Esaias Baitel – Zonen 1982

This is an incredibly complicated book. It is one that I have been chasing for a year or so since I first became aware of it. It has a cult-like status for many reasons, least of all are the photographs, which are also incredible. The story of Baitel amid a bunch of French nazis is genuinely extraordinary. From what I can tell, the artist did not produce much outside of this landmark publication, which should, at all costs, be reprinted, which would be difficult under today’s misunderstanding of context and sweeps of censorship without nuance. The point of this book is not simply about infamy, nor is it a glorification. It is a record of a troubled ideology that still permeates French society and society at large. The artist goes into detail in the text within the book, translated here by Deepl, a translating program, via Luuk from Wolf Books, who sold me Zonen and then sent on the translations, originally in Swedish. I have also used Luuk’s images from the Wolf site for the record. Permission is granted on most of this…
My repulsion to the ideology found in the book, namely French nazis, does not distract me from understanding the power of Baitel’s images or their purpose. In many ways, what is important to remember here is, against all odds, the problems associated with ideology and humanity are drawn out into the light as reminders, totems of disgrace, from an artist who has a personal background with the atrocities associated with the ideological framework. It is a personal testament and a historical reminder of the complications associated with ideology, economy, and the everyday. There is a context to the work, underscored in the essay below. Enlisting context does not absolve the problems but does not undermine the historical motivations that have come to influence them. This is important. Nothing exists in a vacuum.
Essay from Esaias Baitel’s Zonen…translated from Swedish by Deepl translator, submitted by Luuk from Wolf Books
During his work among the young people in the “Zone,” Esaias Baitel used a camera and tape recorder. In January 1982, he moved from Paris to Israel. Later in the year, French journalist Françoise Riss visited him in Israel. This article is based on tape recordings and notes from the time spent in the “Zone,” as well as on conversations between Esaias Baitel and Françoise Riss during three weeks in Tel Aviv. Mats Löfgren is responsible for the Swedish translation and editing. – Some of those who have already seen my pictures have accused me of being too kind to these people,” says Esaias Baitel. – But they expected me to show them photos of easily identifiable and suitably gruesome monsters. Instead, I show them what I have experienced. I report what I have seen, heard, and understood. – I never wanted to make these pictures to scare people. I wanted to go further than that. I wanted to know who these young men and women who make love under a Nazi flag were.
That’s what I’ve been trying to understand. With these almost clinically cold images, devoid of all passion and simplistic templates, Esaias Baitel bears witness to an utterly devastating reality. His images are, first and foremost, a warning. In this interview, he tells the story of his reportage with the help of memories, notes, and taped conversations. His story. He tells it as if he wanted to forget all those bitter and answering nights of anxiety and fear. He tells of the two years he spent on the fringes of society in the heart of the zone. He explains: – I started doing this reportage about the people in the zone because their life and environment personally attracted me. I wanted to understand their empire and their revolt. In a way, maybe it was about my own revolt. – I would never have gone into this story if I hadn’t been Jewish, if I hadn’t been so struck by the anti-Semitism of these young people, who are in no way monsters, but on the contrary, in many respects, close to me,” he continues.
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