I'm often asked about what I feel is the most important photograph I've ever taken.

Whilst over the years I've been privileged to shoot many important images, there is one that stands out, in a category entirely of it's own.  I will never forget my visit to Auschwitz and I will especially never forget the feelings I experienced after I shot this image.  I have entitled it The Pink Slipper.

Imagining the owner of this slipper, a child probably, wearing her pink slippers until she was forced to strip naked minutes before entering the gas chamber, is simply heart-breaking.  I also wonder about her life before The Holocaust - how pleased she was when she first wore them, and whether her parents bought them for her as a special gift. I imagine a little girl wearing her pink slippers, and a pink dressing gown, hugging a doll or teddy bear as she goes to her cosy bed, unaware of her family's impending fate.

In the image, the slipper is surrounded by dark, heavy, utilitarian shoes and by contrast, it is bright, colourful, playful, feminine and sweet. The surrounding darkness can be perceived as something sinister, encroaching on the slipper – an obvious, straightforward and bleak metaphor for The Holocaust.  Of course the viewer of this image may see it simply as a pile of old footwear, or as something far more significant, more troubling, more evil. Sometimes, photographs bear witness to events that are deeply uncomfortable to think about - they challenge the viewer to stare and not glance - and this, hopefully, is one such image.

If it's upsetting and it spoils your day, I'm sorry but that's exactly what it's meant to do - it's a photograph that is telling a terrible story that must never be forgotten - and that's why it is the most important photograph I've ever taken.


All images are Copyright Neil Atkinson 2024 unless otherwise stated. No copying or reproduction without written agreement.

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Auschwitz: The Pink Slipper

The most important photograph I've ever taken.