Kylie Thomas:
On Counting Names and Names that Count: Decolonising Photographic Archives of the Holocaust

Jewish Baker

"Joodse Bakker" [Jewish Baker] / Document of Genocide. Photograph courtesy of NIOD Imagebank WW2.

In the last two decades there has been mass digitisation of photographic archives relating to histories of genocide, and of the Shoah in particular. Through a consideration of several recent initiatives to identify and restore the names of people depicted in photographs taken before they were murdered during the Shoah, I seek to raise a series of questions about contemporary practices of commemoration, with a particular focus on Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. I consider how attempts to comprehensively account for the names of those who were murdered by the Nazis, to tabulate lists of the dead, and to exhaustively link names to images, can be understood less as archival activism than as an obsessive and ultimately futile desire for redemption. I draw on critical perspectives developed outside of Europe’s borders to think beyond the limits of Vergangenheitsbewältigung and to move towards a politics of memory that does not instrumentalise the dead in order to exculpate the living. I argue for linking recent debates about archives as sites of racial injury and attempts to decolonise collections that have emerged as a result, to thinking about the archives of the Shoah.  

Kylie Thomas is a Senior Researcher at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam. She writes about photography, visual activism, feminist, queer and anti-racist movements, resistance and protest, and South Africa during and after apartheid. She is the author of Impossible Mourning: HIV/AIDS and Visuality after apartheid (Wits University Press & Bucknell University Press, 2014) and co-editor of Photography in and out of Africa: Iterations with Difference (Routledge, 2016) and Women and Photography in Africa: Creative Practices and Feminist Challenges (Routledge, 2020). She has held numerous research fellowships, including a EURIAS Fellowship at the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna, Austria; a British Academy International Visiting Research Fellowship at the University of Brighton, UK; and a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship at NIOD. She currently co-directs the NIOD ImageLab, which focuses on war and visual culture from the time of the Second World War to the present. 

At the KHI, Kylie Thomas is a visiting scholar at the Department Gerhard Wolf and the Photothek. 

20 September 2022, 3:00pm

This event will take place in a hybrid format.

Palazzo Grifoni Budini Gattai
Via dei Servi 51
50122 Firenze, Italia

To participate in person please email julia.biel@khi.fi.it to reserve a seat.

To participate online please register in advance via Zoom: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJArc-ivrjkiHtIpoImHp5x0HZC0UIVz1ngvAfter registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.


This event will be documented photographically and/or recorded on video. Please let us know if you do not agree with the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz using images in which you might be recognizable for event documentation and public relation purposes (e.g. social media).


Our Newsletter provides you with free information on events, tenders, exhibitions and recent publications from the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz.

If you would like to receive our newsletter, please enter your name and e-mail address:

*required field

Notes on the content of the newsletter and transit procedures

This letter is sent via MailChimp, where your e-mail address and name will be saved for sending the newsletter.

Once you have completed the form, you will receive a "Double-Opt-In-E-Mail," in which you are asked to confirm your registration. You can cancel your subscription to the Newsletter at any time ("Opt-out"). You will find an unsubscribe link in every Newsletter and in the Double-Opt-in-E-Mail.

You will receive detailed information about transit procedures and your withdrawal options in our privacy policy.