Made in the summer of 1997 while I was a graduate student at Stanford University, Shoah/Flora was the first of what has become two decades of photoworks wrestling with the destruction of Europe’s Jews during the Second World War.
The project consists of double exposures that draw together––force together––details of historical photographs of the genocide, and studies of desiccated plants. I made these double exposures in the best way I knew how at the time––with color slide film in a 35mm camera, fitted with a 50mm lens mounted backwards, which converted it to a close-up lens with radically shallow depth of field. The process was in equal measures intuitive and deliberative. For weeks I carried library books of histories and photographs into the field beside my studio, and cleared a place for myself to study.
At a certain point, I would begin to photograph my way into the photographs I was contemplating, exploring the historical images as they kept transforming in the viewfinder of my camera. When I found the detail I wanted in a form that seemed right, I made the first exposure, then held that image in my mind while turning to the flora around me, looking into the consonances and dissonances between the mental image of the historical picture, and what I (then) saw in the viewfinder. All of it was experimental, an effort to concentrate intently and then convert that concentration into a form of guesswork. As is always the case with analogue methods, the results existed entirely as conjecture at the time of making, usually lasting for days or weeks until the film was processed.
At the time, and still now, the pictures seem to me to ask questions about the volatility of historical memory and forgetting––the impulse to unbury and rebury the memory of historical trauma; the impulse to ground the interpretive and visual indeterminacies of even the most straightforward witnessive imagery; the impulse to keep resisting the National Socialist fetishization of "Blood and Soil" by visualizing Job’s cry: “Earth, do not cover my blood, and let my cry have no resting place.”
The project exists as a slow sequence of projected images using a 35mm slide projector. The projected images are approximately four by five feet, and each image is projected for 18 seconds, enabling a prolonged viewing. Each slide fades to black with a pause of four to five seconds between images to "clear" the mind. The project in this form comprises approximately 90 slides.