missed Amercian cultural icon.
Then that ol’ song comes on… Together we’re singin’..
Any trip to the USA should include a visit to the music heartlands of Tennessee – Memphis and Nashville.
For taking photographs in the middle of summer however, it gets hot – 100F hot – and has the harshest of harsh sunlight, so glare and shadow are going to be a problem. I’d the trusty bog standard Olympus E450 with it’s 2 kit zooms which were fine as with the extreme brightness, wide open apertures weren’t going to be much use. And with a lot of colour being washed out with the bright light, black and white was the way to go.
So – a tale of two cities.
Nashville’s South Broadway is exactly as you would imagine it – all guitars, boots and beer, and it doesn’t disappoint. Everywhere you look there’s neon signs offering all you can eat and drink to the soundtrack of country music. It’s a friendly city, accessible and has a laid back charm. There’s a lot more downtown than SoBo – there’s loads of walks by the river, countless music venues, Tennesse State Museum and many country music museums. However you’ll invariably end up back on Broadway with a beer in your hand and wearing a new hat.
For the big music venues, there’s the Bridgestone Arena on South Broadway but for the ultimate in country experience, there’s the Opry – a few miles out of town, and for $35 you can get an unforgettable country music experience.
For sports, there’s the NFL (Tennessee Titans) , AAA Baseball (Nashville Sounds) or the Nashville Speedway – it’s about $10 for an evening’s racing.
About three hours away, Memphis is a very different experience. Where Nashville has a folksy touristy charm, Memphis has a wee bit of an atmosphere – a bit more tense, a much harder rock, blues and soul soundtrack and its central attraction Beale Street has an edge that’s great to experience but with a completely different feel. Still it’s well worth a visit – there’s Gibson Guitars, Rock n Soul and Stax Museums, loads of music venues and in like Nashville you’ll not go hungry or thirsty.
Out of the cities, there’s a lot of Irish Heritage sites – this was the Rogan family homestead, 19th Century immigrants from Co Down.
Finally, no matter where you go you’ll be in the presence of Elvis Presley. Just don’t stand on the King.
There ain’t a thing that I can do, That’s the difference between whisky and you
A few years back on a trip to the USA, I got to visit behind the scenes at the Jim Beam distillery at Clermont, Kentucky taking stills (pun intended) during a video shoot. Our host was the delightful and infinitely patient Jim Beam Noe, distillery manager. In a temperature of 37°C and in an environment with a delightful overpowering aroma of whiskey (bourbon…) it’s as well I had the camera to remind me of the whole visit.
And we got to taste some. Definitely one of my favourite shoots.
Kit: Olympus E450 DSLR (the old 4/3 one) and 14-42 kit lens. Silver Efex Pro.