Posts Tagged ‘1930s social documentary photography

31
Jul
20

European photographic research tour exhibition: ‘Brassaï’ at Foam, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 13th September – 4th December 2019
Visited September 2019 posted July 2020

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

These are my thoughts at the time of my seeing the exhibition.

.
I have been blessed this trip by seeing an amazing selection of master photographers… Brassaï being no exception.

Every print in this exhibition is a vintage print. They were made by Brassaï before 1968. If larger than 30 x 40cm they were made after 1945 when he started printing with an enlarger.

As usual, the iPhone camera makes all the images too light and adds too much contrast. Think darker, less contrast in these vintage prints.

Brassaï’s prints are – just like those of Josef Sudek and August Sander that I have seen on this trip – much softer and with a more limited tonal range than I imagined. They are all the more atmospheric and magical because of it.

To walk around the exhibition and then arrive at an alcove (see walk through below)… to stand in front of Le Môme Bijou, the old lady with the jewellery and Billiard Player, is such a privilege. I am surrounded by the presence of these famous images. I peer intently at each of them, observing the details, feeling their eyes stare back at me. No deflection of intent, just these human beings and their spirit presented in a photograph. Brassaï captured their essence before they drifted away, just in that moment.

In the latter print the dark billiard ball was almost indistinguishable from the baize; in the former, the circular light in the woman’s eyes means that Brassaï must have set up a light, or that there was a light source, above and behind the camera. Specular highlights twinkle off jewellery and pearls. Even as she is draped in her bourgeois, bohemian ornamentation this dame of the night possesses a resilient, composed, determined air.

Personally, I think Brassaï’s Graffiti series are far stronger than Lee Friedlander’s series of the same name.

The juxtaposition of the photographs in Paris at Night is something I will always remember.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All iPhone installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The more scrupulously [the photographer] has respected the independence and autonomy of his subject, and the closer he has gone toward it instead of bringing it nearer to himself, the more completely his own personality has become incorporated into his pictures.

.
Brassaï

 

 

Foam is proud to present the first retrospective of Brassaï in the Netherlands. The French photographer of Hungarian descent is considered a key figure of 20th-century photography.

Brassaï (1899-1984) created countless iconic images of 1930s Parisian life. He was famous for capturing the grittier aspects of the city, but also documented high society, including the ballet, opera, and intellectuals – among them his friends and contemporaries like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Henri Matisse. The exhibition at Foam traces his career with over 170 vintage prints, plus a selection of drawings, a sculpture and documentary material.

Brassaï gathers many of the artistic facets of the photographer, from photos to drawings of female nudes. It is organised in twelve thematic sections: Paris by Day, and by Night, Minotaure, Graffiti, Society, Places and Things, Personages, Sleep, Pleasures, Body of a Woman, Portraits – Artists, Writers, Friends and The Street. Each is very different from the next – reflecting the diversity of Brassaï’s photographic work.

 

 

 

Digital walk through of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam in September 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing at second right Brassaï’s Paris 1937, and at right Paris c. 1932
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris' c. 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris (installation view)
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris' 1937 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris (installation view)
1937
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris' 1937 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris (installation view)
1937
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Foam is proud to announce the first retrospective of Brassaï in the Netherlands. This French photographer of Hungarian descent is considered as one of the key figures of 20th-century photography. Brassaï (1899-1984) created countless iconic images of 1930s Parisian life. He was famous for capturing the grittier aspects of the city, but also documented high society, including the ballet, opera, and intellectuals – among them his friends and contemporaries like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Henri Matisse. The exhibition at Foam traces his career with over 170 vintage prints, plus a selection of drawings, a sculpture and documentary material.

Gyula Halász, Brassaï’s original name, was born in 1899 in Brassó, Transylvania (then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, nowadays Brasov, Romania). He studied at the University of Arts in Berlin before finally settling in Paris in 1924, a city that was to become the main subject of his work. He started as a painter but soon discovered that his strongest and most original talent lay in photography. To keep his real name for his paintings, he signed journalistic work, caricatures and photographs with ‘Brassaï’ (from Brassó). His photos would make this pseudonym more famous than his real name. Brassaï’s work of the 1930s would become a cornerstone of a new tradition as photography was discovered as a medium with aesthetic potential. A generation earlier photographers had merely emulated the established arts. Now photography became an art in itself and the perfect medium to capture modern life.

The nocturnal scenes collected in his book Paris by Night (1933) are complemented by his work that reveals the everyday life of the city by day. The monuments, picturesque spots, scenes from daily life and architectural details are present in his work as a reflection of the irresistible fascination the artist felt for the French capital. In his quest to cover all of the facets of Paris, he also immersed himself in the city’s darker side. For Brassaï the gang members, outcasts, prostitutes and drug addicts all represented the least cosmopolitan aspect of Paris, an aspect that was more alive and more authentic. He compiled a huge collection of images of entertainment venues, ranging from night clubs to popular festivals and featuring the people who frequented them. Brassaï was deeply immersed in a wide circle of friends among the writers and artists of Montparnasse, who also became the subjects for some of his portraits. Most of the portraits taken by Brassaï were of well-known people, putting him into a very comfortable position. He collaborated with the luxury art magazine Minotaure right from its very first issue and enjoyed a prominent role for the publication over the years. After the war, he also travelled regularly on commissioned shoots for the American magazine Harper’s Bazaar.

The exhibition at Foam gathers many of the artistic facets of the photographer, from photos to drawings of female nudes. It is organised in twelve thematic sections: Paris by Day, and by Night, Minotaure, Graffiti, Society, Places and Things, Personages, Sleep, Pleasures, Body of a Woman, Portraits – Artists, Writers, Friends and The Street. Each is very different from the next – reflecting the diversity of Brassaï’s photographic work.

Press release from the Foam gallery website

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Staircase, Montmartre' 1937 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Staircase, Montmartre (installation view)
1937
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Les Escaliers de Montmartre, Paris' 1936

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Les Escaliers de Montmartre, Paris
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'La rue Quincampoix' c. 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
La rue Quincampoix (installation view)
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'La rue Quincampoix' c. 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
La rue Quincampoix (installation view)
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Pillar of the Elevated, Metro Glacière' 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Pillar of the Elevated, Metro Glacière (installation view)
1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Near the rue Mouffetard' c. 1945 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Near the rue Mouffetard (installation view)
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdamz

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam with at bottom centre, Brassaï’s Concierge’s Lodge, Paris, 1933
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Concierge's Lodge, Paris' 1933 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Concierge’s Lodge, Paris (installation view)
1933
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Concierge's Lodge, Paris' 1933 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Concierge’s Lodge, Paris (installation view)
1933
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Concierge's Lodge, Paris' 1933

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Concierge’s Lodge, Paris
1933
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

99-1984) 'Lovers at the gare Saint Lazare' c. 1937 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Lovers at the gare Saint Lazare (installation view)
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Sunday Painter, avenue du Général Leclerc' 1946 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Sunday Painter, avenue du Général Leclerc (installation view)
1946
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Sunday Painter, avenue du Général Leclerc' 1946 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Sunday Painter, avenue du Général Leclerc (installation view)
1946
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Annecy' 1936 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Annecy (installation view)
1936
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Hôtel de la Belle Étoile' 1945 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Hôtel de la Belle Étoile (installation view)
1945
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) A Corpse on the Banks on the Seine 1931 (installation view

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
A Corpse on the Banks on the Seine (installation view)
1931
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Les Fétes de Paris: La Nuit Féerique de Longhamp' 1937

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Les Fétes de Paris: La Nuit Féerique de Longhamp
1937
In L’illustration, no. 4, 923 (July 10, 1937)
13. Rue Saint-Georges, Paris (9°)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Regards, no. 155 (December 31, 1936)

 

Regards, no. 155 (December 31, 1936)
Back cover
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing at at left, Brassaï’s Meat Porters, Les Halles c. 1935 and at second left, Au Cochon Limousin 1935
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Meat Porters, Les Halles' c. 1935 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Meat Porters, Les Halles (installation view)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Au Cochon Limousin' 1935 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Au Cochon Limousin (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Les Halles' 1930-32 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Les Halles (installation view)
1930-32
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Cesspool cleaners' c. 1931 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Cesspool cleaners (installation view)
c. 1931
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Paris de nuit / Paris at night

Brassaï had been making photographs for barely two years when luck and ambition brought him a contract for a book on nocturnal Paris. When Paris de nuit (Paris at Night) was published to acclaim in December 1932, “Brassaï” became a familiar name in the world of photography. The book’s rich photogravures, marginalises pages, and bold design made it an icon of modernity. Many of Brassaï’s best night picture were made after Paris de nuit appeared, however, and many of his greatest images of Parisian nightlife were not published until 1976.

In the self-portrait here we see Brassaï’s first camera, a Voigtländer Bergheil that used 6.5 x 9 cm glass plates one at a time. The long exposures of night photography – often five minutes or more – required a tripod, which Brassaï frequently used for other pictures as well. While much of the adventurous European photography of the 1920s and 1930s celebrated mobility and speed, spontaneity was alien to Brassaï’s sensibility. He favoured images that are sharp, deliberate, and stable.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) Morris Column, avenue de l'Observatoire 1934 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Morris Column, avenue de l’Observatoire (installation view)
1934
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Morris Column, avenue de l'Observatoire' 1934

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Morris Column, avenue de l’Observatoire
1934
Gelatin silver print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing at right, Brassaï’s Self portrait, On the boulevard Saint-Jacques 1930-32
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Self-portrait, Boulevard Saint-Jacques, Paris 14ème' c. 1931-1932

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Self portrait, On the boulevard Saint-Jacques
1930-32
Gelatin silver print

 

Voigtländer Bergheil Built in 1932

 

Voigtländer
Bergheil
Built in 1932
6.5 x 9cm negative
Green

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing at left, Brassaï’s The Tour Saint-Jacques 1932-33, and at third right View through the pont Royal toward the pont Solférino c. 1933
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'The Tour Saint-Jacques' 1932-33 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
The Tour Saint-Jacques (installation view)
1932-33
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'View through the pont Royal toward the pont Solférino' c. 1933

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
View through the pont Royal toward the pont Solférino
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing at right, Brassaï’s Avenue de l’Observatoire in the Fog c. 1937
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Avenue de l'Observatoire in the Fog' c. 1937 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Avenue de l’Observatoire in the Fog (installation view)
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Avenue de l'Observatoire in the Fog' c. 1937

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Avenue de l’Observatoire in the Fog
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris de Nuit' (Paris at Night) 1932

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris de Nuit (Paris at Night) pp. 9-10
1932
Book

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris de Nuit' (Paris at Night) 1932

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris de Nuit (Paris at Night) pp. 13-14
1932
Book

 

 

Digital flick through of Brassaï’s Paris de Nuit (Paris at Night) book 1932
Video: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris de Nuit' (Paris at Night) 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris de Nuit (Paris at Night) pp. 19-20 (installation view)
1932
Book
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Minotaure, no. 7 (June 1935)

 

Minotaure, no. 7 (June 1935)
Pages 24-25: Photographs by Brassaï, “Nuits parisiennes” (Parisian Nights)
Pages 26-29: Photographs by Brassaï
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Portraits – artists, writers and friends

In Brassaï’s era, portraits and nudes were bread-and-butter genres for any professional photographer. As a portraitist Brassaï made a speciality of artists and writers, who often were his friends, and in 1982 he collected many of the best pictures in Les artistes de ma vie (The Artists of My Life), for which he also wrote the lively text. He excelled at two distinct types of portraiture: In one, the artist is framed by his environment – the studio. In the other, the subjects confronts the photographer frankly, and the setting hardly matters. In an undated note, Brassaï summed up his approach to the second type: “To oblige the model to behave as if the photographer isn’t there really is to stage a comic performance. What’s natural is precisely not to dodge the photographer’s presence. The natural thing in that situation is for the model to pose honestly.”

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing in the top photograph at right, Oskar Kokoschka in his Studio, Paris 1931-32 and in the bottom photograph at third right, Brassaï’s Kiki de Montparnasse and her Friends, Thérèse Treize and Lily c. 1932
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Oskar Kokoschka in his Studio, Paris' 1931-32

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Oskar Kokoschka in his Studio, Paris (installation view)
1931-32
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Kiki de Montparnasse and her Friends, Thérèse Treize and Lily' c. 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Kiki de Montparnasse and her Friends, Thérèse Treize and Lily (installation view)
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing in the bottom photograph at left, Brassaï’s portrait of Jean Genet 1948
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassai. 'Jean Genet' 1948

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Jean Genet
1948
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Graffiti

The appreciation of graffiti as a powerful if anonymous art form began to blossom in the twentieth century. Like African tribal objects and the art of children, graffiti was admired as more expressive and vital than the refined forms of traditional Western art. Brassaï was among the first to embrace it. He was an inveterate magpie who collected all manner of neglected artefacts and natural specimens throughout his life. Virtually as soon as he began making photographs, he used the medium to collect the graffiti that appeared abundantly on the walls of Paris – predominantly images that had been scratched or gouged rather than drawn or painted and, as he pointed out, in which irregularities of the wall itself played a role. He compiled hundreds of these pictures, a small sample of which is presented here.

 

Minotaure

Between arriving in Paris in early 1924 and taking up photography six years later, Brassaï developed a wide circle of friends among the international community of artists and writers in Montparnasse. Among them were Les deux aveugles (The Two Blind Men), as the art critics Maurice Raynal and E. Tériade called themselves. In December 1932 – the same month Brassaï’s book Paris de unit (Paris at Night) appeared – Tériade invited Brassaï to photograph Pablo Picasso and his studios in and near Paris for the first issue of Minotaure, a lavish art magazine launched in June 1933 by the Swiss published Albert Skira. Thus began one of the key friendships of Brassaï’s life. Over the next few years he played prominent role in Minotaure, notable as a collaborator of Salvador Dalí, as an illustrator of texts by André Breton, and, on a few occasions, as an artist in his own right.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing to the right, photographs from Brassaï’s series Graffiti
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Minotaure, nos. 3-4 (December 1933)

Minotaure, nos. 3-4 (December 1933)

 

Minotaure, nos. 3-4 (December 1933)
Pages 6-7: Photographs and text by Brassaï, “Du mur des cavernes au mur d’usine” (From the Wall of the Caves to the Wall of the Factory).
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

This was the first appearance in print of Brassaï’s series Graffiti.

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'The Sun King' 1945-50 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
The Sun King (installation view)
1945-50
From the series Graffiti
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassai. 'Untitled' from the series 'Graffiti' 1950

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Untitled (installation view)
1950
From the series Graffiti
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassai. 'Untitled' from the series 'Graffiti' 1945-55

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Untitled (installation view)
1945-50
From the series Graffiti
Gelatin silver print

 

Brassai. 'Untitled' from the series 'Graffiti' 1945-55

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Untitled (installation view)
1945-50
From the series Graffiti
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from the section Personages including at left La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre 1932; and in the centre, Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart 1932-33 and Market Porter, Les Halles 1939
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Personages

In the introduction to a book of his photographs that was published in 1949, Brassaï linked the modern arts of photography and film to the work of artists of the past who had depicted everyday life, among them Rembrandt van Rijn, Honoré Daumier, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. He praised them for the “desire to get beyond the anecdotal and to promote [their] subjects to the dignity of types.” Brassaï himself had a talent for rendering at the same time a generic social role and a particular individual who inhabited it, as if his attentiveness to the person would elevate him or her into a distinctive personage.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from the section Personages including at left, Festival in Seville 1951; and at right, La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre 1932
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from the section Personages including at left, Festival in Seville 1951; at centre, La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre 1932; and at right, Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart 1932-33
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing a photograph from the section Personages, La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre 1932
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre' 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre (installation view)
1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre' 1932

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre
1932
Gelatin silver print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from the section Personages including at left La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Montmartre 1932; and at right, Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart 1932-33
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart' 1932-33 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart (installation view)
1932-33
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart' 1932-33

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart
1932-33
Gelatin silver print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from the section Personages including at left Billiard Player, boulevard Rochechouart 1932-33; and at right, Market Porter, Les Halles 1939
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Market Porter, Les Halles' 1939 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Market Porter, Les Halles (installation view)
1939
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Bal des Quatre Saisons, rue de Lappe' c. 1932

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Bal des Quatre Saisons, rue de Lappe
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Chez Suzy' 1931-32

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Chez Suzy
1931-32
Gelatin silver print

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'At the Hôtel des Terrasses' c. 1932 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
At the Hôtel des Terrasses (installation view)
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from Brassaï’s series Sleep
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Sleep

In 1945 Brassaï wrote a brief essay to accompany some of his pictures of sleepers. It reads in part “All things that stand against their inclination – a tree, a column, a tower, a rock – are regarded with a malign eye by gravity … She especially has a grudge against man, that foolhardy being who, in open collusion with the sunlight, alone among his brothers under the spell of gravitation, dares to stand up. For sunlight and gravity fight over living beings, the one turning over what the other has put up. Alas! Sunlight lives a long way away and can never be found when she is needed the most. Thus gravity is suited to have the last word.”

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brassaï' at Foam, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brassaï at Foam, Amsterdam showing photographs from Brassaï’s series Sleep with at left, Paris c. 1934; and at centre, Sleeping c. 1935
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Paris' c. 1934 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Paris (installation view)
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Sleeping' c. 1935 (installation view)

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Sleeping (installation view)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984) 'Montmartre' 1930-31

 

Brassaï (French, 1899-1984)
Montmartre
1930-31
Gelatin silver print

 

 

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09
Feb
19

Exhibition: ‘Roman Vishniac Rediscovered’ at The Photographers’ Gallery and Jewish Museum London

Exhibition dates: 26th October 2018 – 24th February 2019

Curators: Maya Benton in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery curator, Anna Dannemann and Jewish Museum London curator, Morgan Wadsworth-Boyle.

Presented simultaneously at The Photographers’ Gallery and Jewish Museum London, Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is the first UK retrospective of Russian born American photographer, Roman Vishniac (1897-1990).

 

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin' 1929-early 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin
1929-early 1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Wondrous, glorious images

Apart from the title, Roman Vishniac “Rediscovered” – photographically, I never thought he went away? – this is a magnificent exhibition of Vishniac’s complete works.

Since the press release states, “Roman Vishniac Rediscovered offers a timely reappraisal of Vishniac’s vast photographic output and legacy and brings together – for the first time – his complete works including recently discovered vintage prints, rare and ‘lost’ film footage from his pre-war period, contact sheets, personal correspondence, original magazine publications, newly created exhibition prints as well as his acclaimed photomicroscopy…” perhaps the exhibition should have been titled: Roman Vishniac Reappraised or Roman Vishniac: Complete Works. Each makes more sense than the title the curators chose.

Vishniac’s work is powerful and eloquent, a formal, classical, and yet poetic representation of the time and space of the photographs taking. Modernist yet romantic, monumental, sociological yet playful, his work imbibes of the music of people and place, portraying the rituals of an old society about to be swept away by the maelstrom of war. They are a joy to behold.

Here is happiness and sadness, urban poverty, isolation (as in figures from each other, figures isolated within their world, and within the pictorial frame – see the people walking in every direction in Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow 1935-38, below), and nostalgia (for what has been lost). Here is life… and death.

Here is a handsome man, Ernst Kaufmann, born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. Arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Killed at barely 30 years old. As Vishniac recalls of his portrait of the seven year old David Eckstein, ‘I watched this little boy for almost an hour, and in this moment I saw the whole sadness of the world.’ Never forget what human beings are capable of, lest history repeat itself, and all our hard fought freedoms are destroyed.

Despite the hubbub and movement of the people, towns and marketplaces, for me it is the sensitivity of a quiet moment, beautifully observed, that gets me every time. That hand (Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw c. 1935-38, below), resting on the chest of an exhausted porter, seen in all its clarity and in humanity is transcendent. That intense feeling of an extended, (in)decisive moment, if ever there was one.

In my humble opinion, Vishniac is one of the greatest 20th century social documentary photographers to have ever lived.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Photographers’ Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Interview with curator Maya Benton

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'German family walking between taxicabs in front of the Ufa-Palast movie theater, Berlin' late 1920s-early 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
German family walking between taxicabs in front of the Ufa-Palast movie theater, Berlin
late 1920s-early 1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Woman washing windows above Mandtler & Neumann Speditionen (Mandtler & Neumann Forwarding Agents), Ferdinandstrasse, Leopoldstadt, Vienna' 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Woman washing windows above Mandtler & Neumann Speditionen (Mandtler & Neumann Forwarding Agents), Ferdinandstrasse, Leopoldstadt, Vienna
1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Jewish school children, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Jewish school children, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

From 1935 to 1938, Vishniac made numerous trips to the city of Mukacevo, a major center of religious learning among Jews from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Carpathian region. Mukacevo was widely known for its famous rabbis and yeshivot (religious schools). This image of Jewish schoolchildren appears in cropped form on the cover of Vishniac’s first posthumous publication, To Give Them Light; the recently digitised negative reveals that it represents only one-fifth of the full frame. Vishniac often directed printers or publishers to crop his images to focus on religiously observant Jewish men or boys, identifiable by their dress, an editorial decision that sometimes detracted from the composition by subverting aesthetic considerations to emphasise religious and observant life. The negative reveals Vishniac’s instinctive compositional acumen: a bustling and vibrant street scene, with a boy’s beaming, slightly out-of-focus face in the foreground and numerous hands pushing into and out of the frame, communicating the vitality and liveliness of the students.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Man purchasing herring, wrapped in newspaper, for a Sabbath meal, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Man purchasing herring, wrapped in newspaper, for a Sabbath meal, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Fish is the Favored Food for the Kosher Table' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Fish is the Favored Food for the Kosher Table
c. 1935-38
Gelatin silver print
Image (paper): 11 1/2 x 9 3/16 in. (29.2 x 23.3 cm)
Collection Philip Allen
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“This image of a boy bending over a vat of herring communicates the excitement of the marketplace and the sheer abundance of herring. The unparalleled quality of the print transmits every detail, from the wet cobblestones and circular motion of the swimming fish to the rapid, eager movement of hands reaching in to grab the herring. Rather than focusing on religious life, these early prints demonstrate the vitality and frantic charm of a town rushing to prepare for the Sabbath.”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

These rare vintage prints are part of a collection of sixteen recently discovered prints that comprised Vishniac’s first exhibition abroad, and were displayed in the New York office of the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in 1938. Vishniac developed these early prints in his apartment in Berlin, and they are rare early examples of his virtuosic skill as a master printmaker. He gifted all sixteen prints to an employee of the New York office of the JDC who had helped him to organise his first exhibit; these prints are on loan from his son.

The image of a boy bending over a vat of herring communicates the excitement of the marketplace and the sheer abundance of herring. The unparalleled quality of the print transmits every detail, from the wet cobblestones and circular motion of the swimming fish to the rapid, eager movement of hands reaching in to grab the herring. Rather than focusing on religious life, these early prints demonstrate the vitality and frantic charm of a town rushing to prepare for the Sabbath.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Young Jewish boys suspicious of strangers, Mukachevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Young Jewish boys suspicious of strangers, Mukachevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Three women, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Three women, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) The notice on the wall reads "Come Celebrate Chanukah." c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
The notice on the wall reads “Come Celebrate Chanukah”
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Jewish street vendors, Warsaw, Poland' 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Jewish street vendors, Warsaw, Poland
1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Children playing outdoors and watching a game' c. 1935-37

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children playing outdoors and watching a game
c. 1935-37
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Children playing on a street lined with swastika flags' mid-1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children playing on a street lined with swastika flags
mid-1930s
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Nat Gutman's Wife, Warsaw' 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Nat Gutman’s Wife, Warsaw
1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Nat Gutman, the porter, Warsaw 1935-1938 from A Vanished World, 1983 is the photograph of her husband. After working as a bank cashier for six years, Nat Gutman was dismissed because he was a Jew. He became a porter. The loads usually weighed forty-five to ninety pounds. This was the kind of work that bank cashier Gutman, a man with a bad hernia, was reduced to in order to support his wife and son. The family were exterminated.

 

Roman Vishniac. 'A street of Kazimierz, Cracow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
A street of Kazimierz, Cracow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Krakow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Krakow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Window washer balancing on a ladder, Berlin' mid-1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Window washer balancing on a ladder, Berlin
mid-1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw
c. 1935-38
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 10 in. (19.1 x 25.4 cm)
International Center of Photography
Gift of Mara Vishniac Kohn, 2013
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“This unpublished image of a porter at rest in his wagon demonstrates Vishniac’s modern aesthetic and the influence of the avant-garde on his work. The diagonal slope of the central figure, stretched out along a sloping plane, fills the entire frame. The intuitive amalgamation of patterns and textures, one of Vishniac’s greatest talents, is evident throughout the image: the light reflected on the ornamented belt buckle; the double-patterned cable knit of his shrunken wool vest, which barely conceals a plaid shirt; and the round shapes of a wheel and bucket that divide the angular line formed by the central figure. It is a triumph of textures, angles, and lines, yet the worn sign with the name Nuta Hersz and his porter license number reminds us that the subject of the photograph is the victim of anti-Semitic boycotts and the limited job opportunities (only vendors and porters) permitted to Jews in Poland at that time.”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains' c. 1935–38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“Vishniac traveled to remote Jewish villages in rural Carpathian Ruthenia throughout the late 1930s, and in many cases was the only photographer to ever document these communities, which had been isolated for hundreds of years, yet maintained an enduring connection to Jewish observance, customs, and traditions.

Every detail of this image makes it a nearly perfect photograph: the sense of movement and the figures’ varied gestures and vibrant expressions; the carefully balanced horizontal bands of shadow and striped fabric; the detail of a woman peering out of a window while a glass pane on the facing structure points in the direction of an impossibly angled triangular building that vertically divides the frame in half; and the collective sense of surprise at encountering the photographer. Like much of Vishniac’s unpublished work, this composition recalls Henri Cartier-Bresson’s description of the decisive moment (a precise organisation of forms that give a time and place its ideal expression) and places Vishniac on par with the great photographers of the 20th century.”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) '[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]' c. 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]
c. 1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“The boy in this photograph has been identified as David Eckstein, a Holocaust survivor currently living in a commune in the American Southwest. Born in 1930 in the small town of Brod, Eckstein was seven years old when Vishniac took several photographs of him, his classmates, and his teacher just before the onslaught of World War II. Vishniac later recalled, ‘I watched this little boy for almost an hour, and in this moment I saw the whole sadness of the world.’ This portrait was later selected as the cover of Vishniac’s first publication, Polish Jews: A Pictorial Record (1947), and reprinted on the cover of I. B. Singer’s National Book Award-winning collection of stories, A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw (1969).”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) '[Grandmother and grandchildren in basement dwelling, Krochmaina Street, Warsaw]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
[Grandmother and grandchildren in basement dwelling, Krochmaina Street, Warsaw]
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“Vishniac documented urban poverty in Warsaw, often focusing on the dark, cold basement dwellings of families where hungry Jewish children lived in crowded conditions. Vishniac photographed this woman taking care of her grandchildren while their parents searched for work in one of 26 basement compartments, each inhabited by a large family. In June 1941, the National Jewish Monthly published this image with the caption ‘Polish Jewry, once the bulwark of world Jewry, is done for as a community. Even if Hitler were to lose power tomorrow, their institutions and organizations are hopelessly smashed, could not be rebuilt in generations. But individuals remain, starved and persecuted. This picture shows an old grandmother and her grandchildren. What is going to become of them, and of the millions of other innocent victims of Fascist violence and terror?'”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stencilled flowers above her head, Warsaw' c. 1935-37

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stencilled flowers above her head, Warsaw
c. 1935-37
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Vishniac documented the basement dwellings of Warsaw using the scant natural light that trickled through a few narrow, high windows, necessitating that he shoot during the day, when adults were often out looking for work or peddling their wares and children were sometimes the only inhabitants indoors. This photograph of Sara, one of Vishniac’s most iconic images, was reproduced on charity tins, or tzedakah boxes, and circulated throughout France by Jewish social service organisations, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) in the late 1930s.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

 

An extraordinarily versatile and innovative photographer, Vishniac is best known for having created one of the most widely recognised and reproduced photographic records of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. Featuring many of his most iconic works, this comprehensive exhibition further introduces recently discovered and lesser-known chapters of his photographic career from the early 1920s to the late 1970s. The cross-venue exhibition presents radically diverse bodies of work and positions Vishniac as one of the most important social documentary photographers of the 20th century whose work also sits within a broader tradition of 1930s modernist photography.

Born in Pavlovsk, Russia in 1897 to a Jewish family Roman Vishniac was raised in Moscow. On his seventh birthday, he was given a camera and a microscope which began a lifelong fascination with photography and science. He began to conduct early scientific experiments attaching the camera to the microscope and as a teenager became an avid amateur photographer and student of biology, chemistry and zoology. In 1920, following the Bolshevik Revolution, he immigrated to Berlin where he joined some of the city’s many flourishing camera clubs. Inspired by the cosmopolitanism and rich cultural experimentation in Berlin at this time, Vishniac used his camera to document his surroundings. This early body of work reflects the influence of European modernism with his framing and compositions favouring sharp angles and dramatic use of light and shade to inform his subject matter.

Vishniac’s development as a photographer coincided with the enormous political changes occurring in Germany, which he steadfastly captured in his images. They represent an unsettling visual foreboding of the growing signs of oppression, the loss of rights for Jews, the rise of Nazism in Germany, the insidious propaganda – swastika flags and military parades, which were taking over both the streets and daily life. German Jews routinely had their businesses boycotted, were banned from many public places and expelled from Aryanised schools. They were also prevented from pursuing professions in law, medicine, teaching, and photography, among many other indignities and curtailments of civil liberties. Vishniac recorded this painful new reality through uncompromising images showing Jewish soup kitchens, schools and hospitals, immigration offices and Zionist agrarian training camps, his photos tracking the speed with which the city changed from an open, intellectual society to one where militarism and fascism were closing in.

Social and political documentation quickly became a focal point of his work and drew the attention of organisations wanting to raise awareness and gain support for the Jewish population. In 1935, Vishniac was commissioned by the world’s largest Jewish relief organisation, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to photograph impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. These images were intended to support relief efforts and were used in fundraising campaigns for an American donor audience. When the war broke out only a few years later, his photos served increasingly urgent refugee efforts, before finally, at the end of the war and the genocide enacted by Nazi Germany, Vishniac’s images became the most comprehensive photographic record by a single photographer of a vanished world.

Vishniac left Europe in 1940 and arrived in New York with his family on New Year’s Day, 1941. He continued to record the impact of World War II throughout the 1940s and 50s in particular focusing on the arrival of Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors in the US, but also looking at other immigrant communities including Chinese Americans. In 1947, he returned to Europe to document refugees and relief efforts in Jewish Displaced Persons camps and also to witness the ruins of his former hometown, Berlin. He also continued his biological studies and supplemented his income by teaching and writing.

In New York, Vishniac established himself as a freelance photographer and built a successful portrait studio on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. At the same time he dedicated himself to scientific research, resuming his interest in Photomicroscopy. This particular application of photography became the primary focus of his work during the last 45 years of his life. By the mid-1950s, he was regarded as a pioneer in the field, developing increasingly sophisticated techniques for photographing and filming microscopic life forms. Vishniac was appointed Professor of Biology and Art at several universities and his groundbreaking images and scientific research were published in hundreds of magazines and books.

Although he was mainly embedded in the scientific community, Vishniac was a keen observer and scholar of art, culture, and history and would have been aware of developments in photography going on around him and the work of his contemporaries. In 1955, famed photographer and museum curator Edward Steichen featured several of Vishniac’s photographs in the influential book and travelling exhibition The Family of Man shown at the Museum of Modern Art. Steichen later describes the importance of Vishniac’s work. “[He]… gives a last minute look at the human beings he photographed just before the fury of Nazi brutality exterminated them. The resulting photographs are among photography’s finest documents of a time and place.”

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered offers a timely reappraisal of Vishniac’s vast photographic output and legacy and brings together – for the first time – his complete works including recently discovered vintage prints, rare and ‘lost’ film footage from his pre-war period, contact sheets, personal correspondence, original magazine publications, newly created exhibition prints as well as his acclaimed photomicroscopy.

Drawn from the Roman Vishniac Archive at the International Center of Photography, New York and curated by Maya Benton in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery curator, Anna Dannemann and Jewish Museum London curator, Morgan Wadsworth-Boyle, each venue will provide additional contextual material to illuminate the works on display and bring the artist, his works and significance to the attention of UK audiences. Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is organised by the International Center of Photography.

Press release from The Photographers’ Gallery

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Children at Play, Bratislava' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children at Play, Bratislava
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Vishniac's daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler' 1933

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Vishniac’s daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler that reads “The Marshal and the Corporal: Fight with Us for Peace and Equal Rights,” Wilmersdorf, Berlin
1933
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Vishniac’s daughter Mara, age seven, was photographed standing in front of this 1933 poster celebrating Hitler’s recent appointment as German chancellor. The poster advertises a plebiscite to permit withdrawal from the League of Nations and Geneva Disarmament Conference, which restricted Germany’s ability to develop a military. Other posters include the slogans “Mothers, fight for your children!,” “The coming generation accuses you!,” and “In 8 months… 2,250,000 countrymen able to put food on the table. Bolshevism destroyed. Sectionalism overcome. A kingdom and order of cleanliness built… Those are the achievements of Hitler’s rule…”

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Benedictine nun reading, probably France' 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Benedictine nun reading, probably France
1930s, printed 2012
Photo digital inkjet print
12 x 11 3/8 in. (30.5 x 29 cm)
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth' 1938-39

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth, wearing clogs while learning construction techniques in a quarry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands
1938-39
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Ernst Kaufmann was born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. He was arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

This photograph is strikingly similar in subject and composition to a bronze relief plaque made in 1935 by Dutch artist Hildo Krop (1884-1970) for the monument on the Afsluitdijk, a dam that was completed in 1933 in the north of the Netherlands. The relief depicts three stoneworkers below the text “A nation that lives builds for the future.” Dutch modernist architect Willem Dudok (1884-1974) designed the Afsluitdijk and in 1935 Krop’s plaque was added. The dam was a triumph of Dutch engineering and a source of national pride. Residents of the Werkdorp probably took Vishniac to the Afsluitdijk; the well-known relief undoubtedly inspired him to stage this shot, an ideal composition for his heroic image of Jewish pioneers in the Werkdorp, and an unusual conflation of Dutch nationalist and Zionist visual sensibilities.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Beach dwellers in the afternoon, Nice, France' c. 1939

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Beach dwellers in the afternoon, Nice, France
c. 1939
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn' 1949

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
1949
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

The Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, known as the “J,” was established in 1927 to serve the growing population of first-generation American Jews migrating to South Brooklyn. The J’s mission, to “ennoble Jewish youth” by building and fostering a sense of Jewish community, was accomplished through the promotion of arts and recreation for all ages. American Jewish major league baseball legend Sandy Koufax, a regular at the J, had started his sports career there as a basketball player.

In a dramatic departure from his iconic photographs of impoverished children in prewar eastern Europe, here Vishniac focused on the strong, healthy young American children. The children’s vitality is reinforced by the diagonal lines and geometric angles of the ropes, contributing to a forceful and innovative composition reflective of Vishniac’s previously unknown American work from the 1940s.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Customers waiting in line at a butcher's counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York' 1941-44

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Customers waiting in line at a butcher’s counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York
1941-44
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

New York’s Washington Market, famed for its exceptional variety and quantity of food, was established in the eighteenth century. Vishniac documented the mostly female customers waiting for service during a period of wartime restrictions and food rationing. Through careful framing – customers stand against bare counters and voided display cases – he captured disenchanted expressions that can be read as a projection of Vishniac’s own experience as a new immigrant in America, as well as a record of comparative privation in the former plenty of Washington Market. As such, they anticipate the isolation and indifference shown in The Americans by Robert Frank, another Jewish immigrant from war-torn Europe.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

 

The Photographers’ Gallery
16-18 Ramillies Street
London
W1F 7LW

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday: 10.00 – 18.00
Thursday: 10.00 – 20.00 during exhibitions
Sunday: 11.00 – 18.00

 

The Jewish Museum
Raymond Burton House, 129-131 Albert Street,
London NW1 7NB
Phone: +44 (0)20 7284 7384

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm (Friday 10am – 2pm)

 

The Photographers’ Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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