Elise and Otto Hampel

It is important to think about photography outside the gallery and the art world. Photography and photographic imagery surround us. These images have value too, and should be considered. They are as important if not more so than art photography. They shape our world.

We visited the German Resistance Memorial Centre. Climbing the stairs we are reminded of those who the Centre remembers. There are faces without details, no information about their lives and deaths, just faces for us to read, to imagine. The young, the old, the prude, the fop, women and men. You know what they did in broad terms and the price they probably paid. Faces you know. The Scholls and others. A contemplation. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

The temporary exhibition told stories of those removed to the camps. The exhibition involved photographs before, then and now, set together with the stories of those involved. Their tales, survival and loss. Photographs in a  supporting role. There were also photographs and comments from children and students who listened to these statements. A recording of oral history and reaction. There was also a photo of a ceramic cat. A neutral picture. It was found in the ovens. The picture had no need not be anything but neutral.

I climbed to the next level of the exhibition. There was a seminar going on, groups of old people, young men and women during the war years. An antidote to the questions you ask of old people in the Nazi parade grounds of Nuremberg. The imagined tales of their youth, their war. Perhaps unfair. Here the imagined tales are different. I entered a room. Walls of photographs that become a montage of faces and ephemera and photographic evidence. An old woman was crying gently, talking to, and stroking two pictures, Elise and Otto Hampel. The old woman broke off when she saw me and left, I had interrupted her grief. I was looking at the pictures of these two people. The woman returned and told me the story in German, which I do not understand. It was intense and emotional. I was unable to reply and understand, she finished and left still crying gently. I did not need or want to see the rest of the exhibition.

Photographs are an important aid to memory. They are powerful. A photograph of spanish civil war refugees climbing over the Pyrenees, tired and broken stays with me today. But they are also just objects with limits. Sometimes they need to sit beside context and human tales.


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Filed under July 2011, Thoughts

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