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Frank Schwere: World Trade Center ruin from Washington Street. 13 September 2001. 7pm

Worth a Thousand Words

Every now and again again comes a book that fulfils every promise. Nathalie Herschdorfer’s outstanding concept, Afterwards, does this and more.

Text: Mike von Joel | Images: Various

Nathalie Herschdorfer - Worth a Thousand Words

Nathalie Herschdorfer
192 pp. 189 photos
158 in colour. £29.95
ISBN: 13: 978-0-500-543986


THE PREMISE IS ostensibly simple: link leading contemporary photographers with academics of equal calibre and examine the aftermath of cataclysmic events that have impacted on people across the world, over the last six decades. The results are at once disturbing, emotional and powerfully evangelical.

Current star of the international art stage, Taryn Simon, has selected innocent people wrongly convicted for her response. Here she photographs several American men wrongly jailed, in or at locations that were pertinent to their case. One, Frederick Daye, sits in the San Diego bar where 13 independent witnesses attested to his alibi – yet he served 10 years of a life sentence for rape, kidnapping and vehicle theft. Impotence, injustice and fatalism seeps from the images and the expressions of the men featured.

Peter Hebeisen took a more prosaic position and photographed famous battle sites (Stalingrad, Verdun, Gallipoli, Guernica, Sarajevo) each now an oasis of mundane, anonymous tranquillity. The terrible events matched to these locations seem to have been erased by nature and the passing of time – remembered only in newsreels, archive photographs and by the disappearing participants. Lea Eouzan presents the bitter irony of modernity whereby even the most sanctified of locations – in this case the Auschwitz death camp – are subsumed by crass, urban ugliness and turned into Disney-like visitor attractions. Not for Eouzan the terrible rail tracks, barbed wire and ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ entrance – she holds up the Auschwitz car park (complete with restaurant, Lotto and pizza signage) and Hot Dog stand outside the main gate for scrutiny, with pictures that demand a response and inner reflection.

Originally conceived as an exhibition by Herschdorfer for the Musée de l’Elysée, where it appeared as Stigmates in 2009, the project became dynamic and this book is the result, featuring more than 30 photographers. It is not meant to be evidence, to be forensic in its enquiry. It is an artist’s eye and an artist’s emotional response that is the keystone. Each set of studies is presented as a self contained sequence with introduction by the photographer and the whole is finished off with a series of searching, scholarly essays on the theme of suffering and regeneration.

Produced to the high standards expected from market leader, Thames & Hudson, Afterwards is a reminder of what the magic of photography can achieve when married to intellect and integrity.

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