Assistant Professor of Art History Nadya Bair recently organized a panel on “Representation and the Holocaust: Responses and Perspectives in Historical Context” at the Association for Jewish Studies conference in San Francisco.
Bair said the impetus for this panel came from her teaching Holocaust photography, particularly as part of her survey course Photography Changes Everything and her 200-level course on Visualizing World War II.
The panel was convened, Bair said, “to take stock of the dominant approaches to theorizing and analyzing art in the shadow of the Holocaust, while proposing new ways for thinking about Holocaust representation by focusing on representational practices and ideas that emerged in the immediate aftermath of the war.” The three papers presented “approach this subject from a range of disciplinary perspectives anchored in contemporary debates and methods in Comparative Literature, the History of Photography, History, and Visual Studies,” according to the description.
As part of the panel, Bair presented a paper titled “The Problem with Susan Sontag: Holocaust Historiography and the History of Photography,” in which she explored why Susan Sontag’s photographic theories, composed in the 1970s, have crowded out alternative approaches to the photography of the Holocaust.
Bair said her paper “analyzes some alternative historical and theoretical starting points for engaging with Holocaust-era photographs” and argues for a deeper engagement with pictures and photo writing produced during WWII, including in the newspaper PM, which published some of the first Holocaust photographs in the United States.