Fragments, futures, absence and the past: A new approach to photography

Helmerdig, Silke. 2016. Fragments, futures, absence and the past: A new approach to photography. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

Text (Fragments, futures, absence and the past: A new approach to photography)
ART_thesis_HelmerdigS_2016.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (203MB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

Who am I — or should I rather ask what am I?

As a practising photographer with both German and Jewish origins, my artistic interest has long been in photographic representation in the aftermath of a traumatic event.

Following Kracauer's definition of what may be called "photographic", namely what tends to conform to the realistic as a basic aesthetic principle, my research focuses on the role of photography in the historical recollection of a traumatic event of unimaginable dimensions such as the Holocaust.

Remembrance of the Holocaust in Germany has seemed to focus on the figure of six million. By contrast, I am interested in what absence offers us in terms of future possibilities rather than a void created by the past that leads only to closure. The void comes as a historical consequence, while absence is essential to memory. With regard to the Holocaust, absence can only be found in the invisible that holds a possibility of a German-Jewish coexistence, which was interrupted by the acts committed during the Third Reich.

According to Benjamin, the past that is not recognized by the present threatens to disappear irretrievably. As a consequence, photographs cannot save the moment from oblivion by pure depiction alone, but only by keeping it actual at every present moment.

Instead of counting on the documentary quality of photography that speaks in the past tense of "what has been", I suggest a different approach to photography, an extension of a future subjunctive (photographic) tense speaking of "what could be, if", allowing one to think possible futures instead of harking back to the past.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Photography, history, identity, German, Jewish, Holocaust, future subjunctive, possible futures

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



29 February 2016

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

11 Mar 2016 14:45

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:37


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)