Silke Helmerdig

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Silke Helmerdig's MPhil/PhD Art research project

Fragments, futures, absence and the past: A new approach to photography

Who am I — or should I rather ask what am I?

As a practising photographer with both German and Jewish origins, my artistic interest has long been in photographic representation in the aftermath of a traumatic event.

Following Kracauer's definition of what may be called "photographic", namely what tends to conform to the realistic as a basic aesthetic principle, my research focuses on the role of photography in the historical recollection of a traumatic event of unimaginable dimensions such as the Holocaust.

In my practice I am using camera and film — only rarely I consider the algorythmic presentation of the digital camera image useful — to work on a photography „after Auschwitz“, a representation of voids and absences, entailing promises of presence.

Remembrance of the Holocaust in Germany has seemed to focus on the figure of six million. By contrast, I am interested in what absence offers us in terms of future possibilities rather than a void created by the past that leads only to closure. The void comes as a historical consequence, while absence is essential to memory. With regard to the Holocaust, absence can only be found in the invisible that holds a possibility of a German-Jewish coexistence, which was interrupted by the acts committed during the Third Reich.

While the untampered lens based photograph gives account of a moment past, the outcoming image is viewed always in the viewer‘s present — at best stirring a daydream of future possibilities. Thereby the absent with its promise of a presence becomes most important.

Instead of counting on the documentary quality of photography that speaks in the past tense of "what has been", I suggest a different approach to photography, an extension of a future subjunctive (photographic) tense speaking of "what could be, if ", allowing one to think possible futures instead of harking back to the past.