Thoughts on Photographs

As someone who studies genocide and is very interested in
visiting the places where it has occurred I have mixed feelings on
photographs.  I was first confronted with
this issue when I was fifteen and visited the concentration camps.  We were in the oldest standing graveyard in
Poland, a place that my step dad has told me about before my trip, and I took
out my camera since I wanted to show him a picture.  I figured it would be a long time before he
made the trip.  I heard two of my peers
behind me, who were seventeen at the time, whisper how disrespectful it was to
take pictures and that they couldn’t understand why I would do that.  I said nothing, embarrassed, and returned the
camera to my bag. 

Looking back, that was extremely rude on their part.  In some ways I understand where they are
coming from, taking pictures at mass graves, or sites of major atrocities can
seem offensive and distasteful.  It is
especially bad if you are only looking through the lens of your camera and not
embracing the experience.  Sometimes
people walk through something very quickly, and snap a few pictures just move
on.  When this frustrates people I
totally understand.  

I do however want to make an argument in favor of taking
pictures at genocide sites (especially before I post my own).  When facing the history of genocide, I
believe the best thing I can do is to bear witness and to tell people about
what I have experienced.  I am very lucky
to have the opportunity to travel, in that time I have visited three sites of
genocide from the 20th century.
Places I know that many people will never have the opportunity to
visit.  When I take a picture, I do it
after I have read, examined, and internalized everything before me.  A picture is the last step, a final thought
in a deep process.  A picture may seem
voyeuristic or wrong to some, but since visiting that graveyard in Poland, I
have also come to appreciate the importance of documentation.  So I will continue to take pictures of these
places that I visit and post them, so that people might better share in these
experiences.

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