Documentary Photography – Simon Norfolk

Looking further into our documentary photography lecture, I have looked deeper into the work of Simon Norfolk. I had only ever seen one of his images before and that’s Bullet-scarred outdoor cinema at the Palace of Culture in the Karte Char district of Kabul. 2001. In the lecture we were shown more of his work and it really shocked me, particularly the Auschwitz: Ash pond.

When I first saw this image, before I knew the title, I thought it was strangely beautiful. The reflecting and raindrops in the

Simon Norfolk, Auschwitz: Ash pond

water and almost dark blue tone makes for a really nice picture. I will admit to thinking, despite this, there were an eerie and a slight horror movie feel to the image. However, as soon as I knew the title I felt a little ashamed that I though it was nice. It is an image of a pit, filled with the ashes of those who died in Auschwitz. How can that ever be beautiful?

After the lecture I looked at more of Norfolk’s work and I am amazed how he can make a visually beautiful and interesting image out of things that are so devastating and dark. I personal couldn’t do this, I am not strong enough to look at these horrific scenes and see the potential for that incredible image.

For example, I am drawn to his image, Rwanda, The Alter of the church at Ntarama. It reminds me of an image that could be in a Bram Stoker book. It is gothic and creepy and technically an

Simon Norfolk, Rwanda, The Alter of the church at Ntarama

incredible image. Then you think about it more and you realize this is a reality. This is a real scene and this is people’s lives that he is photographing. It makes the scene darker and creepier to some extent as people really do this.

I think it’s this conflict between it being visually beautiful yet incredible disturbing that makes his work appealing to me. It forces emotion and this makes it powerful. I like that I am seeing parts of the world and the things in to I would probably never see anywhere else. He is educating us through his work.



“He is examining genocide; imperialism; the interconnectedness of war, land and military space; and how wars are being fought at the same time with supercomputers, satellites, outdated weapons and equipment, people on the ground, intercepted communications, and manipulated and manipulating media.

Norfolk is doing this with photography that is beautiful — stunning in its clarity and detail, without the typical shock or trauma that one might expect about the subject of war. All of his work is informed by inquisitive intelligence, research, supporting facts and figures. And over time, deliberately and carefully, he is trying to connect many of the dots.”1


1 (16/10/12)


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