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Munich, 14-MAY-07 - A few weeks ago, I was asked to do a photo essay covering the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site.
Being German, I know about those dark times in our history all too well from school, but I never managed to actually
visit any of the memorial sites in Germany.
I could defend this by saying, "well I never had the time", but the main reasons seem to be that 1) of course a concentration camp site is not your average museum and certainly does not qualify for a "fun afternoon with the family", and 2) I guess that I tried to sub-conciously ignore that time in German history as there was nothing that I personally actually did contribute to that problem. Neither could I have prevented it from happening. I was not part of it at all. You see, I was born in 1965, so all that was waay before my time... So I never went there.
But as a photographer I was excited to go there with a completely blank mind. I did not know what to expect (often enough, I have a clear set of pictures in mind prior to attending an event, be it a soccer match, a press conference or a red carpet event). I did only very little research prior to the visit in order to not get any 3rd party visual impressions into my head. I wanted it to stay blank until I actually got there. I wanted to see this with my own eyes.
On my way to Dachau, I had a very strange feeling. I sat in my car, driving happily along, listening to some pop music on the radio, with radio hosts making some jokes (the local radio station has that running gag of calling Dachau "Chaos City"), and I was on my way to the former Concentration Camp, where the memorial site is located.
For my first visit I selected a Monday, where the museum is closed, just to experience the surroundings of the camp quietly, and in peace, without any visitors. Also, the weather was very good that morning. Apparently they created a new gravel footpath in 2005, that leads up to the memorial site from the parking lot. It's a nice footpath, it meanders gently towards the new main entrance (the Jourhaus) with its bizarre "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Makes You Free") sign on the steel gates. Right next to the camp site I noticed a pretty street, very clean, and nice houses with red roofs.
I was puzzled - a nice footpath, beautiful sunshine, nice houses, yet 65 years ago, this place was one of the scariest and deadliest places. The ultimate terror, brought to the world by the shameless Nazi regime, and ignored by so many at that time. I was scared. Deeply. And I had my very first impression. Still trembling slightly, I left the site after I took a couple of decent photos.
The next morning I drove there again. This time, the sky was covered with dark clouds, which suited me very well, as it was matching my mood - and matching the mood I wanted to capture in the photos. I could not envision taking photos of this place under a clear blue sky, that much was clear. A dull grey seemed to be much more appropriate.
That morning, the quietness was gone - classes, hundreds of pupils really, were on their way to the memorial site. They actually came in huge coaches, and they kept chatting, hollering, and laughing on their way to the site. I did not understand that. Were they aware of what they actually are going to see that morning? Hadn't they gone through a thorough preparation lesson with their history teacher? Would they understand? Did they care at all?
Well, it turned out that the good mood of the class was quickly vanishing. Once inside the museum they seemed to slowly understand the terror that had taken place at the camp. They began to understand that this was and still is a serious issue, and not the subject of foolish jokes. By the time they had reached the third room, they were rather quiet, looking at the details of the exhibition with both horror and genuine interest.
I talked to one of the guides, and she confirmed that "most people are like that - once they have seen just a few rooms, their chatty behaviour is gone, and the thinking process starts".
Having said that, there were also classes that were brilliantly guided by their teachers, who were apparently well prepared, answering dozens of questions, asked by their classes, trying to understand things that can't be understood, trying to envison things that can't be envisioned. At least not easily.
OK - I'll leave it at that. It was a very interesting day, and I will definitely come back to take more photos, maybe even in sunshine.
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P.S.: Following my visit to Dachau, I researched what other photographers have seen in this place.
Apparently, many colleagues use black and white to illustrate the emotions and feelings caused by this place.
I can understand this, but I came to the conclusion that -for this gallery- using B&W photos
would be a (minor) distortion of the reality. The reality is that I am shooting in color with a digital camera. I see colors, and
I photograph colors. If there are no colors, fine, then there are no colors. But I resist to artificially "enhance" the images by
putting them to B&W, just for the effect.
Model of KZ Dachau
1. Main Entrance (12 photos) 2. Roll Call Ground (12 photos) 3. Museum (6 photos) 4. Inside the Reconstructed Barracks (9 photos) 5. Outside the Barracks (12 photos) 6. Prayer Area (6 photos) 7. The Bunker (12 photos)