On Counting Names and Names that Count: Decolonising Photographic Archives of the Holocaust
"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.
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20 September 2022, 3:00pm
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