PHOTOGRAPHY


The first photographer known to be of Jewish birth was Solomon Nunes *Carvalho, an American who in 1853–54 served as artist-photographer with John C. Frémont's expedition to the Far West. However, the 19th century did not produce many photographers with Jewish backgrounds. Jews took their place as photographers on the world scene in the 20th century. Among the inventors, the names of Leopold *Mannes and Leopold *Godowsky, the musician-scientists who in 1933 produced Kodachrome, and five years later Ektachrome, rank high. Polaroid, one of the most ingenious of all photographic devices, was invented by Edwin H. *Land. The list of distinguished Jewish photojournalists, beginning with Erich *Salomon, who originated candid photography with the first of the miniature cameras invented in the early 1920s, through John Heartfield (1892–1968), who, in montage photographs of vitriolic satire, blasted the Nazi hierarchy in various German publications until he was forced to flee for his life in the early 1930s, to the ubiquitous magazine photographers, is an extensive and impressive one.

The biggest pool of talented recorders of big world stories is to be found among the staff of Life magazine. Alfred *Eisenstaedt, who joined Life in 1936 when it was founded, had, by 1969, covered more than 2,000 assignments, and more than 90 of his photographs had been used as Life covers. Other famous Jewish staff members included Eliot Elisofon (1911–1973), Fritz Goro (1901–1986), Dmitri Kessel, Ralph Crane, Yale Joel, Ralph Morse, David E. Scherman, and Bernard Hoffman. The equally gifted freelance photographers whose pictures regularly appear in the pages of Life as well as its sister magazine, Time, have also included extraordinarily gifted photographers such as Cornell Capa, Bruce Davidson (1933– ), Elliot Erwitt (1928– ), Burt Glinn (1926– ), Philippe *Halsman, Archie Lieberman, Arnold *Newman, and Arthur Siegel (1913–1978). Look Magazine had on its staff such brilliant photographers as Arthur Rothstein (1915–1985), while Alex Liberman became the photographer-artist-art director for Vogue. Freelance photojournalists work through photo agencies. Two of the leading ones in 1970 were Rapho-Guilumette, directed by one of the ablest administrators in the field, Charles Redo, and Magnum Photos by Inge Bondi. Among the great number of Jewish photojournalists belonging to these two agencies have been Joe Rosenthal (1912–1981), of the Associated Press, who took the dramatic "Raising of the Flag on Mt. Suribachi in Iwo Jima, 1943"; Diane Arbus (1923–1971), whose photographs of transvestites were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1968; Morris Rosenfeld, photographer of yacht races; Robert Frank (1924– ), known for his pictures of the seamy side of U.S. life; Ben *Shahn, whose photographs for the Farm Security Administration were later used as themes for his famous posters and paintings; and Arthur Rothstein, Edwin Rosskam (d. 2006), and Charles Rotkin (1916–2004), who all photographed the American dust bowl for FSA during the depression years of the 1930s.

Photography has dominated fashion and product photography since the 1940s. The remarkably versatile Irving Penn (1917– ) had a flair for graceful, bold compositions, and like Richard Avedon (1923–2004) and Eliot Elisofon was an adventurous explorer and unique stylist in fashion photography. Through unconventional lighting, exaggerated poses, startling costumes, and exotic backgrounds, fashion photographers all over the world have created eye-catching images that have more than once changed female attire everywhere. Two emerging talents in fashion photography at the end of the 1960s were Melvin Sokolsky and William Klein (1926– ). Architectural photography, which requires a highly developed sense of design, and the ability to plan a series of photographs from strategic vantage points at exact moments during the day or night, found an exceptional practitioner in Ezra Stoller. Abstract images, found in objects ordinarily ignored, became the "new reality" of Aaron *Siskind, who, as head of the photography department of the Illinois Institute of Technology and founder of the Society for Photographic Education, exercised considerable influence as teacher-photographer. A gifted student of Siskind's at IIT, Len Gittleman, became head of photography at Carpenter Center, Harvard University. Other members of the Society for Photographic Education have been Martin Dworkin of Columbia University, Bernard Freemesser of the University of Oregon; Jerome Liebling (1924– ) of the University of Minnesota; Jerry Uelsmann (1934– ) of the University of Florida; and Ralph Kopell of the State College of Iowa. It is not surprising that photographers of war and battle should rank as distinguished cameramen. David *Seymour (Chim; 1911–1956) was such a person – he died in the Sinai Campaign of 1956; Robert *Capa was another – he died in 1954 in the Indochina War; and among the first casualties in the Six-Day War of 1967 was Paul Schutzer (1930–1967), a staff photographer of Life. Combat photographers have inner discipline, and it was this same quality which caused the death in an air crash of Dan Weiner (1919–1959), who flew out in a storm to cover an assignment in the Kentucky mountains, and of Camilla Koffler (Ylla), the famous photographer of wild animals, who was killed in an accident in 1970 while photographing a wild bullock in India.

Photography, which unites art and science, was a child of the Industrial Revolution. It was the first art in history to owe its very existence to a scientific instrument. However, it would be wrong to think of science-minded Fritz Goro or Roman *Vishniac as cold and factual reporters of the modern world. They are poets who have drawn upon technology at its most advanced to reveal the poetry of an emerging world of thought and feeling. Photography was born largely as a result of the efforts of portrait painters to find some reliable means of getting an accurate likeness.

Portrait photography has been a big industry for over a century. The giants in portrait photography are few, but Arnold Newman and Philippe Halsman, two Jews, are certainly among them. So too are Eliot Elisofon, Alfred Eisenstaedt, *Izis in France, and Alfred Stieglitz. They all share the one essential quality that makes a portrait photographer, the ability to interpret a complex personality creatively, discovering something fresh and important to say. Newman is a master of symbolism that underlines and reinforces his central message. Halsman is a brilliantly inventive and witty graphic artist whose chosen medium is light.

There have been some distinguished Jewish curators, editors, journalists, and critics of photography, especially in the last three decades. Among these are Grace Mayer, curator of photography, the Edward Steichen Memorial Collection, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, from 1962; Jacob Kainen (1909–2001), curator of prints and drawings, The National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, DC; Eugene Ostroff, curator of photography, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC; Lewis Walton Sipley (1897–1968), director, American Museum of Photography, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Margaret Weiss, photography critic for the Saturday Review; Jacob Deschin (1900–1983), photography critic for the New York Times; David B. Eisendrath, science-oriented columnist of Popular Photography; Helmut Gernsheim (1913–1995), photography historian of London, England; and Albert Boni, who assembled and edited the comprehensive photographic bibliography published in 1962, Photographic Literature.

[Peter Pollack]

While no definitive "Jewish" photography style emerged, many of the practitioners of landmark photographic images were Jewish. Among them were Nan *Goldin, Annie *Leibovitz, Garry *Winogrand, and Helen *Levitt, who continued to be active into her nineties. At least two European-born photographers, Helmut *Newton and Andre *Kertesz, did significant work as Americans.

In Israel

The early photographers in Ereẓ Israel included Yaakov Ben Dov, Alfred Bernheim, and Shemuel Josef Schweig. Among the contemporary photographers working in Israel are many doing press work and producing picture books on the Holy Land. Among them are Werner Braun, David Rubinger, Micha Bar Am, Peter Merom, and David Harris.

CAMERA JUDAICA

Introduction

The great upsurge of interest in photographing Jewish subjects and in the understanding of photography as documenting the many facets of Jewish life in the past is a phenomenon of more recent years. More exactly, one could speak of a wave of renewed interest, a reinforced presence of photographs aimed at recording Jewishness and Jewish existence, and of a more outspoken use of old photographs as an instrument to safeguard Jewish memory. One feels today a more conscious and concerted involvement of photographers, photo-editors, and curators in an effort to interpret Jewish life through photography than ever before. The age of Jewish photography has arrived.

Moreover, and complementarily, in our age of the threefold domination of the cultural and social life by the camera – through photography (and photojournalism), through film (fiction and documentary), and through television and video – Jewishness itself seems to strive to express its presence in an image-oriented, visible dimension. The emancipated appearance on the one hand, and on the other the admired "sabra with an 'Aryan' look" (cf. the Paul Newman-alias-Ari ben Canaan ideal in the film "Exodus") evolves into a more expressive "Jewish is Beautiful" ideal. The latter is sometimes characterized by an ungroomed haircut-cum-beard often adorned with a big "Chai" sign (or a larger-than-life Magen David) and sometimes crowned with a yarmulke. Photogenic Judaism of the 1970s and 1980s is more visually aggressive than its 1950s–1960s predecessor. The once most powerful expression of the attitude to photography of Orthodox Jews, the refusal to be photographed, is today increasingly limited to the narrowest fringe. The "we have the right to be different" expression of Judaism has become more outward-projected and less abstract. The cameras were there, among other factors, and played their role.

The beginning of the New Wave in Jewish photography could be set in 1974. Three important photographic books, all relating to contemporary Jewish history, appeared in that year, independently of each other. In the German-speaking area, photographer and photo-editor Franz Hubmann published his Jewish Family Album. Germanic and bourgeois in its spirit and composition, the album mainly represented the West European Jewish Family. A photographic social history, it ended (significantly, as we will see) before 1939. In New York, journalist and writer Abraham Shulman compiled and created another family album, The Old Country. His book focused on the poor cousin, eastern European Jewry. Also in New York in 1974, Leyzer Ran compiled and composed a two-volume documentation about pre-war Vilna, Jerusalem of Lithuania. Here the photographs and other documents represented mostly the organized Jewish life, including its destruction and the resistance. Hubmann, Shulman, and Ran, the three compiler-authors, created, through photographs, different views of the Jewish experience. And yet, the books share certain traits that remain discernible in photographic books and exhibitions of later years.

In 1976, Abraham Shulman, perhaps encouraged by the reception of his Old Country, published The New Country, depicting Jewish immigration and early days in America. Also in 1976, the Jewish Museum in New York exhibited Image Before my Eyes, a photographic history of Jewish life in Poland between 1864 and 1939 (again), prepared by the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research in New York. Lucjan Dobroszycki and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett turned it into a book in 1977; a year later, the book was itself turned into a film. By the same time, a collective of young American Jews sponsored an amateur-photography contest that led to the publication of a book entitled Behold a Great Image, published by the Jewish Publication Society of America in 1978. In the same year, the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv opened its doors to the biggest Jewish photography exhibit/slide show/gallery ever created. This was the year in which the introduction of the image into the realm of representing Jewishness reached its culmination. To the more traditional and religious reader, this statement might sound like a heresy; in reality, there is a transformation. The process goes on, both in compilation and new photography. In 1980 and 1984, the sociologist Gerard Silvain published in Paris, in French, two large volumes based on his collection of (mostly photographic) postcards. The first, Jewish Images and Traditions, includes a thousand postcards illustrating Jewish life. The other, Two Destinies in the Diaspora, juxtaposes two fictional life stories, one Ashkenazi, the other Sephardi, also based on postcards. Also in the 1980s, the Diaspora Museum initiated three worldwide contests in photographing Jewish life. At the same time, the Museum assigned several photographers to take pictures relevant to contemporary Jewish history and sociology. In 1985 Yeshayahu Nir's book The Bible and the Image, the History of Photography in the Holy Land 1839–1899 appeared; its popularized Hebrew version Jerusalem and Ereẓ Israel: In the Footsteps of Early Photographers appeared in Israel in 1986. In both editions, Jewish attitudes toward photography are discussed; the latter focuses on Jewish life in pre-Zionist and pre-Mandatory Palestine.

There is little doubt that these books and exhibitions represent less than a carefully orchestrated effort, more than a fad or a fashion. They embody a spontaneously growing cultural movement that arises from certain needs, that focuses certain energies, responds to certain realities. They demonstrate that Jewish photography is a fact, definable as the body of photographic images of Jews and of their culture taken, "encoded," by Jews integrated in it and meaningful to a Jewish audience able to "decode" it. There exists, undeniably, a photographic discourse on Jewish life. It has its themes, motifs, tendencies, and ideologies.

Motifs, Past and Present

TYPES AND FACES

Behold a Great Image, the photography book that has contemporary Jewishness as its theme, offers perhaps the best starting-point for an introduction to a taxonomy of Jewish motifs in photography. The book is a clearly shaped statement that presents its theme in clearly delimited, ideologically charged terms; it was edited by a team of Jewish activists and militants who used pictures taken by many photographers, most likely all Jewish. Finally, it was published by a representative and prestigious Jewish publishing house.

One opens the book and sees, first and foremost, faces: a first reaction is, "These faces are me, these are my people, they received the Law together with me on Mount Sinai, we were together through the Inquisition and the ghetto, it is for them that we have taken to guns and have built a country." The fact that one might be as far from religion as the authors are from atheism and still identify with these images may serve as evidence as to the validity of the opening sequence. Of the 28 faces depicted, the opening double spread and 11 more pictures do not carry any unequivocal graphic sign of Judaism. Faces in this context serve as signs of identity, and identification is axiomatic to photography. The act of recognition of the Self (or its part) in photographs of the other is the most general and basic function of photography in society and in culture.

The first section, "Faces," is followed by sections on "Children" and "Elderly"; this reads of course that Judaism is a family, a tribe, first and foremost. True, the book represents the editors' specific ideas influenced by "ẓedakah collectives," engaged in voluntary social work. It draws both on feelings of compassion and on sentimentality, also axiomatic to much of photography. But the book's message goes beyond its narrow and immediate aims. In "Children" and "Elderly" and the following sections – "Hasidim," "Trade," "Food," "Demonstrations," "Cemeteries," and "Holocaust" – Family and Tribe become an ethnicity with its own garment, gastronomy, alphabet, political interest, and history. Many of these are perennial motifs in Jewish photography that can be found in retrospective photography books and in modern photographic monographs, and they invite a more detailed discussion.

Whoever enters the permanent exhibition at the Diaspora Museum is first touched by the show-window "Faces" that seems to welcome the visitor. It is a never-ending audiovisual display of Jewish "types," similar in its conception and impact to the opening sequence of Behold a Great Image. Gerard Silvain's Jewish Images and Traditions also opens with "types." And, as Silvain implies, the "Jewish type" is a problematic image. At the beginning of his compilation, there are three postcard-photographs entitled "The Eternal Jew," showing poor, bearded, French ambulant merchants and vagabonds. The photographed "types" that is to say, the models, are not Jewish; yet, they may "seem Jewish," especially in antisemitic eyes. According to Silvain, it was the oral tradition that assimilated such French "types" to Jews, the eternal wanderers. But ambiguities of perception are present even in responses to authentic images. A typical postcard brought later by Silvain shows a "Jewish type." Such postcards, having Jews and other "types" as subjects, were very popular in their time and had nothing denigrating in them. And yet one of the postcards carried an inscription and signature handwritten by the sender: "The town of Leopol (?) is half populated by these dirty Jews. Germaine." Silvain brings another postcard, from Algiers, that also shows in a characteristically typical and neutral manner a young Jewish woman. The handwritten note is quite different in spirit: "Pas mal. Hein! Levy."("Not bad, isn't it! Levy.") As the signatures indicate, the images – in both cases – were created in the beholders' eyes, and so were the connotations. However, although antisemitic propaganda richly used photographs of Jewish faces, none of the portraits used in Behold a Great Image or the Diaspora Museum slide show would attract antisemitic editors today. Jewish photography is actively and consciously involved in the de-caricaturization of the Jewish stereotype. True, very often this tendency leads to an excessive beautification and romanticization of the distinctive traits of the Jewish face. Nevertheless, many photographers of the past and the present portrayed "Jewish types" with sensitive eyes and minds. Some did it with a touch of greatness.

CELEBRATIONS, CUSTOMS AND STUDY: RITES

Few subjects seem as obviously belonging to the field of Jewish photography as weddings (the universally most preferred subject of the trade) and bar mitzvahs. Theirs is a powerful link: they are both memorable family events and graphically expressive rites. Weddings and bar mitzvahs are perceived as prestige-conferring social events in the time they occur, and the value of their depiction rises with time, as they find their way onto walls and into family-albums. The canopy above the bride and groom, the tallit on the youngster's shoulder, provide the Jewish color. It was no miracle that this subject developed into a full-fledged photographic genre.

New Year greeting cards are one of the oldest "holidays" and "Jewish Year" subjects in Jewish trade photography. For the amateur's camera Ḥanukkah candles are among the most favorite subjects of the Jewish year, with their light preferably reflected on children's faces. The environment of study, the yeshivah, the ḥeder and the Jewish scribe belong to this orderof subjects. Jewish study and scripture is a religious practice, a celebration, one rite among others. Other powerful links are at work here: ḥeder means children, yeshivah and scribes – most often – elderly, all "graphic" types. Unfortunately, photography of rites became the very realm of schmaltz, with children, brides, and scribes, and without them.

An interesting innovation in this field was, a few decades ago, the clash between objects of rite with objects of modern life. Photography is profane, and so are most of its subjects. Images such as truck drivers in ḥasidic garments, a yarmulke on the head of a laboratory specialist, a lulav in the hands of a man in overalls, tefillin on the forehead of a tank commander have at once secularized Judaism and by the same token have spiritualized its secular dimension. Today, even this relatively new genre seems overworked and outworn, one kitschy cliché among others.

Greatness, authentic belief, and real cultural values are best served with straight, "documentary" or "anthropological" photographs, or with subdued, somewhat enigmatic images. Roman Vishniac's pictures from 1938 eastern Europe mostly belong to the first category. Nahum T. Gidal's photograph entitled, "The Night in Meron" (taken in 1935), which shows in semi-darkness a traditionally dressed man half leaning, half lying on a building's arched roof, is perhaps the best example of the second. Vorobeichic's 1931 constructivist photo-montage of bookshelves in the Vilna rabbinical library also touches the realm of mystery.

TRADES AND STREETS

The shtetl – wooden houses, twisted lanes, Jewish artisans and poor storekeepers – preserves the ever present images of our past. To be sure, in a few streets and in some trades the shtetl is well and alive even in our days. Jewish photographers detect and depict it as a curious mixture of relics from the past and of present-day decay, which it, most often, is. But then, photography has this curious power to pictorialize rubbish and romanticize poverty. If rites are the realm of schmaltz, the shtetl is the realm of nostalgia. The fact that old photographs survived the vagaries of time provides them with an additional aura – as if time itself survived with them. Nothing feeds nostalgia as exquisitely as old photographs. Given the extreme hardships, misery, and martyrdom of the old days, one must admit that old pictures feed warm feelings toward a world that never existed in reality.

The beauty of nostalgia, in spite of the appearances, is not a celebration of the past, a real longing to live again, in the future within the conditions of the past. It is a self-assuring celebration of memory itself. To turn old photographs, vital evidence of bygone times, into historical documents, therefore, necessitates a demystifying reading. This means to analyze and deconstruct the idealizing photographic techniques on the one hand, and the falsifying connotations of a selective memory on the other.

It is easy to enjoy the heartwarming old images, knowing that the "golden" olden days when Jewish poverty – often, utmost poverty – was a fact of life, are over. This is not the case when poor socio-economic status and low prestige persist. In 1975 Jerusalem's Israel Museum organized a large scale representation of Jewish life in Morocco. Some of the photographs that were to be included displayed poverty and connoted, moreover, "underdevelopment" and "primitiveness." A prominent Israeli investigator of folklore born in Morocco and involved in the preparation of the exhibition threatened to demonstrate violently his opposition to the enterprise should these photographs, whose authenticity he did not deny, be exposed. One senses behind this opposition an anxiety that they may have confirmed negative stereotypes concerning the Moroccan immigration still current in the more established strata of Israeli society. That such an opposition was never recorded among descendants of eastern-European poor Jews does not imply that the shtetl was less poor than the mellah, the Moroccan Jewish quarter. It indicates that it belonged, already, to a more distant past. It also indicates that the mellah did not find its Vorobeichic, Vishniac, and Gidal.

CEMETERIES

Cemeteries exercise a powerful attraction for Jewish photographers. There is hardly an illustrated book or an exhibition about Jewish communities where a photograph of tombstones – mostly taken from middle distance – is absent. Paradoxically they signify survival and continuity of the ethnic group. Old tombstones are signs of life, albeit of life gone, but they represent people and a people. With their Hebrew inscriptions, old Jewish tombstones signify survival of a culture, both in the eyes of Jews and of their opponents. Antisemites do not analyze signs. Their instincts tell them that by destroying and desecrating Jewish cemeteries they pose a potent threat to Jewish culture and life.

Nature, always present in photographs of cemeteries, plays a double role, of both adversary and catalyst. The photogeny of tombstones, even half-broken and half-lying, consists of their victory over grass and thistle that threaten to overgrow them and to condemn them to disappearance and oblivion. They signify victory of a cultural artifact over the surrounding nature. On the other hand, adorning the stones and their Hebrew letters with wild greenery, nature embraces them, "naturalizes" them, and turns them in to part of nature. The photogeny of old cemeteries consists of the dialectics of struggle and fusion of culture with nature, of memory with eternity. It adds to the Hebrew inscriptions – a symbol in itself – an immensely powerful second symbolic dimension.

SYNAGOGUES

Behold a Great Image, the starting point of our analysis, has almost exclusively in its synagogue section, photographs of wrecked synagogues and of synagogues converted into churches. None of the high-class houses of prayer or of other shuls in popular quarters is represented. This is an exceptional representation of the subject, a wrecked synagogue, in the Jewish repertory of symbols, means destruction, pogrom, Kristallnacht, Holocaust. An abandoned synagogue, in opposition, could mean disappearance of a Jewish community through emigration to another or more affluent country, perhaps aliyah to Israel; and in American inner cities, urban exodus toward better ecologies of a wealthy suburb. The particular treatment of synagogues in this book implies ideology. The message is that the latter exodus weakens the coherence of Jewish communities. This may be a plausible point, but the almost exclusive use of images of abandon and decay in living and prospering Jewish America seems to be a textbook case in photographic rhetoric and propaganda.

History, and its more recent chapters, turned the destroyed synagogue into a clearly determined and conventionally decipherable, decodable sign. It turned all old photographs of synagogues in eastern and central Europe from a view of a building of prayer into a view of a monument. The shift can be exemplified by one of Silvain's postcards, printed in his Jewish Images and Traditions. It is a photograph of the Great Synagogue in Frankfurt. Sent on October 22, 1899, it carries the following handwritten inscription and signature in French: "My dear Joseph, for an Israelite this card is a pleasure to have. Your brother, Isaac." Never again will this photography generate a similar feeling of joy over Jewish presence. The meanings that it carries today are of a more complex order. It is nostalgia, but also mourning, pride, anxiety, sorrow, elements of Jewish memory.

A synagogue also remains, of course, in all its aspects, a work of architecture and of decorative art. As such, it represents Jewish art, with all the ambiguities of this concept. It also represents the search for identity and status of a community, an ethnic community in a foreign and not always friendly world. Photographers can capture and differently emphasize any of these connotations. A symbol of Jewish religion, a subject charged with Jewish history and sociology, synagogues are and will remain a permanent motif in Jewish photography.

VANISHING COMMUNITIES

Since the 1940s, thousands of Jewish communities have ceased to exist. Many of these disappeared as the result of the Holocaust; some in mass emigration to Israel; others have been gradually abandoned as the Jews have slipped away to other homes, sometimes in the metropolitan areas of the same country. Often the descendants of these communities or other photographers have been motivated to photo-document the material remains. Some of this has been initiated by Beth Hatefutsoth.

The following extracts are taken from the descriptions of Temporary Exhibitions held in the Gallery of the Beth Hate-futsoth (the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv). They speak for themselves and the subject.

Radauti, a town in northeast Romania, was once a busy trade center with a community of 6,000 Jews. By the late 20th century, only about 200 remained and their numbers continued to diminish as the older generation died and the younger generation left. This is one of the last places in Europe where many of the characteristics of the shtetl life still survive. The American photographer, Laurence Salzmann, spent two years in Romania, preparing his photographs on Jewish life in contemporary Radauti. His work portrays the Jewish life cycle, from circumcision to burial, religious life and cemeteries, economic life and community functions, and he follows two families as they leave Radauti and start a new life in Israel.

Several centuries ago, Jewish life in the Caribbean thrived with activity. Descendants of Marranos, from Spain and Portugal, came to the region in the 17th century and established a chain of flourishing settlements. Today only a few remnants survive; Jewish community life is limited to a few centers. Elsewhere all that remains are ruins, tombstones, and memorial tablets. Beth Hatefutsoth sent out a small expedition to locate and document the remains. They visited Surinam, Curaçao, Coro (Venezuela), Barraquila (Colombia), Panama, Jamaica, Barbados, St. Thomas and St. Eustatius.

Ethnophotography of a people that had never stopped migrating and perhaps never will.

HOLOCAUST

There is a world of difference between the vanished Jewish communities of Radauti and the Caribbean on the one hand, and the vanished Jewish community of Poland on the other. Whatever remains of Polish synagogues or of the terrible sites on which death machinery had left its traces will most likely be photographed again and again by Jews who attempt vainly to apprehend the unacceptable. In contrast, such photographs will also be taken as an outcry to be turned into an ever-accusing evidence, an expression of protest of a people revolting against its historical conditions of existence.

Photographs taken during the Holocaust by Jewish photographers (only those are considered here) are of a different and unique kind. In one sense, they simply are historical documents, reports, and records of an event of unique dimensions. In another, they constitute a personal testimony of a photographer-eyewitness. In a third and utterly exceptional sense, they depict the photographers' own path toward death, a path shared with their portrayed subjects. "Doomed Photographers Reporting about Their Doomed Community" would be the appropriate title of their exhibition. Research, disclosure of official material, and state archives of all Allied powers, and accidental discoveries may lead to the uncovering of more such pictures than those presently known and published. And it is under the above mentioned title that such photographs will have to be studied and incorporated into the pantheon of Jewish Photography.

ISRAEL

The Jewish homeland is certainly the most diverse and most problematic subject of Jewish photography. Vested ideology is perhaps nowhere as powerful and influential as in this case.

The authors of Behold a Great Image again provide an interesting example of a clearcut and significant choice. Most of the photographs in their concluding chapter, entitled "Israel, the Land," show Orthodox Jews in their own secluded quarters. It is not difficult to fill in the verbal equivalent of their visual statement: Even in Israel, Jewishness is first of all a religion, and it is picturesque and ultraconservative.

Israel, the land, the state, the people, is in all its facets unique in Jewish history, culture, and experience. It is an important, perhaps central, though not yet fully crystallized, part of it. A Jewish photographer who depicts Israel, and this includes any theme and motif in Israeli life, is operating inside the culture. A controversial work may best exemplify this problem. Some of Joel Kantor's photographs of Israel exhibited at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in the late 1980s (Kantor, born in Canada, had lived in Israel for some 15 years) show Israeli security forces brutalizing young Arabs. By their subject matter, esthetics and ethics, they belong to Jewish photography at its best.

Conclusion

First, a single photograph can only exceptionally express a culture's particular point of view by its formal organization. Only exceptionally can a single photograph disclose a photographer's approach to his subjects. Even more rarely will it reveal whether the photographer has operated within his own culture and was intimately acquainted with its values and points of view. But a photographic discourse of larger dimensions, such as an exhibition, a book, or a lifetime work, reflect these characteristics. Photography is vision of things, of people, of life, of the world, and as such, culturally determined. Even the most universalistic and universe-embracing photographic show ever created, "Family of Man," represented the Family in a perceptibly American, "WASP-ish" perspective. To bring another example of the influence of the photographers' cultural background on their work, British/Protestant 19th-century traveling photographers who visited the Holy Land depicted its biblical sites in the open countryside more often, and included in their pictures of famous landmarks more of the surrounding nature than their French/Catholic counterparts, who focused more closely on monuments and architecture. It is appropriate to observe this relation from another direction. Few audiences were as sensitive to Alter Kacyzne's photographs from the 1920s of Jewish Poland, or to Roman Vishniac's images from eastern European Jewish life in the 1930s, as the Jewish audience. And no gentile photographer has produced on this subject a collection as powerful and as penetrating as Kacyzne and Vishniac. True, Vishniac's collection owes part of its impact to its date – the eve of the Holocaust. But then, precisely, the close relationship to reality is typical of and inherent in the camera's work.

Second, preliminary definitions concerning Jewish photography may now be suggested. The first definition has to be restrictive and limited and formulated in the following manner: The basic body of Jewish photography is constituted by the pictures taken by Jewish photographers who explore and record Jewish life from an insider's point of view, and which appear to Jewish viewers as meaningfully expressing their shared concerns. The second definition has to provide Jewish photography with a broader perspective. It has to leave space for "unpopular" images, which like Kantor's, while relating to present-day Jewish concerns and values, might be rejected by a Jewish audience as too critical. it has also to leave space for more universal concerns of Jewish photographers, since such concerns are part of Jewish experience and culture. Last but not least, it has to leave space for gentile photographers who feel affinity toward Judaism and Jewish culture, perhaps the space English literature had for a Joseph Conrad, and American literature for a Vladimir Nabokov.

Golden is theory, and green the tree of life. The growth of Jewish photographic work during the coming decades and centuries, and the growth of a Jewish audience perceptive to it, will confirm – or reject – the ideas here suggested.

[Yeshayahu Nir]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

L. Dobroszycki and B. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Image Before My Eyes, A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland, 1864–1939 (1977); N.T. Gidal, Land of Promise (1985); M. Grossman, With a Camera in the Ghetto, ed. by Z. Szner and A. Sened (1977); F. Hubmann, The Jewish Family Album, The Life of a People in Photographs (1974); L. Ran, Jerusalem of Lithuania, Illustrated and Documented (1974); Y. Nir, The Bible and the Image, The History of Photography in the Holy Land 1839–1899 (1985); idem, Bi-Yerushalayim u-ve-Ereẓ Israel, be-Ikvot Ẓalamim Rishonim (1986); A. Shulman, The Old Country (1974); idem, The New Country, Jewish Immigration in America (1976); G. Silvain, Image et Tradition Juives. Un millier de cartes postales, (1897–1917), pour servir a l'histoire de la Diaspora (1980); idem, Deux Destins en diaspora, Moi, Myriam Attias, Sepharade, Moi, Joseph Lewski, Ashkenaz (1984); R. Vishniac, Polish Jews, a Pictorial Record (1947); M. Vorobeichic, Ein Ghetto im Osten (Vilna) (1931); G. Wigoder (ed.), The First Years, Beth Hatefutsoth. The Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora (1983).


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.