20 April 2006

Where in Time?

While researching for my thesis, I came across the work of Dirk Reinartz, a German photojournalist who incidentally died in 2004. I had no idea that his work was not that of a young man when I read about him. About a decade ago, Reinartz released a book of landscapes that I think presents some challenges for those who appreciate photography. He took his camera to some of the sites where, during World War II, the Nazis had done their worst. Instead of going to the well worn, oft visited, museum-like locations (think Auschwitz), Reinartz went to unmarked sites. Frankly, I did not know that there are places in Germany, unmarked, where such tragic events took place. But the scale of Hitler’s genocide was such that not every prison camp could be made into a memorial, monument, or museum. German is a small country. Europe is crowded. Some of that land has had to be reclaimed.

Reinartz images of the sites where countless prisoners died bear no mark of the suffering that played out there. There are no pools of blood, no bones or bodies, no fences, no buildings. The complete nothingness within the image poses some real problems when one stops to ask two questions. First, what was Reinartz doing? Was he trying to lay Germany’s past to rest? Was he trying to deemphasize what had happened in those locations by showing the absence of any obvious effects? Or, did he hope to re-introduce these locations into the consciousness of contemporary Germany? Like the rest of the world, Germany is on the brink of losing the final survivors, perpetrators, remembers of those events, and Reinartz may have wanted to attempt to preserve some piece of this legacy, even if that piece shows how much the potency of the events had already been diluted by time. Second, what is the truth about these locations? A forest landscape doesn’t tell the truth about those who were murdered here. Does it further injure the dead to depict the site of their death like this?

Regardless of what Reinartz was up to, his work meddles with time. His photographs of these sites require viewers to relate the present appearance with the reality of what the landscape witnessed in the past. Whether the past is whitewashed by the present, or the present is darkened by its past, Reinartz photographs collapse nearly half a century as past and present collide.


Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your entries and the correspondence between you and Katherine but it is all quite over my head. I am glad you are blogging again. Grandpa Dan

katperkins said...

I think it's a fascinating concept to work with. I never really thought about the fact that some of that land has been repurposed. I'd like to see more of his work.

Mary Ann said...

Another artist you could check out is Mikael Levin. www.mikaellevin.com
His photographs (War Story) do something similar.

I owe my awarness of both photographers to Ulrich Baer's 2000 article "To Give Memory a Place: Holocaust Photography and the Landscape Tradition" in Representations