Jewish Artist: Roman Vishniac at the Bedside of Forgotten History

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) will be remembered as the documentary photographer of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe before the Shoah. Having this aim in mind, he traveled through the ghettos and villages of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia and Romania to capture the traditional rituals and ways of life, as if he had anticipated the dangers of Nazism.

A native of Russia, Roman Vishniac experienced the dangerous labyrinths of exile until 1946, when he became an American citizen. Parallel to his work as a photographer, he pursued a leading scientific career. His research in biology and entomology contributed to decisive advances in the technique of photomicrography.

But it was only in 1984, with the publication of his book “Un monde disparu” (preface by Élie Wiesel) that his photographic work was made public. Since that time, the richness and strength of his work, as realistic as it is poetic, has been appreciated. A monograph by Maya Benton for Actes Sud has made it possible – among other things – to put the photographer in a more appropriate place.

For a long time, the photographer’s work was overshadowed by the multiple occupations. He cared too little about the interest of his iconic work as he was caught up by other activities. Nevertheless, he always continued his activity as a photographer and gave the American genre a particular relief that made him equal to his peers: Robert Franck and the others.

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