Archive for November, 2011


“He does not weep who does not see”

I made my journey to Auschwitz and Birkenau knowing fully that it would be sorrowful and perhaps impossible to photograph through tears and stunned disbelief. All these emotions swirled through me and rendered my whole being mute. Not just my voice, my entire being. I couldn’t formulate a thought, much less express one; verbally or photographically. Then, I raised my camera as I was stumbling along, stopped to make a photograph, and began to come back to myself. Gradually, I understood that this act of creation was more than an act of self-preservation, it was a way to look deeper. With this intent, the overwhelming sorrow lessened just enough for me to regain some composure and begin to walk purposefully, to see, purposefully.

The lasting impressions from both Terezin and Auschwitz/Birkenau are of silence and permeating cold. I created the photos below with this awareness.  In the photographs I’ve chosen for this post, as an idea to portray a silent conversation, I have blended images from Terezin with images from Auschwitz/Birkenau. Most of the people that were sent from Terezin on the dreaded transports perished in Birkenau.

I hope my viewers will keep this in mind: the photos are an artistic expression of what I saw and felt. They are not indictments, religious commentary or judgement. My intent is to simply reflect my personal experience in a place that has infinite layers of horror, grief, loss, and teaching. My intent is not to create offense or add sorrow. If you are troubled by the imagery, write to me. I want to hear your thoughts.

I’ll close with a quote from Longfellow: “Therefore trust to thy heart, and to what the world calls illusions.” As all the places I visited retain only the faintest trace of the living, I had to rely on a deeper sensibility to gain a small foothold in the incalculable darkness. I hope that the images I offer will resonate with you. It is simply my heart speaking.


Terezîn, Czech Republic

You may recall that Terezîn was formerly called Theresienstadt, under Nazi rule during World War II.  It is/was a garrison town built in the 1780’s as a fortress by the Hapsburg rulers. You can read more about it by clicking this link. My interest in Terezin is multi-layered and even a bit complicated. But over all of it lies this sense of amazement for the life that the residents of Terezin ghetto created for themselves during this descent into Hell.

From the first days, the residents, in the form of the Jewish Council of Elders, decided that to survive this experience, the children must be educated and the community as a whole must have access and participation in the ARTS. Performances of original plays, musical recitals, Verdi’s Requiem, and the renowned children’s opera “Brundibar”, took place in Terezin regularly. The education of the children, though forbidden, went on nearly without stopping. Thanks to incredible teachers and instructors, children produced art works and magazines for the entire community. These activities, along with their involvement in “Brundibar” would be, what one survivor described, “the last source of great joy in their lives.” (Jiri Kotouc, Home L 417).

I am working on a project that came from my need to understand the human capacity for such darkness in the face of joy, love, and humanity. It is proving to be more difficult than I imagined. But I’ve decided to put up a few photos from my days in Terezin, just to communicate a little of the solitude and sadness that still lives here. Terezin is unique in all of Europe in that people inhabit, today, the very same structures that housed Jews, Danes, Poles, Czechs and others, the vast majority of whom perished in the Holocaust. More than 10,000 children lived in Terezin, fewer than 200 survived.

I want to photograph the people of Terezin today, against the backdrop of all this history. It’s not easy. I haven’t been successful yet. But I will keep trying.

If you have any interest in this story, I urge you to read The Girls of Room 28, by Hannelore Brenner. You will be saddened, uplifted, and probably left with the same questions that have haunted me for a number of years. But I predict that you will have a deeper understanding of the importance of art and education in all our lives.

More than anything, the children longed for the open spaces of their villages and towns. I spent a day driving all over the countryside, when fog hung in the air and hoarfrost coated every surface. I wanted to get to know the countryside a little better.  The damp and cold, coupled with the moody lighting and absolute stillness was to me totally appropriate.  It turns out that I don’t know how to portray sadness and sorrow…. a sadness and sorrow so deep that it threatened to engulf an entire people. In the end I could only photograph what I saw and what I felt.

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the very first transport to Terezin of Jews from points all over what was Czechoslovakia. It is just a small footnote in a large history. But it is not forgotten.

I’ll close with the words of someone far more articulate than I, Rabbi David Cooper:

“…what happens when the suffering is too great? When it engulfs and extinguishes people and hope? I don’t think we have learned a thing collectively. Is it enough that individuals have? It must be ~ and therefore, every heart, every light DOES matter. This alone gives me hope.”


a traveler’s tale and the threads of history

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

I am a student of history. What began for me, in the winter of 2000, as a fascination with medieval history, and particularly the history of the Knights Templar, has brought me to Tomar, in Portugal. It is one of the oldest Templar sites and one of the best preserved.

When I decided to come to Golegã for the Lusitano Festival, I thought briefly about visiting Tomar and then let it go. After all, I had serious work to do! When it came time to find a room, the best option – as Golegã was completely booked – was a lovely B&B in a little village called Vargos. Vargos is exactly half way between Tomar and Golegã. So I chuckled and booked the room. Over the years I have become used to the synchronicity of the Universe and am only mildly surprised (but always delighted) when it surfaces. Arriving in Lisbon after an overnight flight through London, I found myself in a rental car in pitch black night with tons of traffic in a driving rainstorm.  Fun, right? With nothing to do but move forward, off I went with a GPS in search of a tiny village.

I arrived in the Vargos after several hours…no problem…but where was Casa dos Vargos? There are no numbers….no visible street signs….no lights. After a little scrambling on the Iphone for an email and number I located and called Dona Pilar, the proprietress of Casa dos Vargos. In no time I was warm and dry in a tremendous salon.  I can’t call it a room. The ceiling was at least 16 feet high and the furnishings were tasteful and very very old. I was happy and relieved.

As I was trying to settle in to sleep, I read from the various literature in the room about the majesty and antiquity of Tomar. I resolved to go there before I visited Golegã the following day. Below you will see a gallery of images from the town of Tomar as well as the Convento do Cristo, which was the original 11th century fortress, church, and seat of Gualdim Pais, Master of the Order of the Temple in Portugal. The Convent of Christ has been home to many other important people, including Prince Henry the Navigator.

The Templars are famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, for many things, but most notably for the occult wisdom they were said to possess. Many people believe this wisdom was the basis for the Masonic Order and the Rosicrucians. During my time in Scotland in 2002, 2003, and 2005, I traveled to various villages in search of traces of this order, and to uncover connections with the aspect of the Divine Feminine in sacred and theological traditions.

Now the story returns to the present. After my visit to Tomar and the Convento do Cristo, I had to get to work in Golegã! I put all thoughts of mysteries and investigation aside….until Monday morning when Dona Pilar asked “have you seen the chapel?” What chapel? I had no idea what she was speaking of.  At that very moment I was stuck in a quandary about what to do next and where to go…..but I went along with her, happy for the distraction. We went out the door and around the courtyard while she was explaining that the home had been in her family since the 16th century…and that I was going to view their private chapel.  “It is full of the most beautiful Azulejos….all very old and of very high quality…you will see, it’s lovely!”.  Lovely doesn’t begin to describe it.  Dedicated to Saint Anna, the artist had created a vision that enhanced the architecture of the church, fitting every piece in a tapestry of depth, detail and perfect symmetry. I was entranced. Upon leaving, we turned to have a last look at the door and Dona Pilar says oh so casually “Oh, have a look at the cross.” I lifted my head to see the cross on the tower and it was a perfect Rose Cross.  With my mouth open I turned to look at my host and she said, “oh yes, they are very rare. As you may know, they were destroyed all across the country, but as this was a private chapel, it was left alone.”

What does any of this have to do with anything?  Just this personal observation: when I am unsure of my next step or searching for the correct path, I am almost always given an assurance of some sort to ‘move forward’. This was one of those instances. It was the trip to Scotland in 2005 (for a deeper investigation of Rosicrucian philosophy and evidence of the Divine Feminine teaching in architecture) that got me started in photography. I have come a long way since then, but I remain grateful for all the guideposts, the mystery and abundance of the Universe, and for the care of people like Dona Pilar.

Images below from Tomar, the Convento do Cristo, from the Cistercian Abbey of Alcobaça, and the Casa Dos Vargos. Thank you for taking the journey with me.





Now, after many years of wanting to visit, I have been to Golegã during the Festival of the Lusitano. Golegã: home to a number of legends of Lusitano breeding, including Manuel Veiga of Quinta da Broa, and Manuel Assunçao Coimbra.  As a longtime student of Mestre Dominique Barbier, I have been familiar with these names and have regarded them as the height of perfection for the classical Lusitano. Tracing bloodlines from Broquel to Larapio, one of Dominique’s stallions, has been a pathway through breeding and cultural history in Portugal (and Brasil) for the last fifty years. Dominique’s original stallion, Dom Giovanni, was also a horse by Broquel.

But Golegã surprised me in so many ways.  It was not just a history lesson or homage to the great breeders. It is a living, breathing, celebration of all things Lusitano. The rich culture surrounding this great horse is multi-faceted, and as a living organism, it is in a state of constant change. One thing remains the same; the festival is held each year over the Festival of Sao Martinho on the 11th of November.

I am still catching my breath from all the excitement, imagery, sounds and smells. Golegã was THE complete sensory experience. Hooves clip-clopping on cobblestones, with breath from nostrils and steam from flanks mixing with the smoke from roasting chestnuts….all competing with the cries of children wanting to pet the horses and the calls from one friend to another over a pulsing crowd, creating a marvelous cacaphony. I hope the pictures will give you a sense of the vibrancy of the Lusitano Festival. It has been a rich harvest for me and a rare instance of the reality far exceeding the dream. I am truly blessed.

My favorite moment from Golegã? That’s easy…the conversations and camaraderie all built around the love and passion for a great horse. Having dinner in a very small restaurant and meeting people from all over Europe that knew each other through the Lusitano, coming together to enjoy the festival, was a memorable night. It reminds me that the world, though vast in size and full of wonder, is made small, even intimate, by the connections we share and create with others.

Tomorrow I’ll put up a small gallery of images from Tomar and the Convento do Cristo, along with a few from the Cistercian Monastery at Alcobaça.

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