Ten years ago, Harry Borden was a successful celebrity photographer who’d checked off many of his personal life goals. He’d been in Vogue and the New Yorker, and he had photographed famous people like Margaret Thatcher, Elton John, and David Beckham. He was happy with his work. But after a couple of decades in the industry, he yearned to do more.
“I’ve had 25 years of doing portraits of the great,” he told Uproxx. “And I have all those sort of milestones that you want as a photographer. But you start to think, ‘I want to do projects that are meaningful to me personally rather than just those that confer a sort of status or are well paid.’”
This yearning led Borden to the project that has taken over his life for the past decade. ‘Survivor’ is an extensive collection of portraits of Holocaust survivors taken by Borden. The project is profoundly important to him and with survivors passing away rapidly, one that seemed vital.
“In a decade or so there won’t be anyone with first hand experience,” Borden said. “It seemed an obvious project to do for anyone.”
For Borden, whose father was Jewish but grew up in a Christian neighborhood with non-religious parents, it felt like a very personal way to connect with his heritage. The results of this passion project — ‘Survivor: A Portrait of the Survivors of the Holocaust’ — make for an incredibly powerful, heartbreaking, and important book. The portraits Borden took are so intimate and avoid the clichés of the survivor as ‘solely a victim’ or ‘solely heroic.’
“I wanted to explore the ambiguity of the subtlety,” he says, “that everyone is an individual.”
Borden’s portraits are of men and women who have been subjected to the most traumatic, horrific events imaginable. People who were marked for death, and yet, these images teem with life. The survivors carry their pain with them, but they also carry lives filled with joy, love, and family. That’s what Borden set out to capture, the enormity of a life lived long past its greatest tragedy. And as we face a near future without anyone left alive to personally share stories of these atrocities, we are left with these portraits of human beings, varied, complicated, and so very poignant.
We talked to Borden about the work behind ‘Survivors’ and he shared a collection of some of his favorite photos from the series.