A slight change of pace here with the introduction of one of my favourite photographers Simon Norfolk. I was introduced to Norfolk’s work during a photography lesson at the beginning of last year and subsequently fell in love with it.

His book, “For the most of it I have no words” is a triumph for both the medium of photography and the plight of those few individuals in the world who attempt to display actual information, as opposed to the nonsense pumped out through our telescreens 24/7.

In the book Norfolk returns to the locations of some of histories most horrific atrocities in an attempt to capture and portray to the world how horrible it would have been to be involved with it. He visits well know genocide sites, such as Auschwitz and Vietnam, but what had an impact on me was the number of sites visited that I was not aware of. Historians and newsreaders had swept these places of torture, murder and suffering under the carpet.

The set of images I found the most interesting has to be the series on Cambodia. If you are not aware of what went on in Cambodia in the mid 1970’s I suggest you read this. However I will give a quick run down.

Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, was seized by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 and thus declared a new beginning for Cambodia. Unfortunately the new beginning was also the start of one of the most brutal autocratic dictatorships the world has ever seen. All possessions, property, education, religion and modern medicines were abolished in a truly insane version of communism. Punishment for not following the regime was severe and usually fatal. 200,000 were executed for crimes against the state and around 1.7 million died due to exhaustion malnutrition and starvation, a truly horrendous environment.

Waste

Waste

Cell

Cell

A school, now used to house human remains

A school, now used to house human remains

I feel that getting a better understanding of what happened in Cambodia simply strengthens the power Norfolk’s images have. However it does open up a familiar debate. Should great photography require text to explain itself?  In my view it is not a requisite for the image to be accompanied with text to make the image, in many examples the opposite is the case, where too much information will spoil any wonder or intrigue, after all that’s what separates still image from Film. However in many cases a hook line may be required to “light the touch paper” and send that spark to the brain, which creates more intrinsic thoughts.

If we look at another shot from Norfolk’s series on Auschwitz we see how some background information is required before we can fully appreciate what the photographer is telling us.

Stairs

Stairs

This could be any staircase in the world, there is not allot of visual signs to direct us through its discourse. No obvious landmarks giving away a time or place in history. We have to work to find out Barth’s studium before we even begin to think about the Punctum. One thing we can ascertain is the lack of. There is a lack of decoration, no wallpaper, fancy carpet or ornamentation of any kind. The biggest lack of is the lack of life. This image is dead, no signs of life whatsoever.

So when were are told that this is one of the many staircases in one of Auschwitz many prisons which lead to a huge gas chamber where literally thousands of people lost there lives, does this information add or subtract from it? In my opinion it adds to it, you begin to look at it in a different way, now, the indentations in the steps begin to tell a harrowing tail. The shear numbers of people required to have caused these divots tells the story of this genocide in a new way than we are used to and I just do not feel that it would have the same impact on me if that information hadn’t have been offered. Would I like the image any less? I’m not sure; it’s an impossible question to answer. The closest I could come to answering it would be by mentioning another photographer William Eggleston. I don’t fully understand Eggleston’s work or know any great detail about many of the subjects he shoots, but I do know one thing… I love it.

Anyway Norfolk’s work will continue to inspire and fuel debates for years to come, check out his website here

Next up William Eggleston.