Tag Archives: Roman Vishniac

Student Work Reflecting Memory and Loss

Early in September, I was contacted by Jennifer Williams from the DIA asking me if I was interested in participating in an exhibition that would include the work of my students. They would shot and print work that would explore the complicated ideas of memory and loss; a daunting prospect to students ranging in age from 14 to 18. If taken on, this project would be aligned to the exhibition called Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky that would open April 15, 2009. The guidelines set out at that time by Jennifer stated that “The project would use the photos in the exhibition as a catalyst to inspire students to explore themes of memory and place in their own work”. And while student work would not be inside the gallery with the work of Gusky and Vishniac, it would be given enormus respect when it was shown on a screen outside the exhibition.

The students were thrilled about the project from the onset long before they knew that inclusion in this show came in conjunction with a trip to the DIA to view the exhibition, discussion of images, general tour of the museum, and copies of the video and booklet of their work.

I can say without reservation that this project garnered more discussion of images, before and after they were shot and printed than any other assignment that I can remember. The students were engaged from the beginning but something palpable changed after we were visited by Linda Margolin and Jennifer Williams who showed the students the PowerPoint that I had seen in September. The intensity and power of the images and the discussion that followed took some of the students in a different direction; some asking if they could shoot again as they knew that only one image each would be submitted.

The students were humbled by the work they saw that day and felt honored to have their work juxtaposed to the images of Gusky and Vishniac. The fact that Jeffrey Gusky was an “amateur” photographer did little to mitigate their concerns that their work would be worthy of inclusion.

Over the next few months the issue that the students grappled with the most was how to tie their own “short” history, to the monumental history of war torn Poland and other ravaged Eastern European countries. I watched each student deconstruct this concept and reassemble it in their own visual vernacular. All the student interruptions were different and they all made the assignment their own.

Interrupting one’s own identity through the lens of a personal history is a powerful mandate and when explored fully can be a teaching tool that extends far beyond photography and the final image.

The students felt an additional connection to the exhibiting photographers as they all worked in the same medium — black and white film and darkroom printing.
We are now getting ready for our visit later this month. I feel that I can speak for all of us when I say that this will be a powerful and inspiring day.

Michelle Stamler

May 17th DIA Lecture – The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky

karen

Karen Sinsheimer, curator of photographs, Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Next Sunday, May 17, 2009@2PM, Karen Sinsheimer will be discussing work in the exhibition Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky. It will be Karen’s first visit to the Detroit area from California where she works as curator of photographs at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Karen spent two years developing the exhibition, working directly with Jeffrey Gusky, Mara Vishniac Kohn (Roman Vishniac’s daughter), and Maya Benton, director of the Vishniac archive at the International Center for Photography, New York. The lecture is open to the public and free with museum admission.

Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky

Nat Gutman's Wife, Warsaw, 1938, by Roman Vishniac, © Mara Vishniac Kohn courtesy the International Center of Photography

Nat Gutman's Wife, Warsaw, 1938, by Roman Vishniac, © Mara Vishniac Kohn courtesy the International Center of Photography

Late last week, DIA staff finished the installation for the exhibition Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky which opened this past Sunday, April 19.  Sometimes for me, looking at photographs can be like stepping back into the past – or stepping into a time machine – I witness people who may no longer exist as well as the places where they once lived. This was exactly the experience I had when crates arrived at the DIA several weeks ago filled with 90 photographs from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. I saw first hand the work of Roman Vishniac, who photographed Jewish communities in Poland in the 1930s along with the work Jeff Gusky, who photographed remnants of those communities in the late 1990s. The images are powerful transmitters of traditions and history.

Before World War II, over 3.5 million Jews lived in Poland – their traditions, religion, and customs evolved and were preserved in the country for nearly five centuries. By the end of the 20th century, these communities had nearly vanished with their population diminishing to about 20,000 in recent years. Creating a very large visual record of this life, Roman Vishniac photographed the ghettos in Warsaw and Kazimierz as well in other cities in the 1930s. Gusky, although initially unaware of Vishniac’s extensive work in Poland, returned several decades later in the 1990s to capture the former ghettos, abandoned synagogues, and desecrated cemeteries, many which have been subject to neglect or vandalism. Although taken sixty years apart, their images share themes of memory, life, and loss. The photographs are evidence of people and places that once were, and what remains in their absence.

Corridor in Kazimierz, Former Jewish District, Cracow, 1996, by Jeffrey Gusky, © Jeffrey Gusky

Corridor in Kazimierz, Former Jewish District, Cracow, 1996, by Jeffrey Gusky, © Jeffrey Gusky

Photographs like those in Of Life and Loss preserve historical moments, memories and life experiences for future generations. This is largely due to the dedication of individual photographers who capture in-depth ordinary moments or nondescript places. In a photograph these encounters are transformed by personal perceptions, and we acquire the ability to see and experience life through the eyes of a photographer. We grasp some aspect of the world that had somehow escaped our attention.

To further enhance our audience’s experience at the DIA, there are listening stations in the gallery, where visitors can hear personal stories by individuals who have survived the Holocaust in Poland. The audio is courtesy of the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus, in Farmington Hills, Michigan. In addition, just outside the gallery is a monitor and brochures where visitors can view photographic work made in response to this exhibition by local high school students.

Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky is on view through July 12 in the Albert and Peggy de Salle Gallery of Photography at the DIA. The exhibition is organized by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. In Detroit, the exhibition is sponsored by *Bill and Karen Davidson. 

*In blessed memory.

Future Photography Exhibitions at the DIA to Focus on the Permanent Collection

 
Migrant Mother, 1936, by Dorothea Lange

Migrant Mother, 1936, by Dorothea Lange

Although the DIA announced last week a 20% reduction in full and part-time staff, I will be staying on in my usual role as associate curator to work out an ongoing schedule of exhibitions in the Albert and Peggy de Salle Gallery of Photography. Over the next two years, the department of prints, drawings and photographs will offer a slightly reduced schedule of six rather than the usual 12 exhibitions from our permanent collection. It’s all part of an effort to scale back operations a bit, but still provide a meaningful museum experience for our visitors.
 
Of these six exhibitions,  three  photography exhibitions are in development,  the first which will open this September with works surveying the  first 100 years of photography. Rare 19th-century prints, pictorialist and modernist works, along with a section devoted to the documentary tradition, will feature many classic images from the history of photography and individuals including Alfred Steiglitz, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Edward Weston, and Julia Margaret Cameron among others. Art may be the best reprieve in tough times like these, so stay tuned for upcoming exhibition dates, programs and maybe even a few surprises.  
Broken Stained Glass Window, Wielkie Oczy, 2001, by Jeffrey Gusky (copyright Jeffrey Gusky)

Broken Stained Glass Window, Wielkie Oczy, 2001, by Jeffrey Gusky (copyright Jeffrey Gusky)

As part of our previously scheduled program of exhibitions, the museum will open Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of  Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky, which is traveling from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. It will be on view beginning April 19, 2009. I’ll be posting on this exhibition again in the upcoming weeks.

In the Company of Artists – Last Chance to See the Exhibition

 
Jean Michel Basquiat, 1987, by Ari Marcopoulos
Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1987, by Ari Marcopoulos

Sunday, February 15, 2009, is the last day to see In the Company of Artists at the DIA. During the run of this exhibition, I had the good fortune of spending time with some of the photographers who, through their wonderful portraits, helped make this exhibition such a success.  If you’ve been reading this blog in past weeks, you will already know that Ari Marcopoulos was in town for a lecture in January. He was absolutely thrilled to see his entire portfolio of artists’ portraits  in the exhibition. This photograph of Basquait is a particular favorite of mine. Whenever I see photographs of this artist, it sends me back in time to New York City and the East Village art scene that was so vibrant during the 1980s. Although I never had an opportunity to meet the artist, I almost feel as if I’ve been in his studio when I look at Ari’s work.

Yesterday, Detroit photographer Brad Iverson stopped by the DIA to see the exhibition. We had lunch in the cafe, and I absolutely love hearing him reminisce about his conversations and memories of Detroit artists, their work and exhibitions from the Cass Corridor era in the 1970s. When I visited Brad back in the summer, he had been digging through his archives, and we looked through his many photos of Detroit. I found out during my visit, that he had spent quite a bit of time photographing painter Allie McGhee over the years and one of these portraits is in the exhibition. Apparently, the two met when Detroit collector Gill Silverman commissioned Brad to create a series of portraits of Detroit artists. Brad and Allie became fast friends and jogging partners over the years. I was excited to get the news that Brad has a few book projects in development, and hopefully, I’ll be seeing his work compiled in a publication soon.

unknown-american-active-1860-90-artists-club-ionia-county-michigan-1870-85-albumen-print-leonard-and-jean-walle-collection

Artists' Club, Ionia County, Michigan, ca. 1870-85, by an unknown photographer, from the Leonard and Jean Walle collection.

Although the portraits of contemporary artists have fascinated our visitors, a number of people have remarked to me about the interesting selection of works on view from the 19th century. I am indebted to Len in Jean Walle for sharing a few treasures from their collection with the DIA.  They have been kind enough to invite me to their home where we have spent hours viewing their rare photographs. I remember one visit with the Walle’s last summer, when I first saw this photograph of group of women artists from Ionia, Michigan. I still wonder who these women were, and I’m sure their paintings can be found in the homes and attics of their relatives and friends.

Plans for our next photography exhibition are taking shape and on April 19, 2009, Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky will open in the Albert and Peggy de Salle Gallery of Photography.

Vishniac, Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow, 1938, gelatin silver print, Collection of Mara Vishniac Kohn

Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow, 1938, by Roman Vishniac, Collection of Mara Vishniac Kohn

Year in Review – Photography@the DIA 2008

In closing out my fourteenth year here at the DIA, I was most excited in 2008 to see the renovation and reopening of the Albert and Peggy de Salle Gallery of Photography on July 9, 2008. The DIA was fortunate to have for the gallery’s inaugural exhibition Kenro Izu’s Sacred Places. Organized by the Peabody Essex Museum from The Lane Collection in Boston, over 50 platinum prints were on view featuring mostly ancient sites in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

Visitors viewing photographs by Kenro Izu in the exhibition Sacred Places at the Detroit Institute of Arts, 2008, photograph by Eric Wheeler for the DIA

Visitors viewing photographs by Kenro Izu in the exhibition Sacred Places at the Detroit Institute of Arts, 2008, photograph by Eric Wheeler for the DIA

Students viewing photographs of Tibet by Kenro Izu in the exhibition Sacred Places, 2008, photograph by Eric Wheeler for the DIA

Students viewing photographs of Tibet by Kenro Izu in the exhibition Sacred Places, 2008, photograph by Eric Wheeler for the DIA

The gallery saw a good amount of traffic over our summer months and into the fall, but  two highlights of this exhibition were  Kenro’s lecture to a standing-room only audience in early September as well as our first-ever online photo competition (see detroitssacredplaces.wordpress.com and flickr.com/groups/detroitssacredplaces/pool for details) that saw over eighty entries by primarily Detroit-area photographers featuring their imagery of Detroit’s “sacred places.”

The DIA showed its first permanent collection photo exhibition in seven years when In the Company of Artists opened on November 19 (it will be on view through February 15, 2009).  As with most permanent collection exhibitions, new acquistions are on view for the first time in this exhibition. The department of prints, drawings and photographs received several gifts from some very generous donors in the Detroit area. Of particular note is a 19th-century albumen print showing painter James MacNeill Whistler in his Paris studio around 1892. The photograph was donated by Detroit-area collectors Leonard and Jean Walle who also loaned a number of works to the exhibition from their collection of rare 19th-century photographic portraits.

Whistler in His Paris Studio at 106 Rue Notre Dame des Champs, 1892, by Dornac Studios (Paul Cardon)

Whistler in His Paris Studio at 106 Rue Notre Dame des Champs, 1892, by Dornac Studios (Paul Cardon)

In addition to works on view in the photo gallery throughout the second half of 2008, the DIA also installs rotations of contemporary photography in the Asian galleries as well as the contemporary art galleries and contemporary African American art galleries.  Works by Toshio Shibata (on loan from the Museum of Modern Art, NYC), Abelardo Morell and Edward West currently are on view and new rotations occur about every three months.

The DIA hosted a number of photo-related programs including lectures by photographer and historian Deb Willis, Getty Museum associate curator Virginia Hecket on the schools of German Photography, and a film screening of Black, White and Gray and discussion panel celebrating the life and career of Sam Wagstaff (see metrotimes.com/editorial/story.asp?id=12875 for Glen Mannisto’s essay about the event).

The DIA is looking forward to 2009 upcoming exhibitions including Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky opening in late April and a related May 17 lecture with Karen Sinsheimer, exhibition organizer and curator of photographs at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. A January 22 lecture with artist Ari Marcopoulos is also scheduled at 7 p.m. in the DIA’s Lecture Hall.