| Our first response to Sally
work is beautiful, and, then, 'wham!' just like that, it hits us. These
images disturb our understanding of the catastrophic experience,
precisely because they are beautiful. Theodor Adorno proposed that to
write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric.1
And this has been
incorporated into the popular imagination as a flat injunction against
Holocaust artistically. The general public perception is that
of the Holocaust must illustrate 'how it really was.' While Adorno a
number of yeas later reversed his position, the general public
remains the same. Subsequently artistic approaches to the Holocaust
been viewed with guarded suspicion. And indeed there is something very
unsettling about some soft-focus photos of children's shoes, or hair,
or spectacles. Clark's work is nothing like this; it is, nonetheless,
There is nothing heavy handed about Clark's work, it does not issue grand moralistic statements, but speaks more to, using Hannah Arendt's phrase, the "banality of evil." The images themselves are marked, if not by anything else, the seemingly unencumbered continuance of life; the banalities that fill our day, going to the corner shop, playing a game of tennis. The shock, the horror, of these images are not only that they are visually pleasing, but that these sites ‘absolute evil’ have to one degree or another been reclaimed; the horror of the events are overshadowed with the events of daily-life. The image of a courtyard, framed by a windowsill – a blue sky with puffy white clouds, also reflected in the glass – suggests nothing of the horror and suffering that once governed this place: Dachau. In fact, the image and its composition with the reflection of white puff clouds on the windows, reminds us more of a Magritte painting than it does horror. But it also greatly displeases us: why is there no great dark looming cloud hanging over this site of catastrophic violence? There is nothing in this image that signifies the violence perpetrated there; does Clark's camera, then, not only work as a mechanism that records, but projects as well: projecting the human condition on to these sites? At Adolf Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem a man testifying to his encounter with Eichmann collapsed in a spastic fit, not because Eichmann was a monster, but because he was so ordinary.
Clark in that she commingles the banality of everyday life, the horror of the events that took place in these sites, and in compositions of uncompromised beauty, does something that no one could expect, perhaps more than anyone else before her, she shows us ... 'how it really was.'
See Sally Clark's webpage.
1. Theodor Adorno, Prisims, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (London: Neville Spearman, 1967), 34.