In a photography climate that frequently pours cynicism and scorn on global tourism, Cremers is on tricky ground. He can thank Martin Parr for making his path a little more tricky. How do we not dismiss Cremers’ work as stating the obvious?
Cremers does not reduce his tourists to unthinking crowds. Instead, he isolates his subjects; they’re in their own thoughts, their own photo-trance and their own space. There is no throng at Auschwitz and nor is there in Cremers’ images … except for the tightly-packed shuttle bus.
Many of the prisons and concentration camps of the Third Reich have since been incorporated into the culture & heritage industry. Auschwitz receives 750,000/year and Dachau 900,000/year (Young, 1993). In the fifteen years since, one would expect figures to have risen.
Lennon & Foley’s excellent book Dark Tourism argues these sites ‘constitute attractions and they cannot simply be classified as “Genocide Monuments” since a monument in this context conveys a different meaning’. Furthermore, ‘these sites present major problems in interpretation … major problems for the language utilized in interpretation to adequately convey the horrors of the camps. Consequently, historical records and visual representation is extensively used.’
Used not only by the site curators, but created by the visitors for later return. I am not comfortable saying that visitors to Auschwitz consume in the same way tourists do at other sites. I believe the subjects of Cremers photographs are creating their own visual memories of the site AND I believe Auschwitz visitors do so with a consciously different sensibility than at other sites.
I visited Auschwitz in 2000. Words were redundant, the scale of the crime overwhelming and agog meditation my modus operandi. It would be cognizant of the average visitor – knowing they may never return to the site – and unable to muster words, to muster a few images.
Recommended: the Guardian Photo Editor’s summary of the World Press Photo Awards, 2009