Phoenix-based travel photographer Matt Cohen is not only working to make sure the Holocaust is not forgotten, but also that other genocides will be remembered as well. In his latest exhibit at Scottsdale Community College (SCC), Cohen showcases a series of photos in locations that are significant to both the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide.
“I was curious about the Armenian genocide because there’s a lot of controversy around it,” Cohen said. “There are whole nations that deny it happened and in our case, [for] the Jewish people, there are a clique of racists that say the Holocaust didn’t happen and call it a hoax.”
Cohen’s exhibit of more than 20 photos are at SCC for its annual Genocide Awareness Week, which begins April 15. The exhibit, in the Student Center Lobby, is free. The photos will be on display until April 20, when Genocide Awareness Week ends.
The photo essay consists of images of key locations where the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide took place. Cohen said that the inspiration for the photos was “to record history as a remembrance project and mitzvah, allowing the memories to be shared with others.”
The Holocaust photos are all in black and white, while the photos in Armenia are in color. The black and white is meant to evoke a dynamic and Gothic look, Cohen said, while the Armenian photos are in color to show the details of each landmark.
Some of Cohen’s favorite photos in the exhibit are of Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory in Krakow, barracks in the Auschwitz concentration camp and the Khor Virab Monastery at the foot of Mt. Ararat.
Taking photos in some of these places presented many challenges. Cohen traveled to each location with the help of guides, but spent long hours in the car searching. The biggest difficulty was getting the right shot — sometimes the places he found just weren’t right to photograph.
“I found it photographically challenging, because there’s not a lot in those areas anymore,” Cohen said. “Most of the Jewish ghettos are stucco condos. There were a ton of people touring Auschwitz and I really didn’t want any of them in my photos.”
John Liffiton, director of Genocide Awareness Week, said he always tries to have two educational exhibits. He thought the photo essay was a good complement to the multimedia exhibit “Filming the Camps, From Hollywood to Nuremberg: John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens.”
That exhibit — the largest in the seven-year history of Genocide Awareness Week — takes up more than 2,000 square feet and has multiple screens featuring information on the filmmakers and how the Holocaust influenced them. Liffiton felt that displaying Cohen’s photos, which he called “exquisite,” next to that would be something that viewers could easily digest. He wanted “something a little bit lighter that could also work with the larger exhibit and still have a strong visual imagery.”
Liffiton felt that there was a strong connection between the two genocides. But he also said that the Armenians would benefit from gaining more exposure for their tragedy. He added that a benefit of Genocide Awareness Week is being able to bring light to other genocides that aren’t as well known as the Holocaust. “There’s sadly no shortage of material,” he said.
This year’s Genocide Awareness Week has multiple speakers and panel on different genocides. The opening night features Rwandan genocide survivor and author Clemantine Wamariya.
Cohen will travel to Rwanda next year to document some of the areas that were affected by that genocide. JN