This photograph is taken from Agnieszka and Maciek Nabrdalik’s book of portraits and interviews with concentration camp survivors.
Maciek, a photo-reporter, decided to devote more time to former inmates after working on a newspaper article about Auschwitz-Birkenau. Later, he recalled that what the guides told him was insufficient to comprehend what had taken place there and, together with his wife, he decided to try and contact eyewitnesses. They spent four years preparing the book, visiting several countries and recording over a hundred hours of interviews with 45 people. Agnieszka Nabrdalik recalled her first meeting with the book’s interviewees:
We met with incredibly cheerful, extremely obliging people, wide open to the world, people in love. They were well aware that they had been given a second chance to live.
For the book, Maciek Nabrdalik shot a series of black-and-white portraits. The former prisoners’ faces are spot-lit, as if illuminated through a keyhole or partly open door. Most of the subjects were photographed during their interviews. The emotion on their wrinkled faces is accentuated by the pitch-black and shadows. The photographer chose this sparse style for the portraits to underline that people are all that matters in the book. They act as a counterpoint to the impersonal statistics listed in the German death camps, and to the ‘bureaucratic machine’ (to quote Zygmunt Bauman) which operates in the name of ideology.
In the interviews, the Nabrdaliks focused on feelings, reflections, and judgements about the past from a modern-day perspective. The main concern for the book’s protagonists was what will happen to memories about the camps once the last eyewitnesses are gone.
Originally written in Polish, translated by MB, Nov 2018
This text is part of the project Metaphors of Independence: Poland In 100 Photos.
To coincide with the centenary of Poland regaining its independence, we have created a selection of photographs that allow us to understand both yesterday and today. A hundred photographs but so much more. Find out more.