En förtrollad värld - tema för filosofisamtalen 2018-19

Dagens intensiva bildflöde invaderar oss med styrka. En konsekvens är att bilder blir banala och inget man verkligen tar till sig. Många bilder är framställda i konsumtionens eller annat budskaps tjänst och saknar djupare värde.
Men en bild gjord med allvar kan vara fönster mot något bortom sig självt. De kan göra en annan verklighet närvarande, en som gör intrång och i sin tur väcker nya bilder hos betraktaren.
Föreställningsförmågan, den inre bilden, ger oss tillgång till en närvaro bortom, den fysiska verkligheten här och nu. De inre bilderna kan öppna den verklighet som ligger för handen och bli en hjälp att tolka livet och världen. 
Bilder och inre bilder leder in i en förtrollad värld, ibland skön, ibland skrämmande och de utgör en del av humanistisk tradition och kristen tro som världen inte kan vara utan.
 
 

Bilden som vittne      Rebecka Katz Thor, Estetik, Södertörns högskola        22 november 2018

Writing samples, ur Beyond the witness av Rebecka Katz Thor

What is a witness?

 I seek to answer the question of how images bear witness when they are produced,

reproduced, and resituated in conflicting political and historical situations. My
hypothesis is that the testimony of images can be grasped through the work of montage
and in relation to their archival conditions, the context, and the framework (conditions
of production) and means of aesthetic representation (voice, narration, and gaze). These
factors offer the framework for the analysis through which the testimony of images can be
understood. The tension embedded in an understanding of the image as witnessing, lies
between the image as acting, speaking, and testifying and the necessary interpretation of
its speech and testimony.
Thus, throughout this work, I intend to follow two strands of inquiry. The first strand is
the specific discussion of the witness tradition after the Holocaust and the role of images
therein. Along these lines, I ask what it would mean to bear witness from that specific situation
and what role images would play in the act of bearing witness. The second strand
deals with the more general question of what images do and how they give testimony. The
latter strand poses the theoretical challenge of this book, whereas the former provides the
backdrop and context in which my entire endeavor is immersed – hence, the first strand
provides the material for the second.
The three films that I discuss in this study are based on archival materials, which are edited
visually and aurally, thus reactivating and reinterpreting the materials. Let me introduce
them in more detail:
A Film Unfinished (2010) by Yael Hersonski is a documentary which returns to the making
of the unfinished German propaganda film Das Ghetto from 1942. The Nazis shot the material
in the Warsaw Ghetto, only two months before most of its inhabitants were deported.
Hersonski’s film shows staged scenes in the Ghetto, shot by the Nazis, but also includes
classical documentary features such as interviews with survivors and a reenacted testimony
with one of the camera operators who filmed the material. The images depicting Ghetto
life are highly questionable, as they aim at manifesting the anti-Semitic stereotype of the
wealthy Jew, contrasted with the actual misery in the Ghetto.
Respite (2007) by Harun Farocki merges moving images with still images from the transit
camp Westerbork in the Netherlands. In the spring of 1944 the camp commander commissioned
a film, presumably as a means to argue why the camp should be maintained. It
was shot by an inmate but never completed. The shots show daily activities in the camp,
focusing on labor and production. Farocki’s film displays the original text frames and inserts
new written commentary on the images, but no sound is added.
The Specialist: Portrait of a Modern Criminal (1999) by Eyal Sivan is an edited montage of
filmed material from the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961. The trial, the first ever to be
videotaped, was recorded in its entirety and broadcast daily in 37 countries. Sivan used only
archival material, however, reflections are added and the sound is partly distorted in order
to set up a narrative based on Hannah Arendt’s account in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report
on the Banality of Evil.
What brings these three films together, beyond their interventions in Holocaust commemoration,
are two common and crucial factors. Firstly, they can be seen as critiques of other
films departing from an assemblage of several sources, where archival material is put to
use in order to illustrate a given narrative. Secondly, these filmmakers inscribe themselves
as actors intervening in the materials. In all three films the intervention in the material is
highlighted rather than obscured, and the presence of the filmmaker is embedded in the
narrative – it is their specific voice, gaze, and argument. Through a reading of how the films
reinterpret the archival material and position it in a new time and context, I seek to explicate
how the film images bear witness.
Each of the three films manifests a particular method, or a certain way of understanding
how images testify: in a discussion of a beyond the witnessing subject and the role of
images therein, the filmmakers employ different image strategies, ways of working with
archival material, and means of working with those images. The strategies employed by the
filmmakers have informed my method, which I understand through the notion of resituating.
The artistic intervention in the archive formulates how the material is resituated – the filmmaker
creates a situation in which the filmed material operates so as to give witness within
a narration. This book seeks to unfold the implications of that movement. The concept of
resituating arises from a focus on situation – the presupposition that everything is grounded
somewhere and in something. Both the phenomenological view of the human condition of
being-in-the-world and the feminist critique of universal knowledge can amount to the view
of a specific being: a being based in a here and now. The footage on which each of the three
films is based is, like all films and photographs, produced in a situation. The films at hand
are to be analyzed from and within the specific situation in which they were shot (the context
and conditions of production), as well as within the newly constructed one (the films).
Hence, the word “situation” in “re-situation” implicates two specific moments: the time of
the making of the material and the time when it is placed and reactivated in a new context.
A Film Unfinished, Respite, and The Specialist offer reinterpretations of a temporal negotiation
which is embedded in the films. It is a negotiation that spans from the filmic situation to the
distribution of the artistic rendering and a continuous span from the filming and development,
to the editing, storing, archiving, and collecting, as well as transfer between formats,
extraction from the archive, re-editing, and montage. Hence, the main interventions in the
materials are made at the editing table. The figure of the filmmaker at the editing table is
a recurrent description of how Farocki worked, but it is also applicable to both Sivan’s and
Hersonski’s films. 7 In the practice of directing through editing, a backwards movement is
set in motion, so that the shooting of the actual film is rather its end point than the beginning.
The contemporary gaze bestowed upon the material shapes the montage, but the
facts drawn out of the material, concerning its history of production, remain over time.
What is unraveled is, in two of the films, Nazi ideology and, in the third, the politicization
of the Eichmann trial. This does not mean that the same footage might be recycled
again and again and ascribed a new meaning in a different ideological context. Violence can
always be done to images, but they do not offer infinite possible readings. How imagery is
perceived can of course change, but the circumstances of its production remain and must
be adhered to.

Thus, a deciphering of the resituated image encompasses the situation (the photographic
situation) and the frame (the temporal and spatial gap and the various contexts of production
and reading of the image over time). I will discuss how editing and montage provide a
new framework and narrative structure, which is founded in an understanding of the image.
The notions of resituating and framing are central and encompass the entire line of production
and representation. In A Film Unfinished, new images are produced, testimonies
given and staged, whereas Respite and The Specialist operate by reworking the preexisting
material. However, Farocki inserts written comments as text frames and Sivan manipulates
the filmed material through additional shadows and reflections, as well as distortion of
the soundscape. A Film Unfinished investigates the archival material by intersecting witness
accounts from both survivors and the cameraman, while Respite offers a reflection on the
unstable meaning of the image in the historiography of the Holocaust. The Specialist, further,
reacts concretely to that very tradition of witnessing and questions the role of the witness as
such, as well as the testimony of the images. This is achieved through the montage of moving
images, creating a new meaning out of the conflictual images, as described in classical
film theory. 8
The three works are chosen as examples because of their function as forms of witnessing,
their form of production, and their narrative modus operandi. Each one of them originates
in a single archival source, fundamental to the films both conceptually and formally. Further,
they all operate with a sense of self-reflexivity; in Respite this is explicit in the use of intertitle
cards and in The Specialist through exaggerated montages, while in A Film Unfinished it is
less apparent but still present in the reflection on the archival material. This self-reflexivity
allows for an uncertainty and the suggestion of a possible truth, rather than a presentation
of the “true story.” 9 Another central feature which brings the three films together is, as
mentioned above, that they relate to the cinematic and theoretical discussions on witnessing
and representation. However, the films have been produced and presented in different
contexts: A Film Unfinished was distributed in cinemas as a documentary, while The Specialist
has been screened both in cinemas and exhibitions and Respite foremost in exhibition settings.
There are essays written on all of the films, but no extensive studies, and none where
all three films are brought together. 10 Most importantly, the films have not been regarded
through the lens of the image as bearing witness and as resituated images. However,
Georges Didi-Huberman suggests a reading of Respite, where the material singularity of
the image is considered as well as a possible remontage. 11 Within the field of memory studies
Caterina Albano writes about Respite and The Specialist and labels the work of the prior as
a rememorialization.12 Further, these three films have been chosen because of their thematic
similarities and their investment in questions of witnessing and Holocaust commemoration.
All of them explicitly address the trope of the witness, for example by asking what the
images testify to, regarding them as illustrations of testimonies previously given, or positing
the perpetrator as a primary witness. As two of the films are based on archival footage
from the Holocaust, their relationship to one another is given. There is, however, other film
material similar to these sources, such as that shot by the Nazis in Theresienstadt, which
have not been the object of an artistic venture yet – hence, the images have not been resituated.
The third archival material, from the Eichmann trial, was filmed almost twenty years
after the other two and in a post-war context. However, a focal point of the film is the issue
of witnessing and testimony, which ties the film to the other two thematically.
What I will argue in the following is that the footage, as employed in the films, means
something else today than it did at the time of the recording. When the films are presented
in cinemas and exhibition halls today, the viewer sees something different from what was
seen in the same archival images seventy years ago. The archival material is bound to the
specific contexts and conditions of production, and so are the films created out of it. In the
given works, the gaze and the voice of the filmmaker are crucial factors since the footage is
not simply screened and displayed as it was found in the archive. The filmmakers’ usages of
the archival footage are very different. In A Film Unfinished the film images serve as a source
from which a narration can be extracted, in Respite the images are addressed through textual
readings and reflections, and in The Specialist the images make up the narrative through
suggestive editing and montage. In one sense, the images serve as witnesses to the various
events in all three films, and in another sense the filmed material is the point of departure
for the creation of a filmic narration. Two of the films, Respite and A Film Unfinished, intervene
concretely in the debate of Holocaust representation, however, the archival material
differs from most representations of the Holocaust, since the majority of the images are
not gruesome. Rather, the films, especially Respite, expand what can be considered a representation
of the Holocaust, and posit a question about the role of such alternative images
in Holocaust commemoration. A further fact to be taken into account is that the footage
used in Respite and A Film Unfinished was produced as propaganda for the Nazis: it was
commissioned by the perpetrator and is limited by his gaze and control. The third film, The
Specialist, deals with an emblematic moment in the aftermath of the Holocaust. By means
of its montage, the film questions the narration built up around that event, and importantly,
the role of the witness in Holocaust commemoration at large. Hence, all the materials were
recorded with strong political implications – two as internal Nazi propaganda and the third
as a means to remind the world of the Holocaust and to show how justice was being done.
The witness debate which arose after the Holocaust serves as a source and a context from
which this project emanates. My research is an intervention in the debate and a proposed
extension of what it means to bear witness. A witness can be defined as not only a human
subject, but also possibly a visual document or recording, an image, which can testify to an
event, as mentioned above – the event being a photographic situation in which a photo or
film was shot. The witnessing quality of the image – the testimony it gives and its means
of doing it – resides in the totality of the image, which, as we shall see, includes both its
context and the structuring frames. The commissioner of the film sets the contextual frame
for it, the cameraman frames it in a literal sense and the event filmed is what is represented.
Yet, when the film is materialized, distributed, and spread it gains a life of its own. Hence,
it is through a form of backtracking that one can see the testimony which the image gives.
A witness can only bear witness in the aftermath of an event, in the practice of historicizing,
and this is how I see the image as witness as well. As mentioned, I begin from the final
product, the film, and offer a reversed reading of the material and its archival history. This
implies an approach to the imagery that starts by asking questions, rather than interpreting
a representation. My analysis thus extends to the theory of photography and film, as well
as into the realms of commemoration and historiography. There are historiographic stakes
embedded in the witnessing trope, and I suggest both an extension of it, by regarding the
image as witness, and a proposal for the need of alternative sources, when all the living
witnesses are gone.

The historiographic issues are complicated by the constructed nature of all archives, as
painstakingly visible in relation to the three films. Taking as a point of departure that the
archive is first and foremost a collection, further questions need to be posed about who
made the collection, when it was made, and with what intent. 13 The archive contains possible
truths, just like the witnessing image. I will argue that in the case of these films, truth
is conveyed precisely by illuminating the unstable nature of the archive as well as of the
image itself. The films testify to this aspect of the material, yet, in so doing, they also make a
rendering of the event visible. An affinity appears between the archive and the image, both
traditionally holding strong truth claims, but in need of re-evaluation – not because they do
not hold any truth, but since truth is not a given. A prominent feature of these films is that a
focal point offers a reflection on the very material they are constructed from. Each film consists
of material from one archival source, and by different means they all call attention to
this material as a main point of interest. The films unravel what the materials are, how they
were made, and what they were supposed to convey. In Respite, Farocki examines every shot
critically. In A Film Unfinished, the history of the footage is reconstructed through testimony.
The Specialist, finally, locates the re-evaluation outside the scope of the film by invoking the
politicization of the Eichmann trial. 14
Beyond my inquiry into the two strands of Holocaust commemoration and the discussion
of the image as witnessing, here is a greater and more difficult question that motivates
both of them. As mentioned in the beginning, I undertake this investigation at a particular
moment that confronts us with a particular dilemma: how can we rethink the notion of
the witness when there are no witnesses left? I argue that we can turn to images, but that
this is a move that needs to be made with great care, taking into account what lies beyond
mere representation. My understanding of the witness is not only someone but also something
with the agency to give testimony to an event – an agency stemming from a presence in
the situation testified to, which is not necessarily a lived experience but which could also
be the conceptual and material history of, for example, a film or an image. Yet, while the
subject actively narrates, structures, renders, writes down, and changes his or her account,
the filmic image must be deciphered. What I want to address is how this can be done.
Taking this view on what constitutes a witness entails an investigation of not if but how the
image can be regarded as a witness and, further, how one can understand its testimony.
The discussion of the specific material and its context thus leads to a more general inquiry
into images as witnesses, which can be extended from historical materials to contemporary
ones. I propose to engage in a polyphonous discussion of what images do. Images
are approached as agents, as actors to whom the spectator is called upon to respond. An
image is never just an image: its testimony needs to be considered, as well as its central role
as a prominent means of relating to what is and what has been. In the reinterpretation of
images, history is being rewritten, offering a possible truth of not only what took place, but
also how it took place.
My interest is film images, yet, I remain with the broad concept of image, as the central
issue is bound to the constructed frames and the photographic situation, as well as the
situations of the making of the films. The notion of image can encompass film, in line with
W.J.T. Mitchell’s view on the image, which he differentiates from the picture. Hence, pictures
are the appearance of the immaterial image in a material medium, since the image is
the “intellectual property” and the picture is what makes it possible to hang it on the wall.15
The analogy he makes is that images are like species and pictures are like “organisms whose
kinds are given by the species,” which also applies to film images. 16 Further, Malin Wahlberg
describes how the film image has been seen as “the moving other of the photograph, or the
dynamic presence of the film image as opposed to the nostalgic past of the photograph.” I agree
with her view, since the other is always tied to the one to which it relates. Film and photography
might best be thought of as two different, but inevitably connected iterations.17
Importantly, Mitchell emphasizes that while one can speak of various sorts of images, one
must understand that “the image in or on the thing is not all there is to it.” 18 Therefore,
instead of only employing film theoretical concepts, I have applied a broader concept of
the image, encompassing notions of the frame, situation, and aesthetics. What is addressed
is both image qualities in general and the relation between the singular image and the
sequential image. That is what is at stake in a specific image, as well as in the combination
of images, that is, the montage.
I will argue that images by their nature are unstable – they cannot be pinpointed and
ascribed one single meaning. Susan Sontag famously claimed that photographic images
are not determined by the photographer, but are made use of by diverse communities and
thus ascribed different meanings.19 The same of course applies to film, and it is this indecisiveness
that lies at the core of my discussion. Hence, images are neither a substitute nor a
guarantee for comprehending a historical event; yet, they point to a possible truth.
The strength of images, be they still or moving, is that they are singular but reach beyond
that singularity in the same instance. Asking what happens if one regards the image as witness
means following this movement, regarding the exclusion and inclusion and seeing the
specific situation and the greater picture at once. Each still image, each scene or sequence,
should be watched, as Ariella Azoulay puts it; as Judith Butler suggests, its normative frames
should be laid bare in order for a deciphering to take place that can encompass and adhere
to the agency of the image – and thus regard its testimony. In an attempt to distinguish the
image from the visible, critic Serge Daney clearly formulates what I am trying to express:
“The image is always both more and less than itself.” 21 In the films under discussion the
images are both the subject and the method. As stated, the footage is understood through
its means of production and material surfaces, intentions, and representations, and I question
how, in documentaries about the Holocaust, they have been reduced to mere objective
recordings of a course of events. Hence, the same images, especially those shot during the
liberation by the Soviet and Allied armies, have been reproduced as illustrations of the
camps and the Holocaust in general.
What enables a deciphering of the testimony of images is an aesthetic sensibility.22 It is a
crucial approach for understanding how the filmmakers unfold multiple layers of meaning
in the images. Their interventions in the material point towards the political as well as the
aesthetic dimensions of the footage, both of which inform my reading, and position the
situation and frame of the images as my central quest. This implies a multifaceted reading
of the films, where for example sound, image effects, and the politics of representation are
considered as interacting factors that together shape the understanding of the films. For
example, it is expressed in my discussion of the use of silence in Respite, the distorted sounds in The Specialist, and the means of narration through different voices in A Film Unfinished.
Or similarly, when I address how reflections are employed in The Specialist, how A Film
Unfinished is constructed by a combination of newly produced and archival images, or
how the reflexivity between imagery and comment plays out in Respite. Hence, these films,
and my reading of them, is dependent on the dual relation of aesthetic rendering and
the intellectual processing of images. This dependence stems from the subject at hand,
as Rancière described the ethical turn of aesthetics, in which “arts and aesthetic reflection
tend to redistribute themselves between a vision of art dedicated to the service of
the social bond and another that de-dedicates it to the interminable witnessing of the
catastrophe” (the Holocaust).23 Thus, the two strands of Holocaust commemoration
through witnessing and image theory are brought together when regarding them in the
realm of aesthetics.
The book is divided into six chapters, the first offering a theoretical framework and the second
the archival histories of the different material employed in the three films. The subsequent
three chapters are analytic, addressing the central conceptual realms of this endeavor,
ranging from the concept frame as a means of understanding the stakes in the works, to the
role of voice and narration, and the shift from the witness as victim to the perpetrator as
witness. The final chapter returns to, and reassesses, the theoretical problems formulated
in the first chapter.
In the first chapter, “An Event Without an Image,” I provide a background and a general
introduction to the role of the witness in Holocaust commemoration, to then describe a
move from the “era of the witness” to the image as witness. It includes a theoretical discussion
of previous research on the specific debates on witnessing and representation, as well
as a methodological foundation for how I perceive the image as bearing witness and how
this can be understood in relation to the specificity of the three films, in terms of genre and
method. Here I expand on how one can understand the notions of resituating and frame.
This is followed by the second chapter, “Archival Work,” dedicated to questions of the
archive. The particular relation between archival images and Holocaust representations
is addressed, as well as the implications of archival practices transgressing a notion of the
archive as a neutral storage. The main part of the chapter aims to elucidate the specific
circumstances and archival stories of the footage from which the three films were made.
Hence, the context of the recording of the films in the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Westerbork
Transit Camp, during the war, as well as the filming of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in
1961. In “Structuring Frames,” the third chapter, I address the heart of the matter: how the
practice of resituating is carried out in the respective films and what role the notion of frame
plays therein. What is the agency of the image, in terms of witnessing? And how does one
find truths in non-trustworthy images? I also address questions of montage and reflexivity,
how they are put into practice and how the filmmakers can be seen as overcoming an
aesthetic distance.
Following this, I turn to means of narration, which reaches beyond the image work. In the
fourth chapter, “Voice, Text and Narration,” I ask what the difference is between verbal and
pictorial witnessing, as well as addressing the different strategies of using voice-over, silence,
intertitles, and written testimonies as means of narration. Chapter five, “The Perpetrator as
Witness,” accounts for how the photographic situation is the key to understanding material
like that employed in the three films. I argue that the photographic situation compromises
the frames of the footage, and that those frames in turn influence the spectators’ encounter
with the images. The different approaches to the perpetrators in the three films and how
these are expressed visually, form the core problem of this chapter. Since two of the archival
films were commissioned as Nazi propaganda, the perpetrator’s gaze is embedded in the
production. The footage in the third film provides a stage for witness testimonies, but in
the resituating of the footage the director directs the gaze back to the perpetrator. The
sixth and last chapter is devoted to some concluding remarks on the connections between
the two strands of this study: Holocaust commemoration through witnessing and the theory
of the testimony of images. By considering questions of interpretation and the role of
montage in witnessing, this chapter gestures toward future testimonies and ways of dealing
responsibly with the violence and the crimes of the pasts.

Crimes without an image

In our times, when the last people who experienced the Holocaust are perishing, an account
is needed of how witnessing as such is being transformed. When a face-to-face meeting is
no longer possible, the transmission by necessity changes form, due to the specific media
and mediation used and the altered position of the receiver of the testimony. The receivers
of recorded and literary testimonies are per definition unknown – when time passes the
videos or books might be watched or read in various settings and contexts. The act of witnessing
is shaped by the specific conditions and agenda of the witness, and so is the reception
of the intended receiver. One always testifies from somewhere, to someone. There is a
context, a point in time and a place. Yet, the receiver of the testimony shapes the account to
some degree: what is heard of that which is spoken, and what the points of identification
are. The transmission taking place cannot be the same over time, as a story can never be
told in the same way twice. One must repeatedly ask what the witness is testifying to: a
trauma; the loss of a people, a way of life, a culture, a yiddishkeit; or as a writer or historian
chronicling an individual or collective event.24 Important here is the fact that the literary
accounts and the memoirs remain within the frame constructed by their authors – the pages
have a set order held by the book cover – whereas images are subjected to endless reframing
and montage. In this sense, the temporality of images differs from that of text, a difference
which makes the questions of frame and witnessing pertinent.
The role of the witness has always been present in Jewish tradition; the Holocaust was
inscribed in the traditional memorial books as the “dritter hurbn,” the third destruction, following
the destructions of the two temples two thousand years ago, thus creating a continuity
throughout Jewish history. The memorial book Memorbukh is the traditional source
for commemorating the names of the dead, through text, image, and family trees, a tradition
which resonates in the contemporary practice of pronouncing the names of the victims
in Holocaust memorial and museums 24 25
Since the early 1960s, there has been a development of the role of testimonies in Holocaust
commemoration. Witnessing has evolved as the prominent means of commemoration, and
testimonies are directed towards younger generations, for example through the survivors
and children of survivors who tour schools to give testimony, as well as through literary
accounts. Testimonies are also collected and preserved for an unknown future through
the creation of video archives. Hence, more and more testimonies are transmitted through
mediations. Listening to someone speaking is not the same experience as sitting in front
of a screen – someone standing in front of you is more difficult to dismiss than someone
remote, someone on a screen. The relation between sender and receiver in a shared space
does not rely on the same agreement as that which results from the sender being recorded
in one context and then replayed on a screen in another. Obviously, the temporal and spatial
delay in regard to recordings is an important factor, but so is also what an unmediated
bodily presence does. The footage which I address does not consist of talking heads, and
the prominent question is not the relation between the witness testifying and the receiver
of that testimony.26 What is pertinent, however, is the question of what is transmitted by
a witness, beyond the words uttered. It is the question of how to commemorate and how
the event can be transmitted by other means than face-to-face or face-to-face-on-screen.
I perceive such a transmission to be possible through images – which is what I will explicate
in this study.
The title of this chapter is a reiteration of the description of Holocaust as an event without a
witness, which captures the suggested move in this chapter from the impossibility of bearing
witness, to the image as witness – and from theory to method.27 What is the basis for
the idea of the impossibility of bearing witness? And how was this debate expanded to
include images and to the notion of the Holocaust as an event that is impossible to represent?
Attempting to reply to these questions forms a crucial backdrop to the critical debate
of this study. I argue that moving images can be seen as witnesses and that a definition of
genre might render a further understanding of the films possible. The chapter ends with
a section dedicated to two key concepts in this study, resituating and frame. All in all, this
chapter lays the theoretical groundwork for the move from the subject-as-witness to the
image-as-witness – which is the point of departure for my readings of the films.

When no witnesses are left

What is at stake is survival, the perseverance of existence, and no human world destined to
outlast the short life span of mortals within it will ever be able to survive without men willing
to do what Herodotus was the first to undertake consciously – namely, to say what is.
Hannah Arendt


We will soon reach a point in history when all survivors from the Holocaust will have
passed away and we will be left with only written, audio and visual collections of testimonies,
hence, where the witness narration is mediated. We need to further consider what
such mediation could mean. “When no witnesses are left, there can be no testimony,” David
Rousset states, thus one must turn to other sources and forms of commemoration in order
to understand our historic past.29 Yet, there is neither an unequivocal position on the role of
the witness, nor in regards to the possibility of being a witness at all.
The construction of this witness tradition has developed from the attempts to document
the events during the Holocaust, via the Eichmann trial to the debate that unfolded towards
the end of the century. During the war, both historians and victims in general understood
the need to create a foundation for a future remembrance of the events. They collected testimonies,
wrote diaries and novels, documented major events and day-to-day life in order
to bear witness, in order for something to remain even if the Jewish people would perish.
The Nazis had aimed to destroy all evidence of the Holocaust and erase all traces of Jewish
life in Europe, with the explicit goal to prevent future witnessing – no one would survive
and nothing would remain.20 Still, victims documented and preserved notes, protocols,
diaries by all means possible, but it was not until the sixties that much of these materials
were fully recognized. In 1949, one out of three Israeli citizens were survivors, nonetheless
the consensus was that “the less everybody talked about the Holocaust, the better, thus
the great silence was born.” 31 The silence of a parental generation also had bearings on the
children born in Israel after the war, as they did not comprehend the trauma or sorrow of
the parents. 32 The consequence of this was a lack of knowledge about the event, which was
also why one of Prime Minister Ben Gurion’s pronounced goals for the Eichmann trial was
to educate the Israeli youth about the Holocaust. Hence, the testimonies given during the
Eichmann trial spoke to a world perceived as not knowing much of the event, and were
internationally televised and broadcast on radio. The witnesses’ testimonies broke the
silence instated among many survivors after the war, and for this reason the testimonies
can be seen as being directed towards the fellow survivors as a gesture encouraging others
to speak up. As mentioned in the introduction, the Eichmann trial provided a setting for
public testimony. In the words of historian Annette Wieviorka, the trial is the advent of the
witness, since it designates “a new era, in which the memory of the genocide becomes central
to the way many define Jewish identity.” 33 In testimony theory, this has even been labelled as
the “Auschwitz paradigm.” 34
The enhancement of the individual witness was also a means to resituate what the Nazis
had strived to eliminate – the humanity of the victims. And more so, the wish to uphold the
singularity of each victim. Therefore, the name gains a central position, to refute the Nazi
practice of degrading the victims to mere numbers. Hence, in many Holocaust memorials
the listings of victims’ names are a prominent feature. Examples of this could be that Yad
Vashem is Hebrew for “a memorial and a name,” the German cobblestones with names of victims
outside their former residences, the Stolpersteine, or the listing of names by the entrance
to the synagogue in Stockholm. 35
The Eichmann trial was followed by an unfolding of the different layers of witnessing,
which is marked by a contradiction. The position of the witness and her testimony are
emphasized, yet the possibility of bearing witness at all is also questioned. Prominent writers
and philosophers, spanning from Primo Levi, Giorgio Agamben, Shoshana Felman,
and Dori Laub to Jacques Derrida and his reading of Paul Celan and further to historians 26 27
like Annette Wieviorka, have been engaged in the subject – I will return to these in the following
chapters. 36 From the 1980s and onwards, this debate has been a central theoretical
quest, deeply concerned with how to commemorate the Holocaust and promote the trope
of never again. 37 The discussion, which revolves around the impossibility of bearing witness,
can be traced back to several elements: Theodor Adorno’s famous – and much-debated
– statement that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric;” the literary attempts made
to actually testify about the event; and an engagement with questions of visual representations.
38 Many of the later theoretical interventions have been discussions of the body of
memoirs and novels written by survivors, offering readings explicating the relation between
trauma and witnessing, and between commemoration and memory. 39 Consequently, a
main concern has been the means through which testimony was given.
The paradox is that the actual witnessing stems from the very impossibility of being a witness:
a survivor cannot testify from inside the gas chambers, since the ones who entered
them died. Yet, the gas chamber is the ultimate signifier of the horrors of the Holocaust and
thus what needs to be testified to.40 Primo Levi famously stated that there are no complete
witnesses to the Holocaust; all “complete” witnesses are those who died, and so the survivors
“speak in their stead, by proxy.” 41 In Giorgio Agamben’s rendering of Levi’s remark,
the lack of the complete witness leads to a form of “pseudo-witnessing” where the survivors
“bear witness to a missing testimony.” This produces an alteration at the core of the witnessing
act, since the witness must always proceed from the impossibility of bearing witness. 42
Survivors and witnesses are thus separated in Levi’s comment: the survivors can bear testimony
– as Levi himself did – but never testify to the complete horror of the event. Jacques
Derrida presents a similar argument: “One cannot and (in addition or moreover or above
all) one must not (claim to) replace the witness of his own death, for instance, someone who
perished in the hell of Auschwitz.” 43
As mentioned, the title of this chapter paraphrases Dori Laub’s and Shoshana Felman’s
notion of the Holocaust as an event without witnesses. Their central contribution to the theorization
concerning the witness partly follows along the same lines as Levi’s. The witness
speaks the unspeakable; he/she lived through something out of the ordinary, something that
needs to be told, which at the same time is impossible to bear witness to. 44 Laub, himself
a survivor of the Holocaust, defines the witnesses as those who “witness the truth of what
happens during an event,” a position impossible to inhabit both for a bystander to the event
and for someone involved in it, since it requires an objective standpoint which is not possible
within the order of the Nazi rule. 45 The impossibility thus arises from the specificity of
the genocide, but on a different basis than in Levi’s observation. Laub describes the system
set up by the Nazi regime as designed to eliminate the very idea of a transmission: “there
was no longer another to which one could say ‘Thou’ in the hope of being heard, of being
recognized as a subject.” 46 The Holocaust became a historical reality “which extinguished
philosophically the very possibility of address, the possibility of appealing, or of turning
to, another.” 47 It is a loss of the other to whom the testimony is directed. Thus, for Laub the
impossibility of witnessing does not reside in the fact that only the dead experienced the
entirety of the Holocaust, but in the intertwined facts of the impossibility of taking a neutral
stand and the erasure of even the possibility of imagining to whom a testimony could
be directed. Being a witness seems to imply a certain ability to regard objectively what one
is being subjected to, which, according to Laub, is unimaginable while being “inside” the
Holocaust. For those imprisoned in the camp, the outside world seems to have vanished
and no other can be conceived; there appears to be no outside to bear witness to. 48 The act
of bearing witness thus seems impossible at its core, but Laub still believes in the importance
of giving testimony. One must attempt to describe what seems indescribable, that is
“the coercively totalitarian and dehumanizing frame of reference in which the event is taking
place, and provide an independent frame of reference through which the event could be
observed.” 49 Felman describes the act of giving testimony as always reaching beyond oneself as
the speech is directed to someone else. She refers to Emmanuel Levinas’s suggestion that
the speech of the witness, by its very definition, transcends the witness who is the medium
of realization of the testimony, as it is addressed through him to the other.50 Derrida puts
forth a view of the witness as doing more than simply transferring knowledge. The witness
engages herself in her own account, with a strong implication of being truthful. The act
of witnessing implies something similar to an oath, a promise to tell what really was. The
view shared by Arendt and Derrida, of the implicit condition for the witness to be truthful,
is the foundation of all witnessing. Derrida dwells upon a stanza in a poem by Paul Celan,
addressing the question for whom the witnessing is intended, since the act of witnessing is
never directed towards another witness. 51 The given testimony is then by its nature directed
towards another, towards someone who does not know.
The two positions held by Levi and Laub are brought together in Agamben’s exploration,
which relies on both sources. Agamben’s understanding of the impossibility of bearing witness
is founded in the loss of voice and in a quest for language that signifies something
previously not signified. 52 He writes: “The Shoah is an event without witness in the double
sense that it is impossible to bear witness to it from the inside – since no one can bear
witness from inside death, and there is no voice for the disappearance of voice – and from
the outside – since the ‘outsider’ is by definition excluded from the event.” 53 He finds his
solution in a figure introduced by Levi: a three-year-old orphan, born in the midst of death.
Levi relates that the child did not speak and had no history or name; the other deportees
called him Hurbinek. Agamben sees this as the moment when the lacuna can be bridged:
Hurbinek had a nonsensical speech, which for Agamben illuminates that language in itself
is insufficient and thus forms an integral part of the impossibility to testify. 54
Agamben does not offer a solution to the paradox, but he illuminates the core of the problem.
In response to Shoshana Felman’s discussion of Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah, which
I will return to later, he poses the critique that Felman “aestheticizes” testimony by deriving
an aesthetic possibility from a logical impossibility. Felman exemplifies a speech beyond
words made possible in a scene where a survivor describes how inmates in the camp sang
while entering the gas chamber. In Agamben’s view this does not solve the paradox of testimony,
but what he fails to acknowledge is that Felman’s foremost matter of concern is
the filmic play between voice and silence, not testimony in general.55 Still, as a reaction to
Felman’s discussion, Agamben claims that neither a song nor a poem can redeem an impossible
testimony; rather testimony is what from the start enables an aesthetic to take shape.
Agamben’s view suggests a bond between testimony and poetry, where the latter cannot
be conceived of without the former, but where they at the same time seem to remain separated.
His assertion poses a theoretical impasse in relation to my reading of the image as an
aesthetic form and a testimony. For Agamben the issue resides in the question of language,
as mentioned above, but my presupposition stems from an altogether different view of what
a testimony is and can be. In contrast to his reading, a point of departure for me is the very
possibility for an aesthetic form to be a witness – hence, Agamben’s hierarchy of the testimony
as something before the poem would disqualify my hypothesis from the start. The central
trope of the image as witnessing is not an impossible witness in this sense, yet the questions
posed and the theoretical claims made above render the idea of a witnessing beyond the
witness possible. While this debate flourished, the survivors were still many and there was
not the same necessity for this questions to be posed. Now, what is left in terms of witnesses
and testimonies are mediations of different kinds, and what needs to be addressed is how
one can make use of them and how a further commemoration can be shaped.

Impossible representations

So let us not invoke the unimaginable. How much harder was it for the prisoners to rip
from the camp those shreds of which we are now trustees, charged with sustaining them simply
by looking at them. Those shreds are at the same time more precious and less comforting
than all possible works of art, snatched as they were from a world bent on their impossibility.
Thus, images in spite of all: in spite of the hell of Auschwitz, in spite of the risk taken. In
return, we must contemplate them, take them on, and try to comprehend them. Images in
spite of all: in spite of our own inability to look at them as they deserve; in spite of our own
world, full, almost choked, with imaginary commodities.
George Didi-Huberman

Discussions about the unrepresentability of the Holocaust draw on the same arguments
as the debate concerning the impossibility of bearing witness. Both face the same paradox:
it is impossible to bear witness, yet testimonies are given repeatedly; the Holocaust
can be regarded as unrepresentable, yet there are images and verbal renderings of it. Since
the advent of the witness, the role of testimonies has developed and one cannot account
for all testimonies made. Besides the written accounts, archives of audio-visual testimonies
have been set up, beginning in the late 1970s, nowing forming the era of the testimony.
Creating archives with testimonies is a widespread practice nowadays: the main ones are
the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies (at the Yale University Library),
initiated by a group of survivors themselves in 1979, and the largest of them all, Survivors
of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (now USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual
History and Education), which was founded in 1994 by Steven Spielberg after working
with survivors for his film Schindler’s List. The difference between the two enterprises is
crucial. The Yale archive operated with the utmost respect for every single witness, creating
a testimonial pact, according to Wieviorka, whereas the Spielberg archive operated on
an international level with fast-track training of the interviewers and using a set format,
with the given goal of interviewing as many survivors as possible before they perished. 58
Consequently, each survivor’s specific method of narration does not remain in focus in the
Spielberg archive, but is subordinated to a form and mode of address. In the construction
of the archive collection, the archive itself assumes the task of an authorization, since the
selection of witnesses to record follows a set formula. The question of who is authorizing
the witness is also present in relation to the footage used in the films at hand.
The question of if and how witnessing can take place is followed by the subsequent argumentation
which asks if and how representations are possible. The images taken during,
or in the direct aftermath of, the Holocaust, are heavily charged. How these images are
reproduced, spread, and understood is still a crucial question for understanding what such
images do. Archival images have been made use of as tools of commemoration, and their
role in the intricate web of the writing of history is inevitably associated with the question:
is it possible to represent an event as horrific as the Holocaust?
Leshu Torchin, a theorist of photography, argues that the medium of photography has
played a crucial part in extending the possibility of witnessing and made up for “the loss of
words” experienced by many survivors – a loss that might be structural if one follows the
arguments put forward by Levi, Agamben, and Laub, as described above, but which also
emphasizes the paradox of testimony and representation.59 Agamben describes the “grey
zone” which existed in camp operations conducted by inmates, which was also evident in
the shame of the survivors of the Sonderkommando, the Jewish men who assisted in executing
the genocide. Agamben refers to a testimony retold by Primo Levi about a soccer
match between the Sonderkommando and the SS, which might appear as “a brief pause
of humanity in the middle of infinite horror,” but claims that this horrendous image should
rather be understood as “the true horror of the camp.” 60 Like the signifying image of the
soccer match, every instance of representation seems a possibility to grasp the true horror
of the Holocaust. Hence, the expectation to see the entirety of the Holocaust in every single
image makes the very idea of representation impossible. Rather, it seems like a search for
a stand-in, which would be necessary in order to make the claim for the impossibility to
understand or represent what went on. The event cannot be grasped, confined, or summarized,
and therefore also not caught in an image. In Agamben’s reading there is neither
a possible pause, nor an end to the event, as the “grey zone” exists in every place or time.
Hence, the genocide as such might have come to an end, but the “match” cannot reach an
end – it repeats itself in every instance when one watches a game, in a stadium, on our television
sets, and in the “normalcy of everyday life.” 61 Jacques Rancière objects to Agamben’s
wish for an ontological revolution, as it leaves no room for political disagreement and erases
the difference between contemporary democracy and the extremity of the Nazi rule. Under
this “ontological destiny,” all differences are erased and we are left to a messianic waiting for
salvation.62 Agamben’s understanding of the camp as the nomos of modernity summarizes
what Rancière understands as the “ethical turn” of aesthetics and politics.63
I suggest that the footage in the three films might be a conceivable way out of the impasse of
the impossibility to bear witness. Images might be what makes it possible to go beyond the
event without witnesses. The footage is in this context, as previously mentioned, a subcategory
to the image and if images are bound to their double nature of being both objective
and subjective, they both capture what was and remain framed. This might allow them to
overstep the boundaries of the inside and the outside that Agamben describes, in a way that 30 31
is impossible for a person. Georges Didi-Huberman also addresses the “fold” between two
impossibilities: first, the self-obliteration of the witness, since the SS attempted total elimination
(no one would survive), and second, that the testimony itself would be obliterated,
since no one on the outside could possibly believe what was happening. The image appears
in the fold between “the imminent obliteration of the witness” and “the certain unrepresentability
of the witness.” 64 The image captures what was and provides access for the viewer to
see something of what took place. Hence, by its very nature an image provides a possibility
for imagining: “since an image is made to be looked at by others, to snatch from human
thought in general, thought from ‘outside,’ something imaginable that no one until then had
even conceived as possible.” 65 Thus, Didi-Huberman sees the image per se as something
that refutes the unimaginable, by expanding the very idea of what is imaginable. 66 Writing
about four photos shot in Auschwitz in August 1944, he refers to them as “images in spite
of all.” The images, which have become known as the “Sonderkommando images,” are the
only surviving photos with a confirmed history taken in Auschwitz by its inmates while the
camp was in operation. There are other images from Auschwitz, of course, but none where
the identity of the photographer is known, apart from the images taken by, or on behalf
of, the SS, such as the Auschwitz Album or by the Auschwitz camp photographer Wilhelm
Brasse. Brasse also testified to the existence of many more images, photos, and films, that
he encountered in Auschwitz, that were either destroyed or disappeared during liberation.67
Didi-Huberman argues that the four photographs are the closest one can get to a true representation
of the Holocaust – not because they depict the camps more accurately, or comprehensively,
but because the conditions of their production were decided by the activities
in the camps. They both enact a particular historical moment and provide a space for the
viewers’ imagination. They appear as the possible redemption and means of finally making
the Holocaust visible. Images that enact an unthinkable moment also demand a reaction
from the onlooker and thus fill a void in the historicizing of the Holocaust – but they must
not be regarded as an absolute truth.68 The images from Auschwitz are enactments of a
bare life and of a structurally impossible image production.69
The story behind the images is that a camera was smuggled into the camp by a civilian
worker in the resistance movement and was hidden at the bottom of a bucket. Photos were
taken secretly, and Didi-Huberman emphasizes the importance of those practical conditions
that surrounded the shooting and the visual effects of those conditions which form
the representation. He also reconstructs sequences in which the four images were taken,
since that allows the viewer to extract knowledge both of the images and of what went on.70
Two of the images have a broad black frame, due to the fact that they were shot from inside
a gas chamber; since the room was dark one cannot see the inside of it and the motif is
what is visible through the door opening. Outside the gas chamber, bodies are being burnt.
When these images are used in books and exhibitions, which they have often been, they
are usually displayed with the black parts cropped away. 71 Didi-Huberman claims that “the
cropping of these photographs is a manipulation that is at the same time formal, historic,
ethical, and ontological.” 72 For him, the black is what gives us the “situation itself, the space
of possibility” and might then also be viewed as what ties the images to a moment, which
did exist “in the world.” 73 The viewer gains information not only from what we see in terms
of horrors, like the pile of dead bodies, but also from the large black area, the wall of the
crematorium, which informs us of the difficulty of taking images within the camp. One can
understand the black area as important for the act of witnessing, even though it does not
witness to the suffering or horror of the camp per se. The black does not contain death,
but it does gesture to the wish of the Nazis not to leave any traces, and simultaneously to
the fear of the inmates of not being believed, which made them take great risks in order to
document what they we going through. The horror of the extermination camp might be
beyond what one could imagine and the image thereof widens the imaginable in a literal
sense. The struggle to facilitate the comprehension of something unprecedented defines
the entire discussion of Holocaust commemoration.
I agree with historian Michael Roth’s reading of Didi-Huberman: in order to claim that the
snapshots from Auschwitz are to be seen as gesturing towards a truth he quotes Arendt:
“Lacking the truth, [we] will however find instants of truth.” 74 Thus, these images offer a
way to turn the idea of unrepresentability on its head. On the one hand, they emerge in the
dual impossibility of witnessing described above (no one would survive to witness, yet, if
someone did, their testimony would be unimaginable). On the other hand, the photographs
snatched in Auschwitz are bound to a paradoxical condition and a constraint of immediacy
and complexity, and by truth and obscurity. The images are defined by their quality as snapshots,
as part of an intricate plan to make the taking of them possible, of capturing what is
there (i.e. the truth) and yet, they are blurred by the smoke of the burning bodies. Still, what
the images do, in this context, is to make Auschwitz real in some sense – not necessarily to
tell the “truth” about what happened in the camp, but to show, or provide evidence for, what
went on. It is done by an elementary form of montage, in Didi-Huberman’s view, since it
would be disastrous to regard them one by one, as it would counter his attempt to uphold
“the sequential, plural, animated, even gestural character of the photographs.” 75
Neither A Film Unfinished, nor Respite, nor The Specialist contains images that would at first
glance fit within the realm of the unrepresentable. The footage used does not display any
overt horror. Yet the discussion I have related is crucial for the reading of these three films.
They all operate in relation to Holocaust representations and are connected to this discussion.
Consequently, I interpret Farocki’s excavation of the images in Respite as a questioning
of the privileged position of the oral testimony, Hersonski’s investigation as a quest to
see how a staged image can bear witness, and Sivan’s choice to diminish the role of survivor
testimonies as a reaction, in some sense, to the extensiveness of the testimonies in
Lanzmann’s Shoah. Further, the images of the Warsaw Ghetto in A Film Unfinished appear
staged today partly because there are visual and literary accounts of the real conditions of
the Ghetto. Almost the same goes for the images from Westerbork in Respite, though it
is not the true conditions of that specific camp that are hidden, but their wider context.
The Specialist, based on image material stemming from a very different context, omits the
passages when images from the extermination camps were shown to the court and in so
doing avoids reproducing those images. However, it is not only a relation on the level of
imagery: the arguments of the films are illuminated when regarded within the scope of
the discussion of the possibility of representing the Holocaust. For example, when Farocki
proposes a concept of “happy images” in Respite, I read the implication as both an argument
for a possible representation and a question of whether or not a “happy image” can be said
to represent the Holocaust at all.

Image as a witness

History decays into images, not into stories.
Walter Benjamin

It has to do with the representation of the camps in German photography and film; it has to
do with the politics of the image; it has to do with montage.
Harun Farocki

Asking what happens if one regards images as bearing witness, by necessity implies a move
beyond the witness (as a subject) and beyond the witness tradition (based on individual testimonies)
described earlier. There is a need for alternative forms of and tools for commemoration,
which encompass different forms of mediations. The image is neither a substitute
nor a guarantee for comprehending a historical event – it requires an interpretation, the
form of which I intend to investigate. As the Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg comments
it is not “easy to summarize all that [the picture] contains in words”.78 The trope of the
image as witnessing is in itself nothing new – quite the opposite. Since the invention of
the camera, the debate on its ability to represent the real has been ongoing.79 I suggest a
move beyond the presupposition of the moving image as proof or redemption, to allude to
Siegfried Kracauer’s discussion on cinematic representation, to instead examine how one
can understand the testimony given by images and by which means.80
In her seminal work on how to regard the pain of others, Susan Sontag described the image
as bearing witness, not in the sense of the image itself being a witness, but because a person
had been there to take the photograph.81 She suggests that the image testifies through the
presence of the photographer, but as André Bazin argued, the presence of the human agent
is what that photography could rid itself of, and was what made it ontologically connected
to “the real.” 82 Yet, my subject here is the moving image – which has both similarities and
dissimilarities with still photography. A difference could be formulated in line with Jean
Epstein’s conception of cinema as the thinking machine and also in relation to the practice
of montage. I would argue that the image has more to offer than what the photographer
intended to capture and that this can be further elaborated on in montage. In Epstein’s
words:
The cinematograph is a witness that recounts a figure of sensible reality that
is not only spatial but temporal, integrating its representations into an architecture
whose relief presupposes the synthesis of two intellectual categories
(extension and duration), a synthesis in which a third category emerges almost
automatically: causation. Through this power of effecting diverse combinations,
the cinematograph, though it may be purely mechanical, proves to be
more than an instrument of enlargement or replacement for one or several of
the sense organs.83
What I propose is a view of the image as being able to bear witness – something which
can be understood firstly through the threefold relation between the photographic situation,
the mechanical recording and developing and the reading of the imagery done by
the spectator; secondly, and most importantly, by considering how this witnessing takes
shape through the work of montage. I do not believe that the image should be seen as a
document of the real, yet neither images as such, nor the specific images discussed here, can
be considered to be without truth claims. In part, this is grounded in the montage, which
can be said to illuminate a singular, rather than general truth, as Didi-Huberman writes,
“[montage] can bring images to a degree of intensity capable of suddenly producing
a truth.”84 Hence, I want to emphasize the constructed nature of all images, rather than
arguing for the transparency of film, since the construction and politics enabling the filmic
image can be considered a means of defining how it can be regarded as a witness.
When considering written testimonies, the literary form is seldom at the forefront; language
is perceived as almost transparent – as conveying a testimony by the sheer combination of
words and syntax. In relation to both texts and images, there is a subject involved in the
witnessing process, but just like a novel cannot be reduced to biography, an image cannot
be reduced to the intention of the camera man. Without maintaining an analogy between
text and image, this illuminates the technical as well as the circumstantial aspects of the
footage, which are two strong factors for understanding what kind of testimony footage
like this can convey. Even if this analogy offers a reductive view of writing and literature
and also of the practice of reading, it illuminates the relation in all works of art between
producer, work, and receiver. Hence, there is a fundamental – and inescapable – dialectic
between the image as an agent, a witness, and the image as having a testimony to give, but
one which can only be heard through interpretation. This relation is what is played out
in the trope of the image as bearing witness. Images are understood as ontologically and
ideologically charged materials and as a form of speaking objects – images have agency, and
yet the agency of the historical situation and facts is conveyed through the image. Michael
Roth describes this feature of photography as the ontological uncertainty where “photographic
images seem to offer the possibility of reexperiencing the past, or of experiencing a past for
the first time without a subjective intermediary.” He explicates the ontology stating that the
photograph raises “questions of presence and temporal disjunction in mnemonic context
of desire and absence,” hence “the photographic image calls one to (and perhaps from) the
past, while reminding one that the object one beholds is ‘just an image.’” 85 Hence, as mentioned
in the introduction, one is ascribed to the presence and the other as referring to a
nostalgic past.
Here, one might recall what Volker Siebel labels as Harun Farocki’s “critique of the enlightened
eye”: “Philosophy asks: What is a human being? I ask: What is a picture? In our culture,
images are not given their due. Images are enlisted. Images are interrogated, in order
to extract information, and only the sort of information that can be expressed in words or
numbers.” 86 This is a claim against representation, against the idea that an image can be
described in words, and against the notion that an image can be deciphered in a coherent
or structural way. Above all, it is an argument against the order of affairs, that there is a
reality which the image depicts. The image by default comes after; hence the discussion of
the Nachleben, the survival of the image or motif which was so important for Aby Warburg.87


What Farocki wants is to produce another type of images: “Vorbilder” rather than “Abbilder,”
or in other words, to produce models rather than representations or reproductive images.88
Farocki was engaged in an image production reaching beyond the image as replica or mere
representation, a production in which images can be thought of as actively creating something
anew. The vor alludes to a before, to a pre-image rather than an after-image, and thus
to the decisive creation of an image rather than, in the wording normally employed, a capture,
snatching, catching. This kind of image would be the opposite of Roland Barthes’ recording. In
my view, this understanding of images, “Vorbilder,” as actively created and as creating something
may be extended to a method of reading images. In relation to an image already produced,
as with the films discussed here, rather than an image production as such, it becomes a
question of what these images create – or in other words, what kind of “Vorbilder” they are,
and how this is produced and upheld. I see this creation as analogous to how I perceive
images as witnessing, objects from which one cannot solely extract information, but rather
to which one must listen carefully. To hear what an image has to say, or, in W.J.T. Mitchell’s
words, to let it speak, would then be to do a close reading, and more than that: a reading
that takes the image in itself as its point of departure (that is, rather than perceiving it as
first and foremost a representation). This would allow the image to appear as giving testimony,
recounting an event and simultaneously being the event, rather than considering the
event and subsequently the image as a representation thereof.
As many scholars of documentary theory have pointed out, a filmic process entails much
more than an objective recording.89 Film scholar Michael Renow claims that the persuasion
of the documentary form rests upon “the ontological promise of the photographed image,
its suggestion that what appeared on screen once existed in the world.” 90 This is a reductive
understanding of the moving image, as it disregards the montage, still it is the common
way of reading documentary footage. My engagement with the work of images is in line
with how Volker Pantenburg describes Farocki’s (and Jean Luc Godard’s) interest in “the
mechanisms of image production and reception, in how images function, and in the possibilities
of gleaning an (oppositional) visual theory from images themselves.” 91 Pantenburg
builds on Mitchell’s notion of metapicture, which refers to a sort of self-knowledge of images,
which in turn could be related to the testimony of images.92 What Pantenburg suggests
is, thus, a view on film (the films of Farocki and Godard) as “thinking in images, as contributions
to a theory intrinsic to film.” 93 This view on the knowledge production enabled by
images is helpful, as Pantenburg, in another line of argument writes that “through montage,
the image becomes an element of a precise argument” – something that can describe how
I read the films through the lens of witnessing. 94
The presumption of a direct relation between the real and the representation might have
diminished in todays’ easily accessible image manipulation, yet, images are still often
employed as illustrations or evidence. Contemplating the construction of the image entails
an interpretative act. Writing on the finding and verification process of Josef Mengele’s
skull, Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman present the advent of a forensic aesthetic, against
the backdrop of the witness tradition discussed in the previous sections. Their approach
might be a way to explain the agency of the image, in relation to its testimony. Keenan and
Weizman recount the story of Mengele’s skull and ask how the bones speak: what knowledge
can be extracted from them and how can they testify to a life lived? Drawing on the
etymological root of the word forensics referring to forum, they perceive forensics as linked to
the art of persuasion, to the skill of making and presenting an argument. This involves the
use of objects, in classical rhetoric, when addressing the forum. As the object could not
speak, a form of interpreter, translator, or mediator was needed – the figure of prosopopeia –
to endow the inanimate object with a voice. 95 This view could offer a further explanation
of how to read images as witnesses and make them speak, like the bones. Yet, the forensic
model consists of three components: the object, the mediator, and the forum. What differs
here is, thus, the forum, the structural setting of a court room or equivalent, which would
mean that the object and the mediator are left to one another, thus lacking the instance
granting the validity of the speech. The mediator could be biased, miss facts or misunderstand
what the object has to say, and the object could be false or inauthentic. As I am
writing about works of art, made out of archival images, the main issue is not to verify
the images, but just like the filmmakers, I suggest a similar process of interpretation and
a reconstruction of sorts. In some sense the filmmakers reconstruct the footage, by their
interventions, and my reading, also provide a reconstruction of the archival and contextual
histories of the different types of footage. Stephen Heath describes how film can be viewed
as a discourse, which in turn might be decoded: “that reality, the match of film and world, is
a matter of representation, and representation is in turn a matter of discourse […] It is the
discursive operations that decide the work of a film and ultimately determine the scope of
the analogical incidence of the images; in this sense at least, film is a series of languages, a
history of codes.” Yet, what this process of decoding amounts to, through the employment
of different strategies, makes Keenan and Weizman’s point pertinent: “the forums in which
facts are debated are technologies of persuasion, representation, and power – not of truth,
but of truth construction.”
Another strand of inquiry in the relationship between the image and the real is expressed
in the image interpretation. The image as witness is thus bound both to a time–space category
and to the idea of likeness versus interpretation – hence, a further question of representation.
Sontag writes: “Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed
capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world
as paintings and drawings are.” 98 And André Bazin observes, in his discussion of the ontology
of the photographic image: “In achieving the aims of baroque art, photography has
freed the plastic arts from their obsession with likeness. Painting was forced, as it turned
out, to offer us illusion and this illusion was reckoned sufficient unto art. Photography and
the cinema on the other hand are discoveries that satisfy, once and for all and in its very
essence, our obsession with realism.” 99 The ability of photographic images to represent
thus frees other art forms from the constraints of representation.100 Furthermore, the possible
readings of the representation are transformed by the passing of time and by shifting
contexts, and still, the image is something in itself. Thus, what the image is, as discussed,
is not confined within the limits of representation. Thus, the transference of the real is in
part due to this process of pointing the camera, the mechanical recording, the imprint on
the film, the development as a negative, and the final printed material form, where the real
is transformed to a piece of paper and by that is no longer the real. A similar process can of
course be imagined with contemporary technologies – digital recordings and the image on
the screen – since the sole point is that the representation might be both the outset and the
endpoint, but that the process in between is a part of the image to the same extent.


Regarding the image as witness is not a question of mere representation, but means that
it must be understood in its totality, a totality which is enacted between the scope of the
event as such and the singular moment of the shot. Hence, images do not only show
something, but actively bear witness.101 Ariella Azoulay describes how photographs are
never mere objects; they act, and make others act.102 Her notion of action emanates from
Hannah Arendt’s distinction between work and action, and while photographs are products
of work, by their nature they more closely resemble action. Arendt understands work
as characterized by a demarcated beginning and a predictable end, and, as I have argued,
images cannot be restricted in this sense.103 Actions rely on other actions, which changes the
intended end of all actions; hence, they can never have a foreseeable goal, which also is true
for the distribution and interpretation of images over space and time.104 Further, actions,
as well as images, are marked by their irreversibility – the taking or recording of an image
cannot be undone. As mentioned, the image seen as bearing witness is not a substitute
and definitely not a guarantee for grasping a historical event; it does not reveal the truth,
but could point to a possible truth. What a reading of the image as witness thus strives for
is such truth construction – not necessarily to say what was, but to offer a fuller frame and
context of the image.

Gestic thinking

The proper term would have to indicate that the work begins on the cutting table, with
already existing film shots. It also has to indicate that the film used originated at some time
in the past. The term could also indicate that it is a film of idea, for most of the films made
in this form are not content to be mere records or documents – and in this factor lies my
chief interest in the form, which will have to be referred to in the following pages in various
inconsistent ways. Can you suggest a right term?
Jay Leyda

Neither A Film Unfinished, nor Respite, nor The Specialist can be easily confined within any
given genre. Rather than offering an exhaustive answer to Leyda’s question above, I seek
to trace the question back to the problem at the heart of my endeavor. The films brought
together in this study share a basis in archival materials. They are second-hand films, made
out of found footage, incomplete accounts, and rushes. This genre has long searched for
an appropriate label, such as archival films, chronicle montage films, collage film, library
films, or compilation films, the latter of which might be the most relevant term; yet the
genre cannot be understood solely within the scope suggested by any of the terms. In the
following I suggest that what might best describe them is what Harun Farocki labels as
gestic thinking, which is a concept that has to be understood against the backdrop of the
other genre descriptions.
The term compilation film was coined in 1927 by the Soviet filmmaker and editor Esfir Schub
and reformulated by Jay Leyda in the 1960s, but the first compilation film was made as early
as in 1898, as a response to the Dreyfus Affair. 106 Esfir Schub wanted to show pre-revolutionary
Russia, using newsreels to reconstruct history. She wished to maintain a documentary
quality, which meant not looking at the material for its own sake, but subordinating it to
a theme. 107 Hence, the genre is per definition structured thematically – “the actual content
and the meaning of the finished product always reflect the editors’ choices and points of
view.” 108 Film scholar Paul Arthur outlines how by 1945 the deployment of archival images
“to reanimate or polemically reinterpret prior accounts of events, figures, and social processes
was a standard feature of nonfiction filmmaking […] and was established as integral
element of exposition and argument, often serving as illustration of a verbal reference or as
means of filling gaps in spatial continuity or didactic evidence.”109 According to Arthur, this
trend grew during the 1960s, and in parallel with the spreading of Michel Foucault’s notion
of archaeology, both the wish to reformulate tropes of historical narratives and the political
quest for a broader inclusion in terms of representation were frequent. The practice
of found footage has thus been around since the invention of film and developed through
modernity into something like a token of the avant-garde (hence, the prominent role of
montage in modern art and cinema).
William C. Wees oversaw a survey of found footage and collage films for the Anthology Film
Archive and then wrote a book, in which he differentiates between three types of montage:
compilation, collage, and appropriation.110 According to Wees, the three modes of montage,
or ways of working with found footage, can be deconstructed under the headings of
methodology, signification, exemplary genre, and aesthetic bias. The signification of compilation
is reality, its exemplary genre is documentary, and its bias is realism. Collage is
connected to image, avant-garde film, and modernism, while appropriation is associated
with simulacrum, music video, and postmodernism. The criticism which Wees proposes
against the method of compilation is the assumption that there is “a direct correspondence
between the images and their profilmic situations in the real world,” and further that the
process of compilation in itself is not treated as problematic.111 Appropriation does not rely
on the real, but rather on the different media themselves and their inner logic, and is thus
exempt from all claims of depicting anything historically correctly, whereas collage appears
as the method able to bridge the presumptions of compilation film and yet remain critical as
opposed to appropriation, which is rather accommodating. In collage films the found footage
“will be recognized as fragments still bearing the marks of their media reality.” 112 Wees
builds on an extensive theoretical discussion of montage, in which Adorno prominently
wrote that montage articulates discontinuity, since “the principle of montage was conceived
as an act against a surreptitiously achieved organic unity; it was meant to shock.”113
None of the three films under discussion here is structured in a dialectical relation of shot
and counter shot. Another common feature is that none of them work with montage from
several archival sources. The imagery is reconstructed as a whole rather than displayed as
conflicting shots. Sivan makes use of harsh juxtapositions in his montage, while Farocki
creates a dialectical montage between image and text, and Hersonski between archival and
newly produced material. Further, they do not belong to any of the three figurations formulated
by Wees: they are not appropriations as they still claim a relation to the real, not collage
in the sense of avant-garde filmmaking, and not compilation films as they have a strong
artistic agenda and question claims of realism rather than upholding it as an aesthetic bias. 38 39
The sole fact that each of these films consists of one single archival source differentiates
them from compilation films which draw upon manifold archives or newsreels. Jay Leyda
describes a successful compilation film as concealing the various sources of its materials,
so it “almost seems one cameraman’s work.” 114 Harun Farocki comments on the genre of
compilation film stating that, even if the concept is not seen as a pejorative term within the
field, the word “compilare” also means “to plunder.” 115 As the essay from which the quotation
is taken was written while Farocki was working on Respite, it can almost be read as a manifesto,
stating what he did not want to do. Presumably, he wanted to explore another method
for engagement.
I also find the term “compilation film” insufficient, and prefer Christa Blüminger’s distinction
between the conventional compilation film and the “thinking” essay film, as the latter
in its secondary rendering of the material encompasses its archival story and thus also its
specific discourse and materiality.116 The three works offer readings of the material, but the
footage does not serve solely as visual means of narration, as is often the case in mainstream
documentary. The artistic presence and the location of the artist’s interest in the material
itself differentiate the films from documentary accounts and highlight the artistic intervention.
The notion of the essay film has a history as long as that of compilation film and might
be the most fruitful conceptual framework, but at the same time the least telling.117 The
essay film is an approach and manner of constructing an argument, but it does not tell us
anything about the particular form or method of the specific work. Hence, an essay film can
employ documentary strategies, build on archival sources, work with voice-over or with
dialogue. Still, it is a feasible genre to place the films within, since as film scholar Laura
Rascaroli puts it, “the essay film is performative inasmuch as it does not present its object
as a stable given, as evidence of a truth, but the search for an object, which is itself mutating,
incomplete, and perpetually elusive and thus deeply uncertain and problematized.” 118
However, since the genre does not capture the methodological use of the single archival
source, it is too wide for my purposes.
In order to begin to explore what is at stake in works like these, one can turn to a short text
by Harun Farocki about the work done at the editing table, from which I have borrowed
the title for this section.119 Gestic thinking encompasses the process at the editing table and
the confrontation between the director’s memory of the shot and the reappearance of that
same shot as something else than what the memory conveyed. Farocki argues that a second
script is created at the editing table, not as a matter of intentions, but of facts. 120 This
process takes place twice in relation to the filmed materials: first, in the rough editing by
the directors – the Eichmann material was edited at the same time as it was filmed – and
second, when brought out of the archive by the filmmakers. The reason why I mention
this concept is the distinction made by Farocki between intention and fact. The intention
guides the moment of the filming and constitutes the framing, whereas the fact refers to
the image or shot as it turned out, the actual frame. The role of editing is key – in Farocki’s
words, editing has the power to “convert colloquial speech into written language” and to
turn babble into rhetoric.121 Editing is thus what structures and provides meaning – in relation
to the films I address, this capacity is amplified as the filmmakers intervene in the materials
foremost through editing, placing the archival materials in a new context and thus, in
Farocki’s lingua, organizing the speech of the images into a coherent rhetoric.
What Farocki’s concept of gestic thinking manages to capture is a temporal gap between the
shooting of the image and the reappearance of that image at the editing table. The archival
material employed in the three films that I discuss here was not shot by the directors of the
films, but imagining the gesture of the images as defined by the moment they were shot and
by the moment when they reappear at the editing table might be precisely the central and
common feature of the films.
Yet another discussion would entail the relation of the films to the genre of the documentary
in terms of the concepts of fiction versus reality. Eyal Sivan proposes the label “fictionalized
documentary,” where “fiction would be the idea of a construction, which does not
exist or preexist prior to the new work.”122 The films are documentary in the sense of being
constructed from documents, hence Eyal Sivan’s preferred genre description. While this
labelling of The Specialist as fiction might very well relativize its political, cinematic, and
historiographical operation, the view of the documentary as inherently bound to fiction is
far from the dominant view.123 The documentary genre in cinematic traditions of montage
and concepts of mise-en-scène does more than turn the real into fiction. The films produce
a representation of the historic instances as inhabiting a world separated from the event.
As Bill Nichols writes: “since there is no fictional world to be intruded upon, intellectual
montage in documentary emphasizes the overt or constructed quality of an argument,
based on representations from the historical world, rather than the constructed quality of
an imaginary world.” 124 Nichols acknowledges that the structure itself forms a crucial part
of constructing an argument, which is fundamental for all three films. Yet, this also bypasses
the central position of the archive.

Resituated images and the question of frame

Thus the present constitutes the past.
T
heodor Adorno

Where it is interesting, montage connects two things without turning them into one.
Harun Farocki

The concept of resituating captures the image operations at stake in the works discussed
here, as they all entail transmission from the context of the filming to the inscription in
a new context through editing and montage.127 All images are produced within a specific
frame and visual regime, shaped by the conditions of production, motif, and situational
context. That is to say that the archival footage, on which the films draw, is based in
a time, place, technique, gaze, and political system. When contemporary filmmakers
reinterpret footage like this, the material is grounded in a new time and context – not in
terms of what it represents, but in how it is perceived. Dialectical images of sorts are 40 41
produced, in Walter Benjamin’s classical sense, where the present and the past collides.
Benjamin writes:
It’s not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present
its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes
together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words, image
is dialectics at a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is a
purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what-has-been to the now is
dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent.128
When the filmmakers resituate the footage, they tell another story than that which was
intended at the time of the making of the materials. Even though the films cannot be wholly
confined within the genre of compilation films, the practice of found footage films entails
a form of seeing where one never sees the same film. Christa Blüminger rightly points out
that, since film as a medium is profoundly temporal, in terms of the viewer’s experience of
time as well as of historic and contextual time, what the spectator sees in the footage is also
temporally defined.129
The gap between then and now, between the filming of the archival materials and the making
of the films, allows for a space of reinterpretation. The creation of a new context does
not alter the footage as such, but it changes the possible reading of it, and in this process
the images are extracted from the historical time confined within the archive and placed in
the present, as laid out above. Thus, the films all intervene in how the events in themselves
have been commemorated and what role the visual material has played therein. Even if the
context of the images alters the understanding of them, the archival material of course has
a relation to the filmed event. The crucial question is how these representations fit into
a comprehensive conception of the event (are the images misrepresentations or are they
staged?) and also how these images are made use of (what is done by editing and montage?);
hence, what kind of testimony they give.
Remontage, Georges Didi-Huberman’s preferred concept when discussing Respite, is similar
to how I see resituating. However, what he wants to bring forth is primarily the image operation
of semblance and dissemblance – the constellation – hence, the work of montage in the
archival material and the re-montage done by the filmmaker. 130 With the concept of resituating,
a further move is indicated, namely the operation conducted by the filmmakers and
the immersion of the archival material in a new situation. As repeatedly pointed out, the
material is not altered per se, but it is conceived differently in a way which relates to the issue
of the internal and external aspects of the image. Something is done by the filmmakers as
they create a new situation, but the way the material is interpreted is also connected to the
perception of images over time – as Sontag also pointed out. 131 Hence, there is both a resituating
and a shifting situation involved. In regard to the passing of time, Adorno claims
that the shifting view on images over time is external with regard to what transpires in the
works themselves: “Artworks are on no account transformed exclusively by what reified
consciousness takes to be the changing attitude of individuals toward works, which shifts
according to the historical situation.”132 This change is thus a question of time and ideology,
whereas resituating also reaches into the realm of the aesthetic.
As mentioned previously, when imagery is resituated it is placed in a new context, but this
context is not only a temporal or spatial one (as it would be if one only viewed the archival
material), but also a new aesthetic context characterized by a gestic thinking as described
above. The archival footage is not shown as such, but appears as a new work of art: a new
film is created. In Sontag’s understanding of aesthetic distance, the time passed gives the photograph
a chimera of art, differentiating it from contemporary documentary images.133 The
historic image is thus perceived as art, due to a kind of romanticizing of its material and
motif. Hence, the archival footage used in the films is subjugated to both the temporal
and artistic factors. Although Sontag’s claim can be disputed, there is also an additional
factor which determines how the material will be perceived: the aesthetic intervention by
the filmmakers. They employ means of emotion, affect, sound, light to facilitate an aesthetic
experience, which reaches beyond the questions of historic representation. My interest here
is precisely in the aesthetic renderings and reactions at work – the gestic thinking – in relation
to the moving image.
Looking at footage through a situation means adhering to its frame, which calls attention to
the partiality of the images and makes it possible to see them as bearing testimony. Frames
are understood as a broad concept, ranging from Leon Battista Alberti’s view on perspective
and the frame of the pane as a window through which he saw the world he wanted
to depict, to Erving Goffman’s view on natural and social frames, and to conceptions in
art and film theory of the frame as both the image context and the material context. 134
Framing has both a structuring and an enclosing quality, hence the classical contrast in film
theory between the frame and the window – the filmic frame and the window to the world
as discussed by among others Bazin and Heath.135 The frame structures the image both
conceptually and materially, in the moment when the image is created and in the moment
when it is interpreted by the viewer. Thus, frames constitute the border of the image in a
both literal and metaphorical sense, referring to the substance of a singular shot as well
as to the screen or material containing the image. Ira Konigsberg designates the frame as
simultaneously being “the borders of the image on the screen that enclose the picture like a
frame on a painting” and “the entire rectangular area of the image projected on the screen.”
The frame both contains the image and allows it to go beyond its confines. It structures
what is seen in the image: it is the intermediary, which is realized in the montage of moving
images. Stephan Heath writes:
Frame describes the material unit of film (“the single transparent photograph
in a series of such photographs printed on a length of cinematographic film”,
“twenty-four frames a second”) and, equally, the film image in its setting, the
delimitation of the image on screen (in Arnheim’s Film as Art, for example,
frame and delimitation are assumed as synonymous). Framing, determining
and laying out the frame, is quickly seen as a fundamental cinematic act, the
moment of the very “tightness” of the image: framing, that is to say, bringing
the image to the place it must occupy.137
Heath puts forward two understandings of the concept of frame, according to the division
proposed above of material and structural frames. In regard to the three films which
I analyze, both factors are crucial, as I dwell upon both the material history of the footage 42 43
and the conceptual reframing. In another essay, Heath holds that “frame, framing is the
very basis of disposition – German Einstellung: adjustment, centering, framing, moral attitude,
the correct position.” This idea is connected to Eisenstein’s notion of mise-en-cadre,
the “pictorial composition of mutually dependent cadres (shots) in a montage sequence.”139
Thus, the structural understanding of frame is closely related to montage: the reframing
is achieved through montage. The montage comes per default after the production of the
footage, and the argument for the use of the concept of frame in relation to montage is, as
described above, the tension embedded in the term – as an integral part of the footage and
as reaching beyond it. Judith Butler suggests that a photograph can in fact be an interpretation
in itself.140 The image thus contains its own frame. Therefore, interpretation cannot be
regarded solely as a subjective act: an image does not depend upon the individual viewer,
but rather the photograph itself becomes a structuring scene of interpretation.141 The photograph
is not simply a visual image awaiting interpretation; instead the image in itself is
actively interpreting. For Butler, this practice is sometimes even compulsive, as if the image
commands the viewer to interpret what is shown.142 The image possesses its own image
operation (frame) and the wish to control the photograph can never be completely fulfilled.
The frame encompasses the situation – the moment of the making of the photograph, the
historical moment in which it was taken – but also reaches beyond it.143 The frame frames
a specific moment, a moment which also exists beyond the frame of the image. The two
concepts of frame and resituating are deeply interconnected, and this connection is crucial
for my reading of images. Ariella Azoulay writes: “the photograph bears the seal of the photographic
event, and reconstructing this event requires more than just identifying what is
shown in the photograph.” 144 The situating of the photograph entails a move beyond representation,
and the resituating achieves more than a reconstruction. The two temporalities
of the making of the image and the later regarding of the same can be explicated further
by considering the external and internal factors of the work. In relation to photographic
images, the internal aspect, then, would be the representation and the external photographic
situation, or as Azoulay argues in relation to what is shown in the image, “what was
there is never only what is visible in the photograph, but is also contained in the very photographic
situation, in which the photographer and the photographed interact around the
camera.”145 The duality of what is shown and what is hidden fits into the notion of the situation
and its relation to frame. I would argue that to account for the photographic situation
is to perform a multiple analysis by regarding how the exclusion is included in the frame,
and the possible consequences of this on the level of representation. Film always reframes,
changes the frames through montage by precisely playing with inclusion and exclusion.
Judith Butler describes the notion of the normative frame as key to reading images, since it
does not offer a clear inclusion and exclusion, but rather emphasizes an active instability or
a pendulous motion between the two poles. Hence, there is no clear outside, since what is
excluded becomes encrypted in the very frame.146 The photograph is not limited to its physical
frame – it extends beyond its representation as well as its materiality. Didi-Huberman’s
productive reading of the visual consequences of their conditions of production for the four
photographs from Auschwitz is similar to how I perceive the situation as a constituting
fact of the frame. What is striking about Didi-Huberman’s claim is precisely how the gap
is bridged between the material conditions of the image production, the snatching of the
real, and the contextual situating of the images within the discussions of the agency of
the image, representation, and witnessing. Beyond the specificity of the four images from
Auschwitz, his proposition can be seen as methodological and thus extended to a general
image theory, which would then be founded in an understanding of the conditions of
production as a major factor constituting the frame of the image. The different archival
material that makes up each of the three films at hand is varied in kind, yet they can be
read through their respective conditions of production – their situation and re-situation –
their frames. Such a reading deepens the understanding of how images can give testimony,
when not solely regarded as excerpts of the real, but as situated matters with the ability to
speak in manifold voices. A Film Unfinished and Respite, produced as Nazi propaganda in
the Warsaw Ghetto and in a Dutch transit camp respectively, tell us something else today.
They are not snatched in any sense, nor do they reveal suffering in terms of what they represent.
However, the framework of conditions of production as a means of conceptualizing
Holocaust representations is decisive. Similarly, an edited sequence from the Eichmann
trial, combining several testimonies, must be read against the background of the witness
tradition. The notion of frame thus counters the idea of unrepresentability, as discussed, as
well as offering another way of approaching images, in line with how I perceive the image
as able to bear witness.