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Five years ago I was given our German family albums. They show my grandmother and grandfather, my mother, my aunt, my uncle at work, rest and play. They start in 1920s Germany.
They are typical family album pictures; the family in their home, on the beach, out walking, at the zoo. Mixed in with them are my grandfather's pictures of electrical plants. He worked for Siemens installing power generating plants.
They are beautiful pictures too, far superior to your average family album fare. But behind the veneer of happiness, there are terrible stories, stories of unhappy marriages, secret love, shame, suicide and despair. It's an album of tragedy.
Then you get to the 1930s and the rise of Nazism. This is shown in the album. It has not been edited out. There are swastikas, Nazi salutes and Hitler youth uniforms, all part of everyday life in 1930s Germany. That changes everything.
Perhaps one of the reasons the album was kept is because there is a respect for history. But there is also a sense of shame and embarassment. And somehow there is the feeling that this is something to be preserved. I think another reason is that, with the exception of one aunt, the family were not full believers. My grandfather was an evidenced anti-Nazi, by the time the war came around, my uncle had become a pacifist who refused to kill anyone and was sent to the eastern front for his troubles. But still... It's there and it's unavoidable. People are still embarassed by these pictures and feel a sense of shame, but to deny that is to deny. And there's no denying.
The question for me is how do I tell a visual story when the story is disguised by competing versions of family legend, visual history, history, being on the wrong side, false memory, revisionism, and it's all wrapped up in the language of an album.
I don't know the answer to this yet. This is a work in progress.