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, Mara 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.
Beginning with his venture into studio portraiture in New York in the 1940s, taking photographs of renowned Jewish artists and public figures, transitioning to his commissioned series of pre-war Eastern European Jewry, onto post-war Jewish life in Displaced Persons camps, and finally his experimentation with modernist street photography in pre-and-post-war Berlin, From the Photographer’s Archive celebrates the expansive range of subjects and visual motifs that are exemplary of Roman Vishniac’s photography.
Images © Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography.
From the Photographer’s Archive: Roman Vishniac by
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Zoe Lewin and Francesco Spagnolo
The curators wish to express their deepest gratitude to Mrs. Mara Vishniac Kohn for the gift of Roman Vishniac’s photographs to The Magnes, and to Maya Benton for the curatorial oversight of the gift. Printing and processing of this gift was made possible thanks to the generous support of Moses and Susan Libitzky.
Major support for The Magnes comes from the Helzel Family Foundation, the Magnes Museum Foundation, The Magnes Leadership Circle, and the The Office of the Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley.