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12 Nazi Concentration Camps

(James) Friedman’s ’12 Nazi Concentration Camps’ is arguably the most significant body of photographic work on the concentration camps in the post-Holocaust era…”— Dora Apel, author of Memory Effects: The Holocaust and the Art of Secondary Witnessing 

The photographs in my archive tell the tale of a life. They are autobiographical. They are personal. They are full of emotion. Some are humorous. Others, such as those from 12 Nazi Concentration Camps, are confrontational, disturbing, unpredictable and about our collective memory (yours and mine). In the photographs I made in 1981 and 1983 at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Flossenbürg, Fort Breendonck, Majdanek, Mauthausen, Natzweiler-Struthof, Theresienstadt and Treblinka, I constructed counterpoints to the historical and contemporary photographs of the camps made by a number of photographers, including Margaret Bourke-White, George Rodger and Erich Hartmann. My pictures were created in color with a cumbersome 8” x 10” field camera; the historical and contemporary photographs by other photographers were made with smaller, more portable cameras using black and white film.

The expectation on the part of many viewers is that contemporary photographs of Nazi concentration camps should be in black and white and without people or reference to the contemporary world. My color photographs include self-portraits, tourists and survivors, and have inspired visceral responses in many viewers. During a lecture I presented at the International Center of Photography in New York, an enraged audience member screamed, “You can’t photograph Nazi concentration camps in color, on sunny days. Don’t you know that the Holocaust happened in black and white? There weren’t any deep blue skies or puffy white clouds during the Holocaust. What’s wrong with you? How could you take pictures like that?” Another member of the audience jumped out of her chair and vehemently disagreed with the remarks and a heated argument ensued between them and others who joined in before ICP Director Cornell Capa defused the melee. My color photographs exist in stark contrast to the historical black and white photographic record of Holocaust images that are the basis for most viewers’ knowledge and understanding of the Nazi era.