Thursday, July 03, 2008

Photographing the ghosts of Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps

Cole Thompson recently returned home to Laport, CO, from Ukraine and Poland where he created a new body of work at the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. The title of the impressive new work is "The Ghosts of Auschwitz and Birkenau" and the black and white photographs are powerfully evocative of Cole's lifelong heros, Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.

"For this portfolio," says Cole, "I used 30-second time exposures to create 'Ghosts' at these sacred sites. My Vari-ND and Mor-Slo filters were used with a tripod-mounted Canon 5D full-frame 35mm format even though it was clear to me these images were meant to be square (I cannot explain why). Here's how I summarized my experience in the introduction to 'The Ghosts of Auschwitz and Birkenau:'

"What can be said about Auschwitz and Birkenau that hasn't already been said? What can be photographed at those sacred places that hasn't already been photographed?

"As I thought about what had occurred there I wondered how any human could do such inhumane things, and then I recalled the story, 'The Mysterious Stranger,' the unfinished classic by Mark Twain. In this story a young boy named Seppi is talking to Satan about a man who had brutally beaten his dog. Seppi declared that this man's actions were inhumane and Satan responded: 'No, it wasn't Seppi; it was human--quite distinctly human.'

"Satan goes on to point out that no other animal on the planet would treat another this way, except humans.




"I had not intended to photograph during my tour of the camps but after being there a few minutes, I felt compelled. With every step, I wondered about the people whose feet had once walked in exactly the same footsteps. I wondered if their spirits still lingered there today.

"And so I photographed ghosts."


As he mentions above, Cole had not expected to shoot photos that day. Less than 15 minutes into the tour, however, the “Ghosts” idea came to him. "I was thinking about all of the people who had walked in these very same footsteps and how they were now ghosts. The idea came easily from my previous work with 'shadow people' as I like to call them, images which were also done with 30-second exposures. I left the tour group with only 75 minutes remaining to execute the concept... quickly setting up and shooting each of some 15 scenes and then running to the next location. I stopped only when my wife came and told me the tour bus was leaving."

You can see all fifteen images in the 'The Ghosts of Auschwitz and Birkenau' portfolio by visiting Cole's website