Month: August, 2012

Developing Vishniac

A sampling of photographs from the Roman Vishniac archive at the ICP in New York. The central print, Granddaughter and Grandfather, Warsaw, 1938, is one of Vishniac’s most recognizable images.

Born in Russia in 1897, Roman Vishniac was best known for his published photographs of Jewish daily life in Eastern Europe on the brink of World War II. Little was known about the origin of those images during Vishniac’s lifetime though—he often made false claims regarding his motivation for taking the photos and wrote incorrect annotations on many of his prints. In 2009, however, the complete archive of the photographer’s work was combined into one comprehensive collection—now housed at the ICP’s Vishniac Archive—which has allowed for extensive research on Vishniac’s life to take place, revealing the true nature of his work.

Interestingly enough, by disproving his original annotations and claims, Vishniac’s place and value in the history of photography have not been diminished, but rather, enhanced. Maya Benton, curator of the Vishniac Archive, and her team have used the collection—which is comprised of tens of thousands of prints, thousands of negatives, as well as notes and correspondence from the photographer himself—to establish Vishniac as one of the most influential social documentary photographers of the 20th century.

In addition to his published photographs and many of their negatives, Ms. Benton now has access to Vishniac’s never-before-seen works such as pre-war photos taken on the streets of Berlin in the 1920s and ’30s, and the images he took of displaced person camps and postwar destruction when he returned to Eastern Europe in 1947. The archive also includes Vishniac’s photographs of secular and cosmopolitan life in Warsaw and Krakow, Poland, the rise of the Nazi regime, and his documentation of Jewish life in America in the ’40s and ’50s. As Benton said, the archives serve as “the final photographic record of a world that no longer exists.” The study of these archives therefore re-establishes Vishniac’s place in the photographic canon, and most notably, enhances our understanding of Jewish history in Europe and the United States.

The ICP will present an exhibition of Roman Vishniac’s work in January 2013.


On the Right Track

Oliver Laric, Sun Tzu Janus, 2012.

At the northernmost point of the High Line, just left of the 30th Street entrance,  you’ll find what looks to be a boldly-painted portrait bust nestled comfortably in a patch of tall grass. The sculpture is a resin cast of Sun Tzu, author of the military text The Art of War. It is one work in a group show currently on view on the High Line called “Lilliput“—named after the fictional island in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. For the exhibition, six artists have created miniature, whimsical sculptures inspired by Swift’s classic novel, which are tucked in discreet locations all along the park. Francis Uprichard’s The Seduction (2012), for instance, is a pint-size bronze sculpture of two monkeys caught in an embrace. It is subtly perched on the raised benches facing the High Line’s film projector at the 22nd Street entrance. The sculpture is not obvious or grand, but rather, it is a small, cheerful discovery intended to enhance the viewer’s High Line experience.

Some “Lilliput” works are more difficult to spot than others. Erika Verzutti’s miniscule artworks, for example, blend into the park’s landscape so well that I might have missed them had our tour guide, Deb Berman, not pointed them out. Situated deep within the sumac and magnolia trees planted between 25th and 27th Street are Verzutti’s four sculptures of dinosaurs. Her works are not faithful depictions of dinosaurs as we know them. They are, instead, demure, minimalistic representations of their Jurasic counterparts and take the shape of less obvious forms such as pineapples and avocados.

These “Lilliput” sculptures teach us that by simply looking closely, it is possible to find something enchanting and imaginative in even the most unexpected places. This phenomenon is not unlike the High Line itself, which has transformed an old, abandoned rail yard into a beautiful city park.

Lilliput is on view on the High Line through April 14, 2013.