When the international photographic agency Magnum Photos asked its members to select one of their works which they felt “changed everything,” the hope, according to Magnum’s website, was for the photographers to “reflect on their careers and identify a single picture that represents a turning point in their lives as image makers.”
Among the 51 works — signed prints of which Magnum offered for sale between June 8 and 12 — are photographs depicting Robert Kennedy’s funeral, the then lesser-known Nelson Mandela practicing law, and an “accidental” photograph from Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington. And then there are more mundane, less monumental images: a clown sitting at a diner counter in 1963, a nude, a pair of feet semi-submerged in a Japanese hot spring.
For his submission, Berlin-born and Israel-based photographer Micha Bar Am selected an image he took in 1967 titled “A demonstration by ultra-orthodox Jews against autopsies, Jerusalem.” (Bar Am is hardly the collective’s only Jewish member, and he told the Forward in 2013 that “There were a number of Jewish photographers that were part of the founding members of Magnum, but I think it was on the basis of their photography, and not necessarily anything to do with their Jewishness.”)
Bar Am’s image, a double-exposure, captures an effort to block his photograph, perhaps motivated by the belief that some ultra-Orthodox Jews espouse that photographs of people can lead to Second Commandment violations. “A young man pushed his hamsa (spread hand) into my camera, which is seen by some as ‘the evil eye,’” Bar Am writes in a text accompanying the image on Magnum’s website.
The multi-layered image is difficult to parse out, but around and through the hamsa-hand, one can make out a variety of figures, some children and some wearing black hats, and protest signs. One legible sign quotes Isaiah 8:10, “Consult [to do evil] and it will fail, speak the word [of impropriety] and it won’t stand, for God is with us.” The implication, it seems, is to connect the evils of contemporary autopsies and the divinely thwarted efforts in Isaiah.
So why did this particular photo of a demonstration against autopsies — which the protesters believe to violate biblical and rabbinic laws prohibiting the desecration of corpses — so inspire Bar Am that it changed everything?
“As it happened, it was the tail end of my roll of film and the image is actually a double exposure,” he writes. “This taught me that in spite of your careful framing, chance occurrences create the most interesting images.”
That chance occurrences often create the greatest art is surely something very few would protest.
Menachem Wecker is co-author of “Consider No Evil: Two Faith Traditions and the Problem of Academic Freedom in Religious Higher Education.” (Cascade, 2014)
Nearly 18 years after his death, photographer Gerald Davis is finally coming into focus. A new collection of his photos, “Strange Stories,” (AMMO Books, $39.95) presents the world through Davis’ unflinching eyes, from hyperstimulated Palm Beach socialites to gleeful nudists to moribund celebrities. Todd Oldham, the designer and TV talking head, edited the book. “Looking at the images invites more questions than answers,” he writes in his introduction. “They are often subtle yet revealing in unintentional ways.”
Though his photos teem with commentary, Davis let subjects speak for themselves, approaching work as a journalist more than an artist. “I can only speculate, but as a visual artist myself, there’s a lot of power in taking a look at what’s around you and getting a kick out of it for what it reveals about itself,” said Vanessa Davis, Gerald Davis’s daughter and an award-winning cartoonist and illustrator based in Los Angeles. “You don’t have to force anything. You’re just showing what’s there. And it’s nuts, usually.”
Davis’s parents moved from New York to Florida in the 1970s. “My dad wasn’t as into Judaism as my mother was. She felt a lot of pressure. Even though Florida has a humongous Jewish population, she panicked — ‘What have I done, moving to this place with people driving pickup trucks and Piggly Wiggly everywhere?’”, Davis laughed. “But my father was a very Jewish person, in his own way. He was very New York, very worldly, and loved a lot of Jewish cultural pop things. But he never really sought it out for himself personally the way my mother did.” Karen Davis ended up running the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival until 2011.
Reinier Gerritsen, ‘Hundred Years of Solitude,’ 2014
Glued to multiple gadgets and a perpetual news cycle, the 21st-century reader has challenged authors to write books that trump text messages. It’s no easy feat to find such a book, and then, to read it in its printed form. Fortunately, however, the New York City subway seems to be a moving library with its books intact, perhaps only because there isn’t yet WiFi onboard.
Reinier Gerritsen spent more than 10 years on subways, discreetly observing commuters and inspecting the act of reading bound books with his camera. Gerritsen’s project is displayed in his new new solo exhibition at The Julie Saul Gallery titled “The Last Book.” As the gallery notes, the Amsterdam-based photographer worked on this project as “an elegy to the end of bound books.” His photographs serve as a reminder to future generations of digital readers, who may never dog-ear their favorite passage by actually folding the corner of a page between their fingers.
In addition to their sense of urgency, Gerritsen’s pictures serve as stories of their own. Within his claustrophobic compositions, Gerritsen focuses on the juxtaposition between the identity of the reader and their chosen book. In his pigment print, Hundred Years of Solitude (2014), the colors are as bright as the details are crisp. The photographer’s keen attention invites gallery-goers to observe these book-readers as specimens, alluding to their presence in a somewhat distant history once filled with libraries and bookshops. But one reader, who is not documented in the series, poses a potential solution to the preservation of bound books.
Henrik Ross’s camera helped him survive the Holocaust. As an “official” photographer of the Lodz ghetto, he took photos for Jewish identification cards, and documented scenes the Nazis would use to promote the ghetto’s efficiency and industry.
Ross’ camera also helped memory survive. Surreptitiously, he photographed scenes that reflected grueling daily life and wrenching moments of horror in the ghetto.
The images themselves almost didn’t make it. Ross buried them when the ghetto was liquidated in 1944; when he returned a few months later, only half of his 6,000 negatives had endured. More than 200 of those images went on display last month at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where “Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross” will run through June 14.
“The piles of clothes and corpses had become iconic images to portray the murder of the Jews,” said Maia Sutnik, the AGO’s curator of photography and organizer of the exhibition. “But these images of life in the ghetto, the day-to-day horror of what it was like to survive, are very important. They shed new light on the tragedy of six million Jews.”
Sutnik has also edited a companion book to the show, published by Yale University Press, which features photos, documents, and other archival material from the AGO’s permanent collection. The museum acquired Ross’s negatives in 2007.
In her cluttered office at the museum, Sutnik shared her thoughts with the Forward on some of the exhibition’s most powerful images:
1. Bridge crossing “Aryan” street
Day three #ShareTheLights #PlusLight #Hannukkah pic.twitter.com/X6R1Fow3IM — Nicky N. (@NickyNeiman) December 19, 2014
With all of the candles, the menorahs and the doughnuts, Hanukkah is a naturally photogenic holiday. But now artist Tobi Kahn is putting party snapshots to a higher purpose than just showing your friends how many latkes you’re about to eat.
Together with the JCC of Manhattan, Kahn has created #pluslight, a social media project that collects contributors’ photos “as a way of documenting the light we see in the world during the holiday season.” And each night of Hanukkah, Kahn is choosing one of those photos to feature on the JCC’s Facebook page. You can check out — and contribute — more #pluslight photos by following the hash tag on your favorite social media platform, and also by following the Forward on Instagram. Happy Hanukkah, shutterbugs!
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