Storyboards of Remembrance: Representations of the Past in Visitors’ Photography at Auschwitz

Publication Date: 
October 2016
Memory Studies October 2016 vol. 9 no. 4 455-470

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A majority of today’s visitors to the Auschwitz memorial site take photos to document their stay. By calling attention to visitors’ photography on site, this article investigates the role of visual perception and visual techniques of memory for visits to memorial sites and empirically discusses the significance of historical imagination in linking the past with the present. Visitors’ photography at Auschwitz can be considered a mnemonic practice because seemingly lookalike, amateur pictures express modes of experience which are negotiated within an ethical and social framework. The strongest emotional impulse expressed in amateur photography on site is the feeling of the sublime, which supports the need to promote moral ideas like freedom or justice in the face of the past. Through participant-orientated research, this article contends that visual perception regulates sensual impressions during a visit and identifies six dominant photographic genres through which visitors focus their historical understanding of the site. Single images function within this as “storyboards” because of their strong narrative as well as mnemonic quality.