Today, I read an interview with Marina Amara, a Brazilian photo colorist who founded the project “Faces of Auschwitz”. The interview is part of a series called “Success Stories” on the website of Automattic, the company of WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg.
The project aims to establish an individual perspective to the anonymous and incomprehensible number of victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is estimated that 1,1 million people perished in the Nazi concentration camp in the years between 1940 and 1945.
Marina Amara highlights the fate of selected prisoners by carefully coloring in the old, black-and-white photographs taken at the registration to the death camp. Amara started out with the portrait of Czeslawa Kwoka, a 14-year-old girl who was murdered in Auschwitz. The effect of the colorization is astonishing and shocking: While the color-less image creates a feeling of distance, the colored photo conveys a fragile vividness that made me shudder. See for yourself.
The colorization feels really sensible and modest, and the resulting image went viral in the spring of 2018. Following up on an huge international echo, Marina Amara partnered with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, and started coloring more pictures. The website displays these images in combination with biographical info and surely reaches her founders’ goal of individualizing the victims.
While the project itself is both very honorable and effective – the presentation leaves room for improvement. Let’s look at website speed: Google’s PageSpeed Insights spits out a fairly low score of 15 points for the mobile version, Pingdom Tools measures a pretty good loading time of 2.26s but attests an overall performance grade of D with a mere 64 points and GT Metrix certainly is not too happy either. This echoes my own impression: the website feels a slow and sluggish, loading times between pages are way too long. Image optimization, browser caching: there are some low-hanging fruit for the folks at Pressable which are maintaining the site.
Even more could be said about the design and content structure. The design is based on Automattic’s Boardwalk theme but was heavily customized – to the extent that the website looks like using the odd agency template. Smallish type is matched with huge paragraph widths which makes the biographies hard to read, while the layout is fairly static and does not support the logical structure of the content. The structuring of the content in general feels pretty random at times: For example, the aforementioned page about Czeslawa Kwoka combines the info about the girl itself with info about “The Catholic Saints of Auschwitz” and the story of another young woman, Etty Hillesum. I wasn’t able to determine the relation between the three parts.
I really admire the project: it fulfills its goal of honoring the victims and has great potential of bridging the gap between a seemingly distant history and younger generations. I just wish it would get the presentation it deserves.
The featured image of this post is a screenshot taken from the “Gallery” section of the “Faces of Auschwitz” website (taken on February 11, 2020).