In 2005, by the end of the summer, I was wandering through the Kazimierz when I passed by a synagogue. I stepped in. Inside, there was an exhibition of portraits of those that lived in the quarter and died in the concentration camps. A text that accompanied the prints asked us to read each name and look at each face for a few seconds. Names and portraits had been put together to humanize what the Holocaust dehumanized. Many of those photographs were probably taken by the Third Reich services. The bureaucratic Nazi machine, so efficient in the dehumanization of the Other and the trivialization of evil, is also, paradoxically, what provides us today with the information required to give a face and a name, millions of faces, to those that otherwise would be forgotten. Of the gulag, for instance, to which the enemies of Stalinism were sent to die, there are no such records, and therefore the soviet concentration camps and the stories of those who suffered and died there have less impact in our collective memory. Many lives were lost in the gulag, but personal stories have also vanished (giving a terrifying meaning to the famous Stalin’s sentence: one death is a tragedy, a million dead is just a statistic). In the process of dehumanization of the Other, bureaucracy produced the necessary stuff for us to re-humanize the victims.
Diagrams first dehumanizes, and then re-humanizes. The eyes, the lines in our faces, all that define us most as individuals, is hidden behind an anonymous back. There is also a grid, an anthropological grid that measures, confines and catalogs. But if we “take a step back”, and look at these images as a whole, mentally filling the gaps between the photos, or the spaces between consecutive right /left-hands, we recognize a kind of wave, with harmonics and dominants, a wave with one of many possible forms, as much as the number of bodies’ permutations. Repetition, just like in Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographs, lets us to perceive the details, the little and the big differences, the individuality of each subject. Within the whole, the bodies are once again persons. Totalitarianism only dehumanizes, by shaping the whole in order to control the parts, eradicating the differences between the individuals. Men, then, become like ants.
Carlos M. Fernandes