“A blind step”: on the trail of clandestine photos taken in the Nazi camps


Blind Steps by Christophe Cognet.


Christophe Cognet has long been interested in the images produced by internees in the Nazi concentration camp universe, all the more precious as the IIIe Reich continued to erase the traces of his inexpiable crimes. Boris’ Workshop (2004), When our eyes are closed (2006) and Because I was a painter (2013) were thus interested in the paintings and drawings executed by deportees. The director then undertook a work of collecting and reading the photographs taken in the camps by the internees themselves, brought together in a precious work entitled Shards. Clandestine shots of Nazi camps (Threshold, 2019).

Read also (2019): Article reserved for our subscribers “Shatters. Clandestine shootings of the Nazi camps”, by Christophe Cognet: looking the Nazi horror in the face

For those interested in the subject, this book, despite its particular corpus (less than a hundred photos taken at the risk of the lives of the operators), could not be abstracted from the lively debate which had surrounded, twenty years earlier, the pioneering exhibition organized in 2001 by the historian Clément Chéroux at the Hôtel de Sully, in Paris, aimed at documenting all the visual archives of the camps. Which had seen opposing, in equally fascinating texts, the filmmaker Claude Lanzmann and the art historian Georges Didi-Huberman around the value (of proof or truth) that should be attributed to these archives .

In With blind steps, the film on which he worked alongside this book, and which we are discovering in theaters today, Christophe Cognet deliberately stays below, or beyond, this debate. His purpose, as he explains it in a brief box, and his method, as it generates the film we are watching, have in this respect the merit of simplicity and moral decency: these clandestine photographs of the camps exist, the inmates who took them had the incredible courage to risk death to take them and disclose them, the least of our duties is to look at them, the least of our ambitions is to try to contextualize and understand them .

What, no more and no less, is this film about, in which Cognet surveys the premises, in search of the finest reconstruction possible. It is therefore not only a question of giving for each photograph the maximum of details (identity and destiny of the author, function in the camp, object and future of his photo, significant details of the image, etc.), but, in addition , to induce from the presence of the author on each place the conditions of the shooting itself (what moment, what place, what angle, what distance…), finally to interpose in a recurring way the clichés, enlarged on a transparent paper, between the camera lens and the filmed field, so as to compare yesterday’s view with today’s.

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