The work of Roman Vishniac (1897-1990), a Russian-born photographer most notable for documenting eastern-European Jewish life in the years immediately preceding the Holocaust, has been celebrated in exhibitions and publications since the 1940s. Following the photographer's death, his daughter, Mara Vishniac Kohn, became the executor of Roman Vishniac’s estate. In 2007, the Roman Vishniac Archive was established at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Its collections comprise over thirty thousand objects spanning more than six decades, and include more than nine thousand unprinted negatives, recently discovered vintage photographic prints, film footage, and personal correspondence.
The timing and location of Vishniac’s images capture the essence of what his photographic archive seeks to preserve and enshrine: "vanished worlds"—as the title of one of the photographer's most celebrated publications recites. With the establishment of the Archive, and through the research of curator Maya Benton, Vishniac's complex artistic personality—encompassing a distinctive modernist outlook on Berlin and New York City street life from the 1920s through the 1940s—has come to the forefront. In 2016, Mrs. Vishniac Kohn donated to The Magnes twenty original photographs from the Archive, including prints made by the artist during his lifetime, and a poignant series of contemporary prints from original negatives.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.
Whether you go or not, Roman Vishniac Rediscovered emphasizes Roman Vishniac’s prodigious talents as one of the great documentary photographers of the 20th century, presenting the full range of his artistic genius. Drawn from the International Center of Photography’s vast holdings of work by Roman Vishniac (1897–1990), this generously illustrated and expansive volume offers a new and profound consideration of this key modernist photographer. In addition to featuring Vishniac’s best-known work―the iconic images of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust― this publication also introduces many previously unpublished photographs spanning more than six decades of Vishniac’s work. These include newly discovered images of prewar Berlin, rare film footage from rural Jewish communities in Carpatheina Ruthania, documentation of postwar ruins and Displaced Persons’ camps, and vivid coverage of Jewish life in America in the 1940s and ’50s. Essays by world-renowned scholars of photography, Jewish history and culture address these newfound images and consider them in the context of modernist tendencies in Berlin in the 1920s and ’30s; the rise of Nazi power in Germany and Eastern Europe; the uses of social documentary photography for relief organizations; the experiences of exile, displacement, and assimilation; and the impact of Vishniac’s pioneering scientific research in color photomicroscopy in the 1950s and ’60s. This first retrospective monograph on Roman Vishniac offers many new perspectives on the work and career of this important photographer, positioning him as one of the great modernists and social documentary photographers of the last century.