The History of the World's First Holocaust Liberation Photograph
Awarded a Kenneth Botto Fellowship from the Center for Creative Photography, 2016
My current book project, Grief, starts in January 1942 on the killing fields of World War II just on the outskirts of Kerch in the Soviet Union—the site where the first widely circulated Holocaust liberation photographs were taken. I turn the focus to the moment a young Soviet Jewish photojournalist, Dmitrii Baltermants, took a series of images—his iconic photographs of women mourning dead male victims of Nazi atrocities, one of which would become his famous “Grief” photograph. From the moment the photographer selected a particular scene of the Nazi mass murder of Jews and Roma, his images universalized what would become known as the Holocaust by embedding his photographs in widely recognized aesthetic tropes of post-battle scenes like those of Matthew Brady during the Civil War. The book will have three sections: “Grief” during World War II, when Baltermants served as photographer; “Grief” during the Cold War, when he was photo editor of Ogonyok, the Life magazine of the Soviet Union; and “Grief” after the Cold War, after his death in 1990. I talk about his photographs’ reception and circulation during World War II, as well as the way editors understood the images and helped readers make sense of them. Then, during the 1960s and 70s, Baltermants remade the photographs, exhibited them globally, and reprinted them in Ogonyok and other publications. I examine how they functioned domestically, in the Soviet Union’s heroic memory of the World War II, in this case by demonstrating the unparalleled Soviet suffering of genocidal violence. Internationally, as “Grief” became known worldwide, it was used in exhibitions of photography and became a key strategy in Cold War diplomacy. The final section begins with the photographer’s death and during the boom in institutionalized Holocaust memory and shows how “Grief” got redefined as both an art photograph by collectors and museums, which gave the image value in the art market as well as a Holocaust photograph even as the aesthetics of the image resisted that interpretation.
Talks about Grief:
Friday, April 21, 2017, "Picturing Grief: Dmitrii Baltermants, Soviet Holocaust Photography, and Cold War Politics," Revolutionary Lives Workshop, University of California Humanities Institute, 2pm.
Tuesday, June 6, 2016, "Valuing Grief," 5:30pm, University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography
Tuesday, May 3, 2016, 5pm, University of Chicago's bi-annual Jean and Harold Gossett Lecture in Memory of Holocaust Victims Martha and Paul Feivel Korngold
September 9, 2015, 3:30-5pm, Works in Progress Workshop, Casden Institute and the Visual Studies Research Institute, University of Southern California, Wednesday,
Press coverage about Grief:
CU Arts and Sciences Magazine