With camera in Combat (part 3)
Lecture presented at the symposium for the opening of the exhibit Vreemden in het vizier/Strangers in focus, Legermuseum Delft, 26. April 2012
6 - Pictorial policy at the front
The surprising discovery of part of a numbered list of 142 photos led to efforts to track down an album depicting the advance of a special infantry division in the Ukraine in June/July 1942. Identical photos of this section of the front have since been found in five collections of differing origins. To date, it has not been possible to identify the photographers of this series, but I found all 142 photos and exhibited them in a series along on a wall of 7 m.
Among the typical depictions of advancing army forces, battle scenes and pictures of destruction, there is one photograph that at first glance does not fit into this context of war images. It shows a woman crossing a river, photographed from above at an angle. Sunlight is reflected in the rippling water behind her, while her body casts a long shadow on the flat, smooth surface to her right. She is locked into position by the light and shadow, as if caught in the crosshairs of the image diagonals. Despite the balanced composition and the calm, almost idyllic subject matter with no visible trace of an act of war, this centred positioning of the subject held within the neatly trimmed white margins of the photograph leaves the viewer feeling slightly disturbed without knowing precisely why. The number 74 is written on the back of the photograph, however this number is missing from the torn picture list. The context was only revealed when the identical photograph with a description on the reverse was found in another album. The caption reads: Die Minenprobe. Vom Donez zum Don 1942 (The mine detection test. From the Donez to the Don 1942). The picture shows the deadly implementation of the order to use the so-called mine detection device 42: As enemy mines are to be expected, sufficient numbers of mine detection device 42 (Jews or captured members of partisan groups with harrows and rollers) are to be made available.
The arrangement in the album includes three other photographs: two are entitled Durch die Furt (Across the ford), the other Trümmer (Wreckage). After the woman appeared to have safely reached the opposite bank, the Wehrmacht soldiers and their vehicle were able to cross the ford to the other side of the river. However the following vehicle clearly drove over a mine next to the bridge.
This sequence can be regarded as the nucleus of the series, as it shows danger, destruction, death and violence on both sides of the conflict. It refers to how it could have been, how the war was perceived, not how it really was.
7 - The prisoner of war camps for German soldiers in North Africa and in the Soviet-Union
Photos from POW camps for Wehrmacht soldiers are relatively rare, since cameras and other articles of value had to be turned in. But in some albums were at the end photos of English POW camps, so it was possible to have a close look to the conditions of those camps in the desert. A journalist of the Süddeutsche Zeitung gave us the the album of her father with photos of a German POW in a camp near Moskau, which were taken by a professional photographer as prisoner ordered by the Russian camp officer. Those photos are extremely rare, so we used the chance to show some of these images in reproductions.
8 - The last page:
In most cases, entry into the Wehrmacht is documented on the first page with the studio portrait of the soldier wearing his new uniform. These pictures radiate a sense of pride and often, euphoria. In contrast, the last pages of the albums have a more personal quality and reveal a wider range of feelings and reflect differing experiences at the end of the war. In many cases death, injury, political disillusionment or imprisonment put an abrupt end to the albums. The remaining pages are blank.
Interviews of Hans-Georg Schulz and Walter Jancke
The interviews of two soldiers in the exhibit here are mirroring these different ways to focus the war with photography. By leafing through their albums they are speaking about their motivation to take photos: for their families to show their mother, that they were allright. They used code words for these messages like Im fine what will say hard combat with big danger but I survived (Schulz). These encounters are often hermetic narrations, told during the last years in the family. When I was going further into details during the interview they became sometimes entangled in contradictions: I never saw a dead civilian or experienced an execution. But the photos are showing dead bodies - they got medals for hard fights and were promoted for higher ranks for close combat. Asking more they became suddenly silent and the images remained in their thoughts.
What motivated the soldiers to press the shutter at that moments of death? To focus the camera lens on the mangled bodies of dead people and subsequently compile these photographs into an album? One answer that is repeatedly given by contemporary witnesses is that it was done in order to preserve these images for the time when it was all over. The desire to capture the incredible atrocities through fixed images, once and forever, sprang from the fear of losing control over ones own memory. But what happens in the instant when the photograph is taken? Unlike the propaganda unit photographers, common soldiers had no specific assignment as far as taking photographs was concerned. They chose their own subject matter, adjusted the camera to suit the lighting conditions, selected a suitable location and view, and used a rangefinder to determine the focus. At that moment, their attention was diverted from what was taking place in front of the camera; this was perceived with one eye only through the viewfinder. On the one hand, this has an extremely marked distancing effect, partly neutralising the other senses such as smell and hearing, and leads to an objectified perception of what is seen. The insertion of the camera as a technical device between the photographer/viewer and the event produces a cold eye , a separation of viewing as a purely optical process from the other modes of sensory perception and from the emotions and thereby enables that hardness towards oneself which constituted the greatest virtue and educational ideal of all military officers. On the other hand, taking photographs also involves an intensified mode of seeing that stimulates the photographers sense of curiosity and can become a tool for heightening pleasure, a hot eye. At the moment of looking through the viewfinder, perceptual awareness distances the photographer from the person in front of the camera, the other, even when not an enemy, is regarded only as someone to be seen, not someone (like us) who also sees. 
As a last remark of todays war photography I want to show you some images of a current exhibit about the German combat in Afghanistan: Kunduz, September 4th 2009. Two journalists of the magazine STERN made research about this shooting from the air (text Christoph Reuter and Marcel Mettensiefen, photos) and I quote from the catalogue: Its important to know how it could happen, but its also important who was shot. () Its the first time since World War II that a German officer said, I want to exterminate this crowd exterminate was the word of colonel Klein! The photographer Mettensiefen made portraits of the relatives of the victims with dignity even in the moments of grief. First these were only portraits for the documentation, but now its an exhibit with more texts and special installation of photos of the victims. Its quite otherwise done as the normal war photography of a James Nachtwey or others. Perhaps this could be a chance to interrupt the hermetic structure of the images of friend/enemy and referring with the images to a correlation of the other to the self. At least its a possibility for further questions and debates.
17] Einsatzbefehl des Kommandeurs des rückwärtigen Armeegebiets 532 für die Unternehmen Dreieck und Viereck vom 9.9.1942, BAMA, RH 23/26, Bl. 90.
 Bernd Hüppauf, Emptying the Gaze: Framing Violence through the Viewfinder, in Hannes Heer and Klaus Naumann (eds.), War of Extermination: The German Military in World War II 19411944, New York, 2000, p. 360.
 Cf. Gerd Mattenklott, Kalte Augen, in Der übersinnliche Leib, vol. II, Reinbek, 1982, pp. 47ff, cited in Dieter Reifarth and Viktoria Schmidt-Linsenhoff, Die Kamera der Henker, in Fotogeschichte, vol. 3, issue no. 7, 1983, pp. 5771.
 Reifarth/Linsenhoff, ibid.
 Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, New York, 2003, p. 72.