Zdenek Tmej’s ‘Abeceda - Dusevniho Prazdna (The Alphabet of Spiritual Emptiness)' published in 1945 enables a rare look, from a captive's perspective, inside a Nazi forced labor camp in Breslau, Poland during World War II.

It is remarkable that Tmej, a Czech citizen made to work for the Nazi war effort, was able to photograph at all, let alone produce such a poetic response to the horrors of the war. Tmej portrays the experience of captivity through images loaded with furtiveness and despair. This little-known masterpiece today stands as an ever-relevant symbol of survival and resistance. (+)

The book was produced in Prague in an estimated edition of 2,500 copies and released shortly before Christmas 1945. Since paper was scarce and expensive at the time, cheap newspaper stock was used for the printing of high-quality photogravure reproductions. Andrew Roth describes the gravures as “gorgeously tactile”.

As an alternative to facsimiles or reprints, New York City-based publishers Errata Editions came up with the idea of issuing studies on photobooks. Early 2011, Errata Editions released a study on Tmej’s book relating to his conscripted labor camp experiences during World War II.

The tactile feature is lost in Errata’s version, but their editions aim more towards representing original layout and image sequencing than at reproducing the physical sensibilities of the original object. (…) Surprisingly, Errata’s study on Abeceda is missing four photographs in the final sequence. Errata’s source copy turned out to be incomplete. (…) This error is intriguing, since it heightens the notion that rare photobooks are vulnerable, and that their integrity is sometimes not even secured via reproduction. (read more on Taco Hidde Bakker’s excellent website)

#1: Zdeněk Tmej, 1943, Sunday Card Game, Wrocław, Breslau, Poland
#2: Zdeněk Tmej, 1943, Bedbugs Fall from the Ceiling and Bite, Breslau
#3: Zdeněk Tmej, 1943, untitled

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