By appropriating mementos of other people's lives and placing them in an art context, Christian Boltanski explores the power of photography to transcend individual identity and to function instead as a witness to collective rituals and shared cultural memories. At once personal and universal in reference, Humans is a large-scale work that serves as monuments to the dead, hinting at the Holocaust without naming it explicitly. Through its size and tone, the installation evokes the contemplative atmosphere of a small theater or a space for religious observance. The installation consists of more than 1,200 images that the artist rephotographed from sources he had previously used: school portraits, family photographs, newspaper pictures, and police registries. Simultaneously illuminated and obfuscated by dangling lightbulbs, the snapshots provide no context with which to identify or connect the unnamed individuals, or to distinguish the living from the dead or victims from criminals. Within this haunting environment, Boltanski intermingles emotion and history, juxtaposing innocence and guilt, truth and deception, sentimentality and profundity.


  • Title: Humans
  • Creator: Christian Boltanski
  • Date Created: 1994
  • Location: Bilbao, España
  • Physical Dimensions: Overall dimensions variable
  • Type: Installation
  • Medium: Photographs and lights
  • Artwork's location in the Museum: Room 204

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