26 February 2014
I served in Germany with the Royal Air Force back in the 1970s, when the Cold War was at its coldest. It was a tense time. There were regular “War Game” exercises and our base had a Battle Flight of fully-armed Lightning aircraft ready to scramble and repel hostile approaches towards the no-fly zone. The winters were brutal. The week-ends, when you were stood-down, were a tedious round of cheap alcohol and domestic chores. To break the monotony, a few of us set off one Saturday morning to visit the former Concentration Camp at Bergen-Belsen. The camp was a barren wasteland, with a small museum and many mass graves. It was known as “the place where no birds fly” and certainly I saw none on that day, nor on any of my subsequent visits.
When I returned to Germany in 2006, I made the trip from Hamburg to re-visit Belsen. It was much bigger and somehow brighter - more like an ordinary cemetery or garden of remembrance - if you didn’t look too closely or think too much. If you did, then the mass graves reminded you of what had been. I took some more photographs, without any real objective in mind at that stage. I had some of my original 1970s photographs with me and these are a couple of “then & now” comparisons:
With my “L” in the bag, I started working towards my “A” and quickly realised the benefits of having a specific goal in mind. You have to be focussed and perhaps learn new skills, such as working in camera RAW as I had to. Above all, you have to understand what is required from you and tailor your approach to the project accordingly, whilst remembering that that the “judges” actually want you to pass – not fail!
I had joined the Contemporary SIG who accepted submissions in photo-book format accompanied by a panel of 5 prints. I had previously printed A4 photo-books for another project, but for the sake of maximum impact, decided on A3 for my submission. Although my “L” panel had been on a fairly general “struggle against ….” theme, I decided that my “A” would concentrate on the specific topic of the deportations & the camps, as there was a huge amount of potential sites and subject-matter within easy reach of Berlin & Potsdam. I think, too, that when preparing for a distinction, it is important to choose a subject that is within your reach, both technically & geographically and that you have some feeling for the subject matter.
I lived near to the Glienicke Bridge, where some of the Cold War spies had been exchanged, and on the Berlin side of the bridge were the House at Wannsee (where the Final Solution to the Jewish Question in Europe was discussed and ratified in January 1942) and also Grunewald Station from where many deportations started (there were over 50,000 deportations from Berlin) and which has a memorial platform, Gleiss 17. These, then, were my starting points too.
I also realised that I needed many more photographs to choose from, so I re-visited Belsen in September 2010, and made a total of three visits to Buchenwald, which I will cover in the next two posts.
For more about Grahame and his current work, visit his website. - See more at: http://www.rps.org/regions-and-chapters/regions/london/blogs/2014/february/guest-blogger-day-1---grahame-soden-arps#sthash.4jxQ12Jf.dpuf