Exhibition dates: April 15 – July 12, 2009
Hardly any photographs by Jeffrey Gusky online but he has provided some via email. I will post them asap. Thankyou very much Jeff for contacting me. I didn’t know much about the photographer Roman Vishniac but after more research I am so glad I do now. What a photographer!
Just look at the image below to see a masterpiece of classical photography. Look at the space between the figures, the tension almost palpable, the look on the granddaughters face and the wringing of her hands a portent of the despair to come. A good archive of his photographs is on the International Center of Photography website.
‘Grandfather and granddaugther’
“This exhibition, organized by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, includes around 90 black-and-white photographs taken by two photographers: Roman Vishniac, who photographed throughout Poland’s Jewish communities in the mid-1930s, and Jeffrey Gusky who photographed many of the same Polish sites during the 1990s.
In 1935, Russian-born photographer Roman Vishniac was commissioned by the American Joint Distribution Committee (a Paris-based relief agency) to photograph Jewish communities in the cities and villages of Poland as well as other areas of Eastern Europe. He took over 16,000 photographs (around 2,000 have survived) depicting the people, life, homes, schools, and trades of these communities. The photographs, in turn, were to be used to help raise money for humanitarian aid for individuals in areas that were becoming increasingly destitute.
In 1996, Jeffrey Gusky, an amateur photographer and doctor of Russian-Jewish descent set out on a personal journey in search of Jewish identity and culture in Eastern Europe. He made the first of four trips to Poland where he traveled to cities and villages where Jews had lived and worked for centuries. Gusky photographed what remained of Jewish culture in Poland focusing on the ruins of synagogues, cemeteries—many of which were desecrated, and the empty and still streets.”
Text from the Detroit Institute of Arts website
‘Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow’
‘A street of Kazimierz, Cracow’
“Examining each photographer separately, Vishniac and Gusky have very distinctive photographic styles. Due to the nature of his project and the ever-escalating semblance of anti-semitism, Vishniac’s photographs are less polished and more emotionally raw in an attempt to tell the stories of people’s individual lives. By contrast, Gusky finds inspiration in the physical places which made up the world of now entirely absent communities of Jews.
While each photographer had an individual style and statement to make, it is both the relationship with and stark difference between the two that provides the greatest emotional poignancy. The exhibition pairs many Vishniac and Gusky photographs, illuminating the individual lives lost, culture destroyed, and environments degraded by decades of neglect in Poland, as Gusky photographed the desecrated cemeteries, crumbling synagogues, and empty streets that served as the backdrop for Vishniac’s scenes of mid-century Jewish life.
There are also several points of convergence in the biographies of Vishniac and Gusky. Like Vishniac, Gusky is of Russian Jewish descent, and both men were compelled to their photographic projects in part by personal reasons springing from their Jewish heritage. The photographers also have professional ties to biological science which embody their work through illustration of the fragility of human life.“
Text from the Santa Barbara Museum website
‘Broken stained glass window, Wielkie, Oczy’
‘A Boy with a toothache. Next year another child will inherit the tattered schoolbook. Slonim’
“Vishniac was born in Russia, and fled to Berlin with his family in 1920. He worked as a biologist and supplemented his income as a photographer. Eventually he became compelled to use photography to document people and communities throughout Europe. In the 1930s Vishniac was commissioned by the Joint Distribution Committee, a Paris-based relief agency, to photograph Jewish life in Poland, where he took over 16,000 photographs (only 2,000 survived the war) over a three-year period. He photographed vibrant communities filled with people in their homes and schools, at their trades and in their streets, markets and temples. His poignant works are evidence of communities filled with life despite the lack of food, medical care and livelihood that prevailed.
Gusky is a physician in rural Texas who began photographing as a way to explore Jewish identity. Although a Jew of Russian decent, he became interested in the history of Jews in Poland after hearing a radio interview with Ruth Ellen Gruber, an American journalist who documented the ruins of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. His photographs depict the vacant and somber sites of once-thriving Jewish communities throughout the country. With these images, Gusky reveals a powerful, dramatic message about a lost culture that was once part of Poland’s Jewish past. This initial photographic work has led him to further examine “the void of modern life,” and the threat of genocide that continues to haunt humankind of all ethnicities and cultures in the past and present.”
Text from the Artdaily.org website
‘Boys and Books’
‘Children at Play, Bratislava’
The above photograph reminds me of the Henri Cartier-Bresson photograph below.
‘Children in Seville’
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