Reconsidering Roman Vishniac, for better or worse

As far as Benton is concerned, she has stumbled upon an artist who deserves to be in the canon of great 20th-century social-documentary photography, on par with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange.

The New York Times Magazine a week or so ago published a very interesting story about the reassessment of photographer Roman Vishniac. He published a number of widely circulated books about Eastern European Jews in the years following World War II, lauded for capturing “a vanished world” of pre-Holocaust Jewish life. But work done by a young curator at Harvard and the International Center of Photography is broadening appreciation and important questions about Vishniac and his work.

There are a number of interesting points that are treated in a pretty lively manner, for example the role of heavy editing (sequencing, cropping, releasing only a few images) and heavy-handed captions in skewing perceptions of a documentary piece. This fits in to other reassessments of 20th century documentary and “concerned photographers”. Does the likely manipulation of scenes and commentary take away from the work or is it justified by the message?

Vishniac is an interesting character, as well known for his photomicroscopy as these images of 1930s-era Europe, which underscores the mystery and questions about his photography and self-constructed legends. Well worth a read.

One Response to “Reconsidering Roman Vishniac, for better or worse”

  1. Roman Vishniac’s photography: The impoverished life that wasn’t quite | Lea Zeltserman

    […] A Closer Reading of Roman Vishniac – NYTimes Magazine Out of Focus – Tablet Magazine Trend of “Re-Imagining the Shtetl” and Finding the Authentic Sentimentalizing the Shtetl Reconsidering Roman Vishniac, for better or worse […]

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