I have no problem admitting that Sebald’s use of photography in “Max Ferber” completely confused me.
That was until page 221.
On page 221 he offers up a picture of two keys that supposedly would open the gate to the cemetery. However, “When [he] reached the gate it turned out that neither of the keys fitted the lock, so [he] climbed the wall” (222). Reading this, I realized that the keys that can’t unlock anything are the perfect metaphor for the pictures in the story. The keys look like they are the answer to unlocking secrets. Just as you expect the keys to unlock the gates to the cemetery and help reveal information the narrator is looking for, we expect the pictures in the story to reveal things the text could not. But it both cases, it is more likely that we have to rely on ourselves to find out the information we seek. We have to jump over the real or metaphoric fence and look for the things we hoped we would have more clues to find.
Pictures are supposed to reveal the truth, and show us the things that happened and confirm things we’ve heard about. But in this story, it seems like every picture only looks like it is going to reveal something when in reality it is just a skeleton key.