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Book Review: 82


Book Review 82 By David Thomson Reviewed by Colin Pantall 82 comes in two volumes and features pictures from the Second World War. The first volume, 82/1, looks at the material loss of the war, while the second looks at the human loss of the war; the humiliations and atrocities, the death, the imprisonment and the violence waiting to be unleashed.

82. By David Thomson.
AMC Books, 2013.
 
82
Reviewed by Colin Pantall

82
By David Thomson

$158.00
AMC Books, 2013. 157 pp., 82 duotone and 82 color illustrations, 10¼x11¼". 


82 comes in two volumes and features pictures from the Second World War. The first volume, 82/1, looks at the material loss of the war, while the second looks at the human loss of the war; the humiliations and atrocities, the death, the imprisonment and the violence waiting to be unleashed.

Look inside and there are the pictures. There’s nothing else apart from the pictures, except that the backs of the pictures are shown in life size at the back of the book. They are all non-professional pictures that were taken from albums or private collections. The traces of their heritages are apparent on the handwritten notes and patches of glue and paper visible In this section.


82. By David ThomsonAMC Books, 2013.

The first volume is the less interesting one. There are crashed planes, burnt out homes and bomb shelters. Sunken ship vie with signs in German, Russian, French and English. One hand drawn poster shows two naked women on one side of the image next to a picture of a soldier undergoing the grind of his daily duties. ‘Träumen und Wirklichkeit’ read the words; ‘Dreams and Reality.’

82. By David ThomsonAMC Books, 2013.

The only guide to the rationale of the edit comes in this online blurb: ‘The edit is like a guidebook to the stratified emotions that exist in our warlike nature. Volume 1 gives us a fleeting glance at the temporal nature of material culture as it rides alongside unfolding conflict. Volume 2 draws on the human cost.’

The human cost is vast and it starts off with a picture of Little Willy, a German dog. A frost-fringed donkey follows and then we’re on to a series of pictures of Russian and Gypsy children. Wearing little more than rags they stare, smile and salute for the cameras.

82. By David ThomsonAMC Books, 2013.

The subjects get older and from Gypsy women flashing their breasts we go on to Jews in Hungary, Poland and Russia. It’s a catalogue of death waiting to happen.

And happen it does. After a series of pictures of captured soldiers come pictures of death; men shot dead against a wall, men lying sprawled in a field, Jews waiting to be shot.

Prison camps and prisoners of war lead to images of soldiers posing in crashed planes and cars or goofing around with effigies. The last picture shows soldiers splashing in the sea. We see them from a height, from a distance and perhaps that sums up what this book is about. It never settles but spans across countries and peoples and continents all from a distance of time, of memory, of history.

82. By David ThomsonAMC Books, 2013.

It’s a book where the meaning of one picture is dictated by the next, where the viewer determines the fate of those people and places identified at the back of the book. A Polish Jew, a Hungarian peasant? They died probably. The French children who got shrapnel wounds after playing with a grenade? They lived, probably. And the soldiers? Who knows?

In her book on vernacular Second World War photography, Pictures of War, the writer Janina Struk describes how the reading of pictures of war, even seemingly playful ones, is always up for debate. She describes audience reactions to an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum of German soldiers’ pictures that were taken during the occupation of the Netherlands.

82. By David ThomsonAMC Books, 2013.

These everyday pictures were interpreted as a 'homage,' connections were made not only to the Holocaust but also to the war in Iraq and American propaganda. Struk writes that 'Some said they portrayed the humanity of war while others said they portrayed its cruelty. One elderly Dutch visitor looked at the photographs and began to weep and rushed outside. No one knew what he had seen in those seemingly innocuous pictures.' There is nothing innocuous about the pictures in 82 (the second volume in particular) but a similar thing happens. You look at the pictures and you pass judgement and speculate based on the hotchpotch of personal histories, experiences and war films that all these pictures bring alive. But ultimately there is no sense in it, because there is no sense to be had. But you have to make sense of it somehow, so you do as best you can. 82 is one of those book where decisions and readings of the images are left to the viewer. I’m not sure that’s enough.—COLIN PANTALL


COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer and photographer. He is a contributing writer for the British Journal of Photography and a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Wales, Newport.http://colinpantall.blogspot.com

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