a vanished world


Roman Vishniac is not a household name, but it probably should be. As a new retrospective at the International Center of Photography, curated by Maya Benton, makes plainly evident, Vishniac was one of the more versatile photographers of the twentieth century, and the breath of his accomplishment and legacy is only now beginning to come clear. He is best known, today, for his photographs of impoverished shtetl and ghetto Jews, taken primarily in Germany, Poland, and Russia during the 1930s, and published in the postwar years in the landmark book, A Vanished World. As Benton demonstrates, these images were commissioned by Jewish relief organizations, and the fact that they came to represent Jewish life in Eastern Europe as a whole during that period is somewhat deceptive. In fact, Vishniac himself captured a wide range of Jewish experience — his own family was quite well off — his images giving not just a window onto the lost world of the most impoverished cases, but the urban bourgeoisie.

more from Mark Lamster at Design Observer here.