Dr. Paul Fitzpatrick – Interrogating Photographs

Today we had another lecture by Dr. Paul Fitzpatrick, which was about interrogating photographs. He gave us a set of questions which we can ask ourselves to decide whether or not the photographs we see have been constructed or not. These questions included ‘Why was the photograph taken?’ ‘Who took it?’ ‘Where is the lighting coming from and how is it generated?’

We took what we had learnt from the lecture and put it into practice using 4 images from World War 2..


This picture, Bodies at Belson, is from the Imperial War Museum. After close inspection of the image, we decided that this image was constructed. In the background you can see plain buildings, and a wire fence – thus we distinguished this is a concentration or death camp. We noticed that the bodies which have been piled up have hair, this was abnormal as the Jews had their hair cut off before they were killed. As a group we came to the conclusion that this image had been altered to tell a narrative. The bodies have been moved to be in front of the camp – they would normally have been taken away from the area. At this time, people died of typhus – the photographer would’ve risked his life by manipulating these bodies by removing their clothes, which you can see in the foreground to show the narrative of those who died in the camps.


This second image, Post Relief is of a British soldier and a camp victim. In the background you can see people dressed in normal clothes, yet the man in the photograph is skinny, he is wearing baggy striped clothing which suggests he was in a concentration camp. We see the British soldier who has a gun in his hands, the gun is not facing the other man which suggests he is there for protection not threatening him. We decided that this photograph was altered, his clothes are rolled up to emphasise how skeletal he is. The man is in a ditch, and the man to the left is there to create a shadow. If there are other people in the background who look normal, why would this man be sitting in a ditch? The idea of this image is to make the British soldier appear to be a hero, he has given the man cigarettes and tins of food. The underlying narrative of the image is true, yet what is in the photograph has been created in order to tell a story.


This image is of a woman called Irma Griese, she was employed at Ravensbruck and Auschwitz and was also a warden at Bergen-Belsen. She was an awful woman and was described as the ‘Death Angel of Auschwitz.’ This picture was taken the day before she was to be hung. The lighting is coming from in front of her, which emphasises the bags under her eyes, making her look tired. The fact that she is not looking at the camera makes us question what or who she is looking at. If she had been looking at the camera, the image would be completely different, it may have shown her innocence. Yet this image shows how angry and stubborn she is, she is not collaborating or engaging with the force.


This painting is called ‘Liberation Day,’ it is a self portrait of one of the survivors in Belson. We instantly noticed the choice of colours, the blue signifies he now feels cold and almost non-human. His eyes are painted red; this colour signifies danger, blood and death. All of what he has seen has scared him. The red echoes all around him, it has been used in the background as well as on his face. He looks skinny and angry. We were asked how this painting made us feel. The image made me feel uncomfortable and angry, how this man will be scared by his experiences for the rest of his life, it is part of him for life.

I really enjoyed this lecture – I had never looked at images from this period and interrogated them before. I feel this is a skill that will be very beneficial to me.


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