The Irreversible

From: November 9, 2013 @ 14:00 EDT
To: December 5, 2013 @ 17:00 EDT
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by Agnieszka and Maciek Nabrdalik
November 9 – December 5, 2013
Reception & Book Signing: November 9, 2:00pm – 8:00pm
Leica Gallery
Warsaw, Poland

The survivors of the Nazi concentration camps featured in the portrait series The Irreversible often say that in the camp one could forget one’s name, but not the number, which provided a new subhuman identity stripped of all spirituality.

The style of these portraits denies the impersonal tone of the Nazi statistics. The striking namelessness of the victims, the numbers recurring in historical reports, and the ongoing debates about how many people really died take away all individuality from the prisoners. This project aims to restore their faces and show a little piece of what they managed to salvage in spite of the cruelty and the humiliation.

The photographs were taken in the survivors’ homes during intimate conversations when they were affected by strong emotions evoked by their memories. Looking at these photographs, one might sense that they have returned to those dark places. The proximity of the shot marks the photographer’s attempt to convey the cruelty of the camp reflected in the eyes of the prisoners, in the sharp features of their faces, and in their clenched teeth. The black background became the space of those who did not survive.

The accounts of the prisoners serve as the commentary to the photographs. They don’t resemble historical accounts from the camps, but instead are reflections from the present. After so many years, the prisoners are trying to understand the reasons behind their own survival and the answer to the question “Why me?” is not always possible to find. They all come to one conclusion – those events left in them an indelible trace and each survivor must individually work through his or her trauma.

“We have seen a number of publications and books devoted to the Nazi concentration camps, but we did not want to repeat the stories already told. We did not want to appeal only to individual historical memories. There are institutions that record the accounts of the witnesses with great diligence and care, and with a sense of historical importance. We realized that what mattered to us more than accounts from the camps were reflections, feelings, and current understandings of the past. We quickly understood that for the former prisoners, the camps did not come to an end on the day of their liberation. They have persisted inside their mind with the same destructive force.

In creating this book, our goal was to come up with a new structure – one that would be timeless and that would tear down stereotypical assumptions. We are not speaking in our own words, but employing the stories of our subjects. What they are telling us comes from the present. Each story strikes us with its timeliness. We wanted to show how profound the experience of the camp is for those who survived it and how it affects their relationships, perceptions, psyches, viewpoints, and day-to-day functioning. We wanted every person who holds this book to find in it the question that they themselves would perhaps want to ask of a former prisoner.

The design of the book, created by Ania Na??cka from Tapir Book Design, breathed fresh energy into us. There is little that can provide more motivation than the visualization of the guiding thought, of the soul of the project. And this project lives mainly through photographs.

At the same time, we are aware that this is an incredibly difficult subject. The very notion of a face-to-face encounter brings with it the weight of the documentary genre. The idea that the cover be made of sandpaper, unpleasant to touch and bringing to mind something rough and injurious, seemed appropriate. This is not the book to tuck in amongst others. Just the touch itself might discourage you from further contact. This is why we think that the subject as much as the album itself deserve a special place in the homes and minds of those who reach for it. ”

– Maciek and Agnieszka Nabrdalik

The exhibition organized by the Press Club Poland and co-financed by the Polish National Centre for Culture.

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