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Shift in Focus

Tired of glossy magazines, photographer Harry Borden turned his attention—and lens—toward Holocaust survivors

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If you’ve opened a magazine in the past couple of decades, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen the work of Harry Borden. The British portrait photographer has caught hundreds of mostly-famous people on film, from Hilary Duff to the Duchess of Devonshire, for Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Time, and, well, “every magazine in the world at some point or another,” as he bluntly told Tablet Magazine. Borden, who has over 100 photographs in England’s National Portrait Gallery, doesn’t have much use for false modesty, but it seems that these days, he doesn’t have much use for celebrity photography either. “It’s really quite seductive but quite boring,” he said. “With celebrities it’s a dance, you’re trying to get something kind of definitive and interesting and authentic and they’re trying to prevent you.”

Two years ago, determined to do something different, Borden—whose father is Jewish—began taking pictures of Holocaust survivors after the idea came up in conversation with a friend. “When I went online and looked at bodies of work, there were people that had done portraits of survivors but they seemed to be portrayed as victims or as objects, old people with aged skin,” he said. Borden has taken a more naturalistic approach: He shoots his subjects—whom he has found through survivor organizations and by posting advertisements in Jewish newspapers—in their homes, using natural light and few special effects. Each photograph is also accompanied by a short note handwritten by its subject about his or her experience as a survivor. Borden has now photographed about 160 survivors, in England, Australia, and Israel. This month, he is coming to New York. “I think we’re just going to carry on doing it until there aren’t any more survivors,” he said.

The series-in-progress does not yet have a clear destination, though the project’s manager, Miriam Hechtman, said she aims for it to become traveling exhibit and a book. For now, some of the photographs appear on Borden’s website; others appear below for the first time.

Hechtman, who is also working on a documentary about Borden’s project, began traveling with him in Israel. Asked whether she had noticed any commonalities in the homes of the survivors she visited, she said, “I saw a lot of photos.”

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Rachel says:

I enjoyed this series.

Tziporah says:

Striking and beautiful. I was moved to tears by Lidia Vago’s portrait.

harry copeland says:

beautiful and enlightening
this generation is passing before our eyes
it great to see someone saving the past in pictures

The power of photography is, because I can’t come up with a better synonym, awesome. I want to hug each of these people, who look like they could be in my family, and are.

Every photography tells a story which will live for generations. I will never forget. I thank all of you.

Pauline Boldt says:

These images will stay with me for a very long time. Thank you for sharing them with us.

I saw many pictures of Hilary Duff, I didn’t know who took them, now I know some took by Borden.

it is possible to select a single that may support you in all techniques

When the only tool you have is a hammer you tend to see every problem as a nail. -Abraham Maslow


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Shift in Focus

Tired of glossy magazines, photographer Harry Borden turned his attention—and lens—toward Holocaust survivors

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