Meeting the Artist


Yesterday, I met the artist behind the exhibit I saw last week. Örjan Henriksson was the speaker at Missouri Southern. You may recall that he was the photographer who shot Auschwitz for the “Auschwitz KI-II” exhibit.

Örjan introduced his colleague, Pär Gunnarsson, who not only wrote the music that played along with a slide show of the photos, but also provided connections to allow photography within the Auschwitz camp. Both Pär and Örjan talked about how they were introduced to the horrible events of WWII, and its impact on their work.

Örjan spoke briefly and eloquently of the individual photos. He discussed the many images we seen before of the piles of eyeglasses or shoes, and  and explained that as we see those, we stop seeing what is in the photos. He described his own intent of using beautiful photos to draw the viewer near, allowing him or her to enter the photo and discover the story.

He told of a group of fifth graders seeing his photos. He asked them what they saw in the photo above, the doorway to the gas chamber. Instead of seeing it as the entrance to a horrible place, those children saw it as an open door. Perspective is everything.

We then watched the slide show accompanied by the cello music written by Pär. Yes, cello, because it is closest in sound to the human voice. He explained to us that utilizing the tritones, or augmented 4th (or flat 5th), would convey “the devil in the music.” If you don’t know the tritone, think jarring discordance and you’ll have the idea. (There is an interesting article about tritones here, including an answer to whether or not they were banned by the Church in the Middle Ages.)

As we spoke at the reception after the talk, I told Örjan that his photos have helped me shift my focus from some of those images that have haunted me (from visits to Dachau years ago). The events are still horrific, but his photos allow me to see something different.

My friend Chloe remarked in her own blog that “…those walls saw pain and grief beyond measure. But it interests me how the walls that surround our ordinary lives record and reflect our everyday movements and actions without our awareness of their involvement in our lives beyond keeping us warm and safe.”

That is a viewpoint I want to think some more about. In my area, less than six years ago, we saw walls we expected to stand forever blown away, and destruction we could not begin to understand or imagine. But how many walls have stood for millennia, bearing silent witness?

**For those who might be interested in having this exhibit mounted in a gallery near you, Örjan told me that the photos will be available immediately after the current exhibit. He advised potential galleries to contact Joan Kearney, MSSU Art Department Secretary, at, to have the photos shipped.**