My body of work Target Practice developed from my interest in LGBTQ hidden histories. I became focused on the experience of gay men in Nazi concentration camps when I read about the biography of Josef Kohout, a Nazi concentration camp survivor. Twenty two year old Josef was convicted as a homosexual when a Christmas card containing an innocent photo of him and his lover was intercepted by the security services in 1938; inside were simply written the words:
‘To my friend Fred in eternal love and deepest affection!’
For anyone unfamiliar with the treatment of Homosexuals by the Nazis, Josef was one of an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 men convicted of homosexual crimes under the Nazi regime. Josef Kohout was sentenced to six months in an Austrian prison before being shipped to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, Germany. He was released in 1945 after many hardships, beatings, witnessing torture, murder, and completing a gruelling death march as the Nazis emptied the camp and took flight from the Allies. Eventually Kohout was reunited with his mother who he hadn’t had contact since the day the doorbell rang at his home in Austria for his summons with the local Gestapo for questioning. While he was incarcerated Josef’s parents had endured much stigma and shaming from colleagues, friends and neighbours for their son’s perceived crime. Kohout never saw his father again. Unable to bear the harassment any longer his father committed suicide three years before Josef’s release.
As a photographer whose practice involves making props for my constructed photographs I wanted to use the events in Josef’s biography The Men With The Pink Triangle to make new images that form the basis for exploring LGBTQ hidden histories. My Target Practice work touches on themes of the suffering of the Homosexual workers in the ‘death pits’ at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Nazi medical experiments to ‘cure’ homosexuality, and the power dynamic between the different classes of prisoner of which the homosexuals were considered the lowest.
I used gay men as models and made a number of props. Some of the images were printed out onto A4 sheets and folded into triangles to make sculptural pieces. Through this process of folding and handling the paper, my original imagery became fractured, creating new abstractions. The chosen shape of the folded triangle refers to the pink cloth triangle that homosexual prisoners had to wear as part of their concentration camp uniforms, defining them as homosexual criminals under paragraph 175 of the German penal code.
For all humans their sexuality is bound up in their identity. For most LGBTQ people this element of themselves has been suppressed and kept hidden in the early stages of their development internalising societal notions of shame. The fractured imagery displayed on my folded triangle surfaces connote identities of LGBTQ people that are performed in public and at the same time hidden. I also made a number of other props such as a stylised electric fence pole and a typing machine that takes the form of the triangle. These sculptural shapes were then taken to a woodland setting and re-photographed.
In making the work I felt it was important to recognise the unique experience of homosexuals during the Holocaust because of its erasure from the historical narrative by subsequent professional historians. This attitude set the LGBTQ quest for justice and acceptance back for decades. While the Nazis were criminalised for their persecutions in the Nuremberg War Trials the homophobic societal attitudes of the day continued unchecked.
My exhibition, Target Practice will be running from the 7 – 11 June 2019, at The Pie Factory, Margate. http://www.michaelmcolvin.com/
February is LGBT History month #LGBTHM19
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