Trespassing through shadows : history, memory and photography in contemporary representations of the Holocaust / by Andrea Liss.
With the passing of survivors and direct witnesses to the Holocaust, inevitable dilemmas arise about the appropriate form of representation that remembrance and retrospective witnessing should take. Photographs have been assigned the uneasy burden of fostering the irresolvable task of evidence to "never forget." Yet documentary photographs related to the Holocaust present the contemporary viewer with the difficulty of confronting the atrocities in ways that often reiterate a sociology of victimhood and martyrology, rather than presenting some semblance of retrospective empathy for those pictured. Crucial writing from the 1970s and 1980s claim that documentary's overarching and skeptical goals to fully apprehend its subject only fleetingly raise, and then efface, the possibility of empathy for the objects of its representation. This study asks whether the same criticism of documentary photography as an untenable victimology can apply in extreme cases where the people pictured were truly victims, where they had been so dehumanized that no "alternative" to their representation applied. I argue that the implications would lead to a post-Auschwitz acknowledgement of the indispensibility of documentary photographs as well as the formulation of new approaches to their contemporary employment. I thus critically juxtapose the memorializing task of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.--through its representation of both graphic documentary and more intimate and humanizing family photographs--the traditional eyewitness function of the photograph and contemporary artistic approaches to reconfiguring Holocaust-related photographs in order to redress the lens of abjectness and the displaced claim of "obscenity" through which victims of the Holocaust have been traditionally, and too transparently, remembered. Although there can be no definitive "solutions" to the imperative of respectfully memorializing yet unflinchingly confronting the realities of the Shoah, photographic representations must maintain an opaqueness and a translucent mimesis that is appropriate to the psychic and historical trauma. The fragile possibilities and risks facing the transformation of Holocaust photographs reside in the ability to restage history not as a comprehensible totality but as a pathway toward keeping the memory of the trauma at once approachable and unmasterable.
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