Picturing Vishniac: A Closer Reading, New Work and the Repositioning of a Master Photographer
Curator and critic Maya Benton delivers the annual Kasman Family Lecture.
Tue, April 3, 2012 | Harry Ransom Center Prothro Theatre
Roman Vishniac’s photographs constitute the most widely recognized and reproduced images of Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. His photographs shape our memory of that vanished world, yet only a small selection of his images - a very small fraction of his life’s work - has ever been printed or published. The recent donation of Vishniac’s entire estate to the International Center of Photograph (ICP) in New York includes tens of thousands of negatives, contact sheets, prints and a lifetime of personal correspondence and ephemera. Curator Maya Benton will be discussing the process of establishing the Vishniac archive, at ICP, in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C.. She will present recently discovered work, including never-before-seen moving film footage, Berlin street photography from the 1920s and 30s, images of Zionist agrarian training camps in Holland before World War II and Displaced Persons camps in Berlin following the War, photographs made in America in the 1940s documenting the work of Jewish social service organizations, as well as a large selection of contact sheets, negatives, and never-before-seen work from Central and Eastern Europe. She will also discuss the influence of European modernism and avant-garde movements on his most accomplished work. She will share new research focusing on the commission of Vishniac’s photographs by the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), repositioning Vishniac within the broader context of commissioned social documentary photography in the 1930s, and revealing a profoundly versatile artist who belongs firmly in the canon of the great photographers of the 20th century.
Maya Benton is adjunct curator at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York, where she is establishing a major public archive of Roman Vishniac's work, in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C., which will culminate in an NEA-funded traveling retrospective and catalog, set to open at ICP in 2013. Her research focuses on documentary photographs of Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe, Israeli contemporary photography and video art, and Jewish visual culture and vernacular photography. Maya has 15 years of museum experience and has worked at institutions including ICP, the RISD Museum, the Getty, the Harvard University Art Museums and the Jewish Museum in Florence, Italy. She is a certified archaeologist and art conservator, and holds a BA in Archaeology, Egyptology and Ancient Art from Brown University, an MA in Art Restoration and Conservation from the University of Florence, Italy, an EdM in Museum and Arts Education from Harvard, and MA and MPhil degrees, with the highest distinction, in the History of Photography and German Art and Cultural Politics from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, where she is ABD. Maya is the photography critic for Tablet Magazine.