Sweeping vistas with sinister underlays
Richard Misrach’s photographs shot over the past four decades offer a stark reminder of how human industry corrupts the landscape. His lens has captured environmental devastation in the desert of the American West and the polluted swamplands of the South. Some of Misrach’s prints, along with those of an earlier generation of photographers, go on display at the Autry Museum of the American West beginning June 4.
“Revolutionary Vision” offers a glimpse of how fine art photography has evolved. Half of the exhibition features work by five leading members of Group f/64, an informal faction of 11 Bay Area photographers led by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, both giants in the art photography world. The group was founded in 1932 and named for the large-format camera aperture, which captures a maximum depth of field. The photographers argued in favor of sharp, crisp images and unaltered prints, as opposed to the Pictorialism photographers’ use of soft focus and retouched images. And Group f/64 believed its subjects were less important than the method of photographing them. Members viewed nature as a template by which to experiment with a camera’s mechanical possibilities as well as for playing with tonal contrasts in the development process.
The other half of the show features Misrach’s prints from the late 1970s and early 1980s, featuring images from several series, including “Clouds,” “Desert Cantos,” “Desert Fires” and “Salton Sea.” The photographs feature sweeping vistas with colorful sunsets and long expanses of sand and brush. Underlying, however, is a sinister and menacing quality. One group of photos shows the pockmarked earth of a bombing range. Another shows billowing clouds of black smoke coming from the orange flames of a wildfire. The Salton Sea series features a post-apocalyptic flooded wasteland of rusted cars, home foundations, gas station pumps and street signs submerged in water.
“It’s a historical collective alongside a contemporary artist whose work is informed by their vision, but at the same time, he really comments on, criticizes and expands some of the environmental messages and undertones of the earlier group,” said Amy Scott, chief curator at the Autry.
The images belong to the Bank of America Collection and are being lent to the Autry as part of the bank’s “Art in Our Communities” program. Misrach, who is Jewish and lives in Berkeley, told the Journal he didn’t even realize Bank of America owned any of his prints. But, he said, he’s happy to know his work is being shown alongside that of Adams, Weston and their contemporaries.
“When I was 18 years old, and I was at Berkeley studying psychology … I was falling in love with photography for the first time, and it was the f/64 group, people like Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham — they were all my heroes,” Misrach said. “And so to be put in an exhibition with them is pretty exciting. And a big surprise. I had no idea it was coming.”
Ansel Adams, “Half Dome, Blowing Snow, Yosemite National Park” 1955. Photo courtesy of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust
Misrach was in college during the anti-war movement of the late 1960s, so while the stunning black-and-white photographs of Weston’s sand dunes and Adams’ national parks shaped Misrach’s aesthetic, his critical approach to the landscape sets him apart from his predecessors.
“My work is very much influenced by them, but also tempered by the politics of the day,” Misrach said. Like Adams, he used an 8-by-10 large-format camera, complete with a focusing hood pulled over his head, and a bellows, the accordion-like folding attachment on a camera.
But he differed in his use of color, the painterly abstraction by which he deployed it, and his subject matter: human-caused wildfires and floods, a mass gravesite for animals, and Nevada’s Bravo 20 bombing range. One series, “Cancer Alley,” features a highly polluted section of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, La., and New Orleans.
“I photographed the landscape, but where it collided with civilization,” he said.
Richard Misrach, “Train Tracks, Colorado Desert, California,” 1984. Photo courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery
While Misrach outgrew Adams’ influence, he still reveres the nature photographer. In fact, he has a typewritten letter Adams sent him in 1979 framed on his wall at home. Adams had sent it to Misrach’s first gallery, expressing his admiration for the work.
“He’s still my hero,” Misrach said.
Another thing connecting Misrach to Group f/64 is his interest in the metaphysical. While his work is often political, he also has projects that reach toward the ineffable. He describes his output as jumping back and forth between those two polarities.
For example, his recent best-selling publication “On the Beach” and its follow-up “The Mysterious Opacity of Other Beings,” feature bathers at the beach, tiny but highly detailed figures bobbing in the ocean. He began shooting the project shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The bodies are usually alone, transcendent and drifting in a vast expanse of rippling sun-dappled waves.
Misrach has also created a highly political new project, “Border Cantos,” currently on view at the San Jose Museum of Art, which pairs his images of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands with original music by experimental composer Guillermo Galindo. Misrach sent the Mexico City-born artist discarded objects he found near the border — a tire, a leather shoe, a nylon glove, scrap metal, rawhide, etc. — and Galindo fashioned them into eclectic musical sculptures.
The political nature of Misrach’s work may not be readily apparent to viewers. His barbed critiques of corporate-driven pollution and landscapes marred by human folly are cloaked in the atmospheric beauty and rich color of the images.
“It’s very different from journalism,” he said. “I wanted something that could stand over time. And I find that making things beautiful … it makes you come in and look at something that you would otherwise turn away from.”
It is that tension between the beauty of a landscape and the damage inflicted upon it that reflects our society’s changing attitude toward nature — from reverence to guilt and shame. The idealized landscapes of Group f/64 gave way to Misrach’s documentary approach to human encroachment on nature, and this exhibition enables viewers to witness the evolution taking shape.
“Revolutionary Vision: Group f/64 and Richard Misrach Photographs From the Bank of America Collection” is on display at the Autry Museum of the American West from June 4 to Jan. 8. For more information, visit
Artist finds peace, family in Brazil through philanthropic photography of Yanomami indians
Anyone traveling to Brazil — perhaps for this summer’s Olympic soccer competition — should make a point to stop at the Inhotim contemporary art center in Brumadinho, which at 5,000 acres is considered the largest art park in the world.
There, among works by contemporary artists from around the globe, the center’s newest pavilion focuses on the work of Claudia Andujar, a woman whose kinship with the Yanomami peoples of northern Brazil was precipitated by her own personal loss in the Holocaust.
“I have absolutely no family,” Andujar said. “My family are the Yanomami. I feel at home with them.”
Claudia Andujar in the Andujar pavilion. Photo by Rossana Magri
Born in Switzerland in 1931 to a Hungarian-Jewish father and Swiss-born mother, Andujar has lived and worked in Brazil since 1954. As the humanist photographer describes it: “I spent the first 13 years of my life between [what was at various times part of] Romania and Hungary, in Nagyvarad, Transylvania. In 1944, all my father’s family were taken to Dachau concentration camp where they died … all of them.
“My mother and I escaped, avoiding the camps. I was very shaken by what was happening. It is something that stayed with me until today. I think my pursuing and working with the Amazon’s indigenous Yanomami Indian group, to defend them and give them the opportunity to survive is … a way of dealing with my youth.”
The artist is a co-founder of Comissão Pró-Yanomami (CCPY), a Brazilian organization dedicated to preserving Yanomami culture and territorial rights. She has worked to help the Yanomami survive decimation from disease brought by the outside world, such as polio and measles, and has fought the destruction of their lands brought about by gold mining and deforestation.
Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Andujar spent long periods of time among the Yanomami on their lands, mostly in the basin of the Catrimani River, a tributary of the Branco River near the northern Brazilian border.
“There are about 20,000 Yanomami. … I only know part of them,” she said. “I have known them for 30 to 40 years. They call me ‘Mother.’ That’s wonderful!”
Andujar explained that the Yanomami were very sensitive to outside exposure.
“They were getting all kinds of diseases, and many died because of this. We decided to have a health project, and I accompanied two doctors to vaccinate them and do whatever was necessary for them to survive.
“The Yanomami knew that many had died, and that we were trying to help them. In their culture there is no such thing as doctors or vaccinations. Many knew me, so they accepted my help.”
Inhotim is located outside of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third-largest city (and home to one of the seven venues in six Brazilian host cities for the 2016 Olympic soccer competition). Art is displayed in various pavilions and galleries, as well as outdoors among botanical gardens, forest landscapes, trails and more.
At present, there are 19 permanent pavilions at the Inhotim center and more than 20 stand-alone pieces, four galleries with rotating exhibits, with more pavilions contracted for the future. Internationally known contemporary artists, from Yayoi Kusama and Chris Burden to Brazilian superstar Tunga, get to choose a location from among the park’s hills, fields, meadows or forest, then team up with a noted architect to design a site-specific structure, space or pavilion.
The Claudia Andujar pavilion at the Inhotim contemporary art center in Brazil
The newest and second-largest pavilion, opened in November 2015, is devoted to the works of Andujar. The opening show in the Andujar pavilion, the result of a five-year collaborative effort between the artist and the Inhotim center, consists of more than 400 photographs Andujar produced between 1970 and 2010. Among these are works from her Marcados series, some of which were published in her 2009 book, “Marcados.”
“The Marcados are the Yanomami who … are all numbered. When we started working with the Yanomami, they had to be identified to be able to do the health project because the Yanomami culture does not have names. They call each other mother, father, brother … by their family connection. I photographed every Yanomami who was examined by the doctor and given a vaccination.”
The photos have a raw quality, as if the viewer is invading the private lives and thoughts of the Yanomami. These are a people who are totally unfamiliar with cameras and photographs, and just as unfamiliar with outsiders. One can almost see the Yanomami’s apprehension, their wondering, “Why are you looking at me?”
In some cases, the viewer can see joy, delight, even. Others are quietly watching, waiting to see what will happen next, and still others seem to have a complete discomfort with the situation.
Andujar said that her pavilion “is organized into four sections according to ‘Amazonian nature’: portraits; the way the Yanomami live and their culture; Shaminism; and the Yanomami’s history since I began working with them. … This is the first time I have between 400-500 photos [displayed] in one place.”
Andujar, who has contributed to many publications, documentary projects and exhibitions on the Amazon and its indigenous peoples, has been featured in solo and group exhibitions across the globe. Her photographs have been published in Life, Fortune and other magazines, and are in the collections of places such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The most expedient way to get to Inhotim from the United States is through Sao Paolo. Nonstop flights from Sao Paolo to Belo Horizonte take about one hour; shuttle or bus service from Belo Horizonte to Inhotim takes another hour or so.
Visitors should note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a Level 2 travel advisory for Brazil to caution travelers about the Zika virus, which is transmitted through mosquito bites.
Survivors and mementos with meaning
When she arranged to meet and photograph the Holocaust survivors of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ Café Europa, Barbara Mack gave them only one instruction: Bring something of personal value.
Most of the subjects complied, arriving with a hodgepodge of items that included a musical instrument, a Kiddush cup, a spoon, a T-shirt and a photograph.
“If they didn’t have something from the past, they could bring something from the present,” said Mack, whose 80 black-and-white portraits were compiled in two books and for exhibitions at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH). “Not everybody brought objects, but for all those people who were carrying something, it made this exhibit a little different from most Holocaust survivor exhibits. Each time you look at it, you think, ‘OK, why is this here?’ It adds a little bit of mystery to the pictures.”
The mysteries are unshrouded in captions accompanying the photographs of “Portraits in Black and White: Survivors and What They Carry,” on display at LAMOTH through Feb. 29. The books, also published by LAMOTH, go into even greater detail, with Mack and her co-authors Jane Jelenko (for volume I) and Pamela Wick (volume II) spreading each survivor’s story across a full page of text.
The lined and hugely expressive faces of these 80 men and women seem to tell stories all by themselves, but the objects add an entirely new dimension. During an interview at LAMOTH, Mack pointed to the thin cotton garment draped over the arm of Sophie Zeidman Hamburger, which rested next to the number tattoo she was given as a prisoner at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. She wore the garment when she broke off from a death march and fled into the forest.
Sophie Zeidman Hamburger
“It’s only the top half. The bottom half was too dirty, and she had to cut it off,” Mack said. “She didn’t want to keep it.”
In another photo, twin sisters Rita Sigelstein Kahane and Serena Sigelstein Rubin hold up the broken mezuzot they discovered in an elegant abandoned German house. After the liberation, the sisters entered the house looking for food and were astounded to discover that it had obviously been the home of a Jewish family. They also found a tiny key that now hangs from a chain around Serena’s neck — without knowing what the key unlocked.
“They started telling me things about their objects,” said Mack, who retired from a career as a clinical psychologist before turning to photography, “And I thought, ‘Oh, this has to be written down.’ ”
That sentiment fit the goals of LAMOTH, which looks to preserve important stories and continue the discussion about events of the past. Even the Café Europa members who were photographed without an object are “carriers” of their own history.
“Many survivors have written their memoires, but so many have not because it’s a huge undertaking,” said Samara Hutman, LAMOTH executive director. “That their history can live on in the context of this exhibit is a very powerful thing for this city because it’s a part of the education not only of Jewish students in this city but of all students.”
Susie Forer-Dehrey, executive vice president of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFSLA) said Mack has provided an incredible legacy.
“These survivors live in our community, and they deserve to have their stories retold. The survivors will not always be here, but the idea is that when you hear the story you become a witness. Through the exhibit and the books, the stories will live on and we can share them with generations to come.”
Seven years ago, Forer-Dehrey approached Mack about doing some volunteer work with the participants of Café Europa, a social club that brings Holocaust survivors together to build relationships and share activities. Forer-Dehrey came up with the idea of having Mack take portrait photos of the Café Europa participants.
Mack quickly agreed. In addition to the artistic challenge, she said the subject struck a chord personally, as well. Mack’s Hebrew name is Toba in honor of her paternal great-grandmother Toba Machlovitz, who was fatally shot, along with many Jews in Mielec, Poland, during the Holocaust.
“I was so close to my grandfather, and he always used to tell me about his mother and what happened to her,” Mack said. “So every time I was doing this, I thought of her and I thought of my grandfather and I was very inspired by that.”
Mack began photographing the Café Europa members who met in Los Angeles at the Westside Jewish Community Center. In 2010, after seeing the photographs in JFSLA’s annual report, LAMOTH President E. Randol Schoenberg requested some of the photographs for the museum’s permanent collection in its new location in Pan Pacific Park. The museum published the first volume of “Portraits in Black and White” in book form and displayed the portraits in a 2011 exhibition.
Ultimately, members of the San Fernando Valley Café Europa requested their own photographs, and Mack took up her Hasselblad camera and black-and-white film once again. The current exhibition includes portraits from both city and Valley Café Europa sessions, as well as several that Mack placed on silkscreen. In the seven years since she started this project, several of the subjects have died.
For the second round of photographs, Mack asked the survivors whether their experiences during the Holocaust changed their views of God and Judaism. A selection of their responses can be found at the end of volume II. They range from “I cannot believe in a God who would allow the Holocaust to happen” to “God was with me in Auschwitz and all over.”
“Many of these survivors never had their stories told and never wanted to. Part of the way they made a new life for them was to put it behind them,” Mack said. “It was very courageous of them to tell their stories. There were a lot of tears, but they did it.”
Poet ponders what transpired after photographer’s shutter clicked
The 1913 photograph by August Sander on the cover of Adam Kirsch’s third book of poetry, “Emblems of the Passing World: Poems After Photographs by August Sander” (Other Press), shows two young women in high-necked blouses gazing at the camera over cups of morning coffee. One sits back, possibly suspicious of the photographer. The other, certainly the wilder of the two, leans her head on her hand, looking both bored and defiant. They are, according to Sander, “Small Town Women.”
In Kirsch’s poem of the same name, when he writes about the two:
“In this small parlor where the window’s shut
Airtight and only beams of light convey
News of the world beyond the haven that
They are condemned to occupy all day”
–the news beyond this room is the approach of what will become known as the first world war.
The women are in Germany, probably near Cologne, the home base of the photographer, who is also German. The photo is early work from what some see as a particularly German project, called “Menschen des 20 Jahrhunderts” (“People of the 20th Century”), which Sander intended to be a comprehensive documentation of the German population, classified by social “type.” One thousand eight hundred of these portraits, made mostly in the 1920s and 1930s, survive.
In 2004, Kirsch encountered 150 of them at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and began to imagine a project of poems about them. The pictures of ordinary German people surrounded by the emblems and implements of their everyday work lives, he says, “made the warp of history visible.”
Kirsch’s poems take the pictures’ subjects into the complex and troubled world that came after Sander’s shutter snapped. A baby in his flowered gown grows up to die in battle. A young butcher dresses up to have his picture taken, even
“Though in the closet hangs an apron flecked
With bits of brain beside rubber boots
Stained bloody brown from wading through the slick
That by the end of every workday coats
The killing floor he stands on.”
(“The Butcher’s Apprentice,” 1911-14.)
Kirsch is a poet and literary critic from a family of literary journalists (his father, Jonathan Kirsch, is an author and the Jewish Journal’s book editor and critic, and his grandfather, Robert, was an editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review). Until recently, Adam Kirsch was a senior editor at the New Republic. Currently, he oversees a graduate program in Jewish studies at Columbia University, and, among his many responsibilities, he writes a weekly column for Tablet on studying Talmud.
He spoke by phone from Berkeley, where he was preparing to give a talk on Jewish literature. After a technological glitch, when the audio recording of his conversation with the Journal vanished, Kirsch graciously agreed to write responses to the same questions.
Jewish Journal: Some reviewers talk about the poems bringing the people in the pictures to life. Is that what you are doing here? How would you describe the relationship between the poems and the individuals in the photographs?
Adam Kirsch: Often I am thinking about what the future of these people’s lives would have been like. Because these photos were mostly taken in the 1920s and 1930s, there is a huge historical shadow looming over them, and it’s impossible to see these people without wondering what kind of role they would play in Nazi Germany and the second world war. With other photos, I’m reflecting on the kind of life that creates the person we are seeing — whether it is a beggar, as in “Match-seller,” or the contented middle-class women who are on the cover.
JJ: In our phone conversation, you talked about looking for humanity in the face of the enemy. You’re not just looking back in time but looking back at Germans as a Jew. How do you see the relationship between German history and these poems?
AK: For me, the Holocaust is a constant subtext of the poems. The people in the photos are, broadly speaking, “the perpetrators.” However, by seeing them in these pictures as individuals, you begin to wonder about the connection between an individual and a mass phenomenon like Nazism, and about what culpability these specific people bear for what is about to happen. Some of them will be monsters, other bystanders; some might even have been dissidents. Is history something we create, or something that happens to us? At the same time, I chose not to write about Sander’s photos of actual Nazis in their uniforms because I didn’t feel up to addressing such people head-on in poetry.
JJ: The formal, carefully constructed poems in “Emblems” seem well matched to Sander’s portraits, which are are almost stark in their directness, but also intriguing. In your introduction to the poems, you write about this duality: “Nothing human can be so static. Inside the social function … inside the clothes and accoutrements … there is the face. “ The book consists of 46 photographs matched with 46 poems. How did you choose which of the pictures to write about?
AK: I didn’t have a rule of thumb about which pictures to use; I looked through the catalog (which is massive, with about 600 photos) and waited to see if an idea or a possible approach came to me. I was looking for photos that gave rise to a further story or idea, where I felt that I could add something to the image.
JJ: How did you use the pictures while you were writing?
AK: After studying the photo, I seldom went back to it while writing the poem; I didn’t want to actually describe the picture closely, but to take it as inspiration for something new.
JJ: You said some didn’t work out. Looking back, do you have thoughts about why? Was any part of the project particularly a struggle?
AK: Sometimes there were poems I couldn’t bring together, or that once finished struck me as not interesting enough. I don’t think I could name a common theme, though. … I had no certainty while I was writing that I would actually be able to publish a book with the photos — I was extremely fortunate that Other Press wanted to commit to producing this kind of a book, and that the August Sander Archive was willing to work with us to make it happen.
JJ: Your poems are interested in the question of how others see us and what of us can be seen. You talked about issues of complicity and what we 21st-century Americans might be seen as complicit in, viewed 50 years from now. How aware do you feel the people in the photographs are of their place in history?
AK: One thing these photos show, for me, is how much of fate is out of our hands, a matter of chronology and demography. In a photo of a baby boy born in 1920, you know that he will grow up to be in the Hitler Youth and to fight in the German army during World War II — maybe much worse. Yet, of course, he didn’t choose to be born in that time and place; his fate was generational. Sander’s photos raise the dilemma of how we feel free, in our individual lives, yet [which] are actually determined to a great extent by history and circumstance. That conflict is one of the themes of the poems.
New Skirball exhibition channels the power of you
As we enter the holiday season of giving, many of us think about how we can donate our time and money in a meaningful way. A new exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center aims to introduce visitors to people and organizations attempting to tackle issues of human rights and poverty around the world. And when people leave the galleries, they will be encouraged to turn their inspiration into action.
“A Path Appears,” which runs Nov. 19 through Feb. 21, 2016, draws attention to grass-roots campaigns in the fields of health, education, jobs and empowerment (meaning civil and human rights). Each issue gets its own section of the exhibition — the curators call them “pavilions.”
The show includes objects used in developing countries to overcome pressing problems. For example, a plastic drum used to transport water; a high-quality, low-cost prosthetic knee; a teddy bear handed out to comfort child refugees; and a center where young women and girls can go to feel comfortable talking about contraceptives in the setting of a beauty salon.
The exhibition draws from the stories in “A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World,” co-authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists — and husband-wife team — Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Their book celebrates creative solutions to everyday problems around the world. This project is the second collaboration between the authors and the Skirball. Their previous book, the 2009 best-seller “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” which focused on threats women face around the world, including sex trafficking, prostitution, maternal mortality, violence and discrimination, became a Skirball exhibition in 2012. That show displayed photos and other multimedia materials about the plight of women and girls, most of them from Africa and Asia, and told stories of their brave fights to overcome those obstacles.
For “Half the Sky,” the Skirball approached Kristof and WuDunn about creating an exhibition that would turn the book into an interactive, immersive experience. This time around, the authors came to museum director Robert Kirschner to see if the Skirball would be interested in launching another exhibition around their work.
“We understand ourselves as a Jewish institution, and we spell that identification and commitment in terms of ideals that we understand to be intrinsically Jewish,” Kirschner said.
Such values as freedom, equality, justice and human dignity are universal values, he said, but have been aligned with Jewish principles since biblical times.
“When we did ‘Half the Sky,’ for instance, we cited the verse that applies to this project as well, from the Book of Leviticus, that you shall not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds,” Kirschner said.
Students attend class at the Kibera School for Girls in Nairobi, Kenya, founded by Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). SHOFCO combats gender inequality and extreme poverty in urban slums by linking tuition-free schools for girls to holistic social services for all.
The show was designed in partnership with wHY Architecture, based in Culver City, and C&G Partners, based in New York. The two award-winning firms worked alongside exhibition fabrication firm Cinnabar to create what they describe as “a low-tech, high-charm approach” to the show. Each of the four pavilions uses a different genre of materials, including discarded automobile tires, compact discs, bubble wrap and newspapers. The materials relate to the content of each pavilion.
Visitors can use a smartphone app and Web platform to help them take concrete actions connected to specific issues, such as early childhood education or forced child marriages. Each object or story is connected to an “action step” to be taken on the spot or afterward.
The app is part of the social action tool ActionLab, a project of the Global Media Center for Social Impact at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. Neal Baer, the guest curator of “A Path Appears,” is a pediatrician and Emmy-nominated writer and producer (“ER,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Under the Dome”) who founded ActionLab as a way of bridging storytelling and social change. For example, one episode of “Law & Order: SVU” featured Jennifer Love Hewitt as a rape survivor whose rape kit had never been tested. The episode was accompanied by a campaign to pressure law enforcement officials to clear their backlog of rape kits. ActionLab currently is working with author Marion Nestle on her book “Soda Politics” to help people reduce sugary drinks in their homes, schools and communities.
“I was doing all these shows that have either social justice issues or public health issues, and people would often say to me, ‘I really liked that episode, and I wish I knew how to do something about that topic,’ ” Baer said. “It seemed natural to give people the action steps that they could take. I was finding that people were often inspired by a documentary or a TV show that I’d done, and yet they didn’t know what to do. And so we’re giving them the concrete actions that they can take to make a difference.”
In the “empowerment” pavilion of “A Path Appears,” visitors can watch a trailer for a documentary Baer produced called “If You Build It,” about high school students who built a farmers market in a low-income North Carolina town. Inspired visitors can use ActionLab to connect with a Los Angeles group that assigns architects and designers to contribute their time pro bono to projects in their own community, such as helping to design a recreation center.
The exhibition fits the Skirball’s track record of presenting exhibitions with a social justice component, including 2006’s “Rwanda/After, Darfur/Now,” 2009’s “Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement” and the current exhibition “Manzanar,” featuring photographs taken by Ansel Adams of the Japanese-American incarceration camp in Manzanar, Calif., during World War II, museum curator Erin Clancey said.
“I think ‘Half the Sky’ and ‘A Path Appears’ fit into that category of exhibition that speaks to our mission as a Jewish institution in terms of our values,” Clancey said.
Kirschner cited the Hebrew aphorism, “Lo ha’midrash hu ha’ikar, ela ha’ma’ase,” meaning, “It’s not what one says, but rather what one does.”
“A Path Appears” is at the Skirball Cultural Center from Nov. 19 through Feb. 21, 2016. Sheryl WuDunn will discuss the exhibition with Neal Baer on Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12. For more information, visit
Photographing Ethiopian immigrants in Israel and L.A.
In the 1980s, when photojournalist Irene Fertik learned that Ethiopian Jews were being airlifted to Israel, she wondered how they would be treated in their new country. She’d lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a few months in 1967, right after the Six-Day War, but had never returned. She worried the Ethiopians might face discrimination and racism in Israel, as they had in other countries.
So began Fertik’s journey of documenting the Ethiopian immigrants, a project she continues today. Many of her images from Israel are on display in the exhibition titled “Toward Freedom” at the California African American Museum in Exposition Park through Jan. 3, along with a series of photographs she made of Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles.
Fertik, 72, is now semi-retired and based in Albuquerque, N.M. She lived in Los Angeles for many years, working as a staff photographer at USC. Before that, she was a photojournalist at the Burlington Free Press in Vermont. But consistent throughout her career has been a dedication to documenting social justice activism and disenfranchised communities. From 1967 to 1977, she shot photos in New York City of Black construction workers, actors, dancers, musicians and activists. In the 1980s, she documented the Sanctuary Movement that assisted Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict.
“Operation Solomon Anniversary” (Jerusalem, 1996) Photos by Irene Fertik
But it is the immigrants from the Beta Israel communities of Ethiopia that have truly captured her attention. Most of the community’s members made aliyah in two waves of mass immigration: Operation Moses (1984) and Operation Solomon (1991). Currently, Israel is home to about 125,000 citizens of Ethiopian descent. The largest population lives in Beersheba, in the Negev desert of southern Israel, and another large population lives in the northern city of Haifa.
Fertik began to help raise money and awareness during the late 1980s. After the second round of airlifts, she decided to fly to Israel to see how the new residents were coping in their new and strange surroundings.
“I just wanted to see if my people would be any different than any other country in the world when it came to accepting Africans in their midst,” Fertik said in a phone interview.
“Middle-class Africans are one thing. But [these] Ethiopians not only traveled about 800 miles, they really traveled three centuries between their simple agrarian life and the high-tech, extremely competitive, in-your-face Israel. It was so dislocating and traumatic for them.”
Fertik’s sepia-toned images show Ethiopian Jews as they build new lives in their adopted land. One striking picture taken in 1992 shows a 5-year-old girl, Shlomit Imanu, staring directly into the camera. Her family arrived in Israel as immigrants in 1984, but Shlomit is a true sabra, a native-born Israeli. Another picture taken in the same year shows two children playing in front of a tukel, or Ethiopian-style house, at an absorption center outside Acco. The structure was used for Shabbat services and as a community center, and a Star of David graces its roof.
“Picture Perfect” (Jerusalem, 1992)
Other images show young immigrants finding their roles in Israeli society. One shows two young Ethiopian women wearing the olive green uniforms of the Israeli Defense Forces. Another shows a young Ethiopian-Israeli soldier teaching Russian immigrants their new language — Hebrew.
There also are intimate photographs of personal milestones: a wedding, the circumcision of a baby boy and the first ballot cast in an Israeli election. Such images show the hope and promise that Israel extended to the immigrants. But there also are some that reveal tensions underlying their new reality. In one picture, taken at a demonstration outside the Knesset in Jerusalem in 2002, Ethiopians hold up photographs of relatives still in Ethiopia. They were protesting the long delay in bringing their family members to Israel. Some waited five to 10 years in compounds in Addis Ababa and Gondar before being flown to Israel and reunited with family.
“When I look at her photos, it’s so beautiful, and sometimes I feel that I can see myself developing in Israel,” Shai Fredo, a celebrated Ethiopian-Israeli actor, said in a phone interview. He first met Fertik in 1999, and the two became close friends. “It’s very interesting to see someone from outside find a new way to tell my story.”
Fredo is caught in one image, from 2006, looking directly at the camera while his then-girlfriend, Etti, an accountant, looks off into the distance. Both came to Israel as children during Operation Moses and grew up there. Fredo lost his grandfather and Etti lost her mother and sister during their long journey.
The other half of the photographs in the exhibition depict a stretch of Fairfax Avenue once occupied by Jewish businesses, but now lined mostly by Ethiopian businesses and restaurants. In 2004, then-Mayor James K. Hahn officially renamed the neighborhood “Little Ethiopia.”
These images are shot in vivid color, rather than the sepia-tones of the Israeli photos, and show people gathered for major community events such as Ethiopian New Year, Timkat (the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany), a neighborhood cleanup event on Fairfax Avenue, a Christmas pageant and a human rights demonstration. They were taken between 2002 and 2009 and offer snapshots of a vibrant community.
“The Ethiopian community in Los Angeles is very diverse in cultural background, education, economic status, religion and political affiliation,” Negest “Nikki” Legesse, executive director of the Little Ethiopia Cultural & Resource Center, said in an email. “It is definitely a very tight-knit community as a whole. It is strong in communal lifestyle [and has a] very strong sense of identity and pride.”
Fertik’s photojournalism background comes through strongly in her images, both in her choice of subjects and the way she relates to the people — as an outsider documenting a group of outsiders. But what also comes across is her genuine affection for those she’s documenting. After all, the photos span two decades, long enough to see children grow up and have children of their own. She estimates that since 1991, she has visited Israel 16 times to photograph the Ethiopian community there.
“There’s a saying, ‘You can’t parachute in and parachute out and expect to get a good story.’ And I knew that was true,” Fertik said.
Cedars-Sinai through a doctor’s lens
For four decades, endocrinologist Dr. Roger Lerner walked the halls of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center solely to attend to patients. But when he bought a first-generation iPhone six years ago, he began to see his hospital surroundings in an entirely different way.
That’s when he began snapping photos of the buildings on campus, offering a unique look at a hospital through an artistic lens. His carefully composed images show light reflected and refracted through windows and against walls, creating sensitive explorations of the surrounding space.
Thousands of photos later, his work is being shown in “…Light, Interrupted,” an exhibition at Sulkin/Secant Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica running through the end of September. (An earlier show, “Roger Lerner: Form in Light,” took place in August at Couturier Gallery in Hancock Park.)
We met one evening at the hospital’s north tower on a terrace overlooking Gracie Allen Drive, and he held up his iPhone 6 to show me a picture he’d taken the previous evening.
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This article was made possible with support from Cal Humanities, a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
If a feel-good book about cancer sounds like an oxymoron, just pick up a copy of “New Beginnings: The Triumphs of 120 Cancer Survivors” by Bill Aron (Skyhorse Publishing), a tour de force from one of America’s most accomplished photographers.
Aron is best known for eye-catching and heart-winning photographs that focus on the Jewish experience in America, ranging from the Lower East Side to the more surprising stretches of the Deep South. “Shalom Y’all,” for example, offers a rare glimpse of Jewish life in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. But he has also documented victims of the Shoah in “Holocaust Survivors: The Indestructible Spirit,” and he ranged through Cuba, the Soviet Union, Jerusalem, New York and Los Angeles in search of current and former Jewish communities in “From the Corners of the Earth.”
Aron’s new book is not specifically Jewish in content but, almost inevitably, it is deeply infused with the same menschlikayt that is on display in his Jewish-themed work. “Bill Aron sees,” Rabbi David Wolpe writes in his preface to “New Beginnings.” “What you hold is both an exploration and an inspiration.”
Wolpe, as it happens, is one of the 120 men and women whose images appear in “New Beginnings,” all because they are cancer survivors. Starting in 2006, Aron sought them out in the hope of showing how cancer can be fought and defeated, how lives can be extended and even enhanced. “ ‘You have cancer’ are three terrifying words, but our culture does little to ease the fear,” he writes by way of introduction. For the men and women in his book, however, “Those words were the start of a new beginning, not an end, to their lives.”
One of the glories of “New Beginnings,” of course, is Aron’s skill with a camera. Ranging from Sophia Colby, who was diagnosed at the age of 15 months, to Sally Craig, diagnosed at 64 and now a centenarian, his photographic portraiture is sensitive, insightful and yet somehow suffused with joy — “energetic” is the word Aron himself uses to describe the photos. These men, women and children come from all walks of life — actors and writers, doctors and nurses, real-estate brokers and attorneys, teachers and rabbis, and even a “satellite launch salesman” and former Los Angeles Laker Coby Karl. Often, they are pictured with family, friends and loved ones, and always in a state of either serenity or jubilation; Chelsea Kauffman, diagnosed at 15, poses with no fewer than six of her girlfriends, all of them laughing and smiling, and Rabbi Ed Feinstein beams at us from the happy embrace of a dozen or so of his youngest congregants.
The images are accompanied by first-person musings and reminiscences from the survivors and, sometimes, from their families. For example, it is Alana, Chelsea Kauffman’s twin sister, who explains how Chelsea’s illness affected them both: “I have always been the nurturer and she has always been the fighter, so it was perfect how this worked out,” she says. “If it would have been the opposite, I can’t even imagine what would have happened.”
That’s not to say that Aron overlooks the fear and pain that accompanies a diagnosis of cancer. Indeed, he is careful to tell us not only the date of first diagnosis, but also the dates of each recurrence. Significantly, Aron is himself a survivor of prostate cancer, and he admits that “chemotherapy and radiation may have been difficult, but they were nothing compared to how I felt emotionally.” His book, which is meant to succor and inspire cancer patients and their families, is a kind of medicine that was unavailable to him: “I wish that this book had existed when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993, when I was fifty-two years old,” he writes. “The survivors portrayed in this book are vibrant, fully alive in spirit, mind, and body.”
To his credit, Aron does not hold back the bad news that can accompany a diagnosis of cancer. Barbie and Marshall Zolla, for example, were both struggling with cancer when Aron photographed them for “New Beginnings”: “I am not going to RSVP to the pity party,” Barbie said. In a postscript, we find out that she passed away in the same hospital where Marshall was recovering from cancer surgery. Even under such dire circumstances, however, Aron finds a hopeful outcome: “Five months later, I was invited to study for a week at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and then spent a week in the desert,” Marshall reports. “I came back renewed and healed. Two years later, I met someone and fell in love again.”
The highest and best use of “New Beginnings” — and the one that Aron clearly intended in undertaking his heroic work — is to ease the shock and pain of someone who has just received a cancer diagnosis. For that alone, he has distinguished himself once again as an artist of vision and compassion, and a real mensch.
‘Sacred Faces’ photos find inspiration in religious imagery
Whether photographing a crucified Christ’s downcast eyes, the serene smile of a Buddha or the grin of a Hindu god, Jewish photographer Andy Romanoff has a way of capturing the ineffable beauty of religious imagery as well as the striking similarities in the iconography of different faiths.
“Why have we all decided to do it this way? Almost from the first moment we know about human beings, we know they make images. And almost as quickly as they can, (they) make images that are of religious significance,” Romanoff said. “So there’s something really powerful here.”
Many of Romanoff’s photographs of sacred images are on display in the Shatto Chapel of the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, just west of downtown. The show, titled “Sacred Faces,” includes 30 large prints of Romanoff’s photographs as well as a projection of several hundred more images taken from Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism.
Every Sunday morning for seven weeks (continuing through the season of Lent, which ends on Easter Sunday, April 5), Scott Colglazier, senior minister of First Congregational, will preach meditation sermons in the chapel, based on the images. Colglazier said his topics will relate to different aspects of spiritual life, such as gratitude, solitude, suffering and joy.
“These are the different dimensions to this human journey, this spiritual journey, that we’re on,” Colglazier said. “My plan is to use the photograph as a kind of iconic image to help people touch something a little deeper within themselves.”
Icon at St. Marie Madeleine Orthodox church, Warsaw, Poland, Oct. 19, 2014. “We were returning to Warsaw from Stawiski, the town where my mother was born. Just at sunset, we came to a beautiful church at the edge of the road. Our guide, Hubert, asked if I wanted to see it, and when I said yes, he pulled over and took us inside. It was late and the priest was just closing the doors, but when Hubert brought us in and introduced us, he invited me to make pictures, including this one.”
The project began more than a year ago, when Romanoff walked by a Buddhist temple near his home in Mid-Wilshire. Something compelled him to go inside, where a monk welcomed him.
“There was this beautiful 7- or 8-foot-tall golden, glowing Buddha. A wonderful face. I knew I wanted to take a picture of it. I didn’t have a camera on me,” Romanoff said. “But I knew that that was important.”
The monk offered Romanoff two books on his way out, including one of Korean art. While reading in bed, Romanoff stumbled on a painting that grabbed his attention: a Koryo Buddhist painting titled “15,000 Buddhas.” The image depicts the seated Vairocana Buddha; but on closer inspection, it becomes clear that the entire composition is made up of rows of hand-drawn Buddha faces, each about one-fifth of an inch in diameter. Romanoff was stunned by the level of patience and devotion the painting must have required.
“And in that moment, lying in bed in the middle of the night, I knew what this project was going to be. It was going to be to make thousands of images in this process, and to let them take the shape of the larger thing,” he said.
In the process of creating his “15,000 Buddhas” project, Romanoff traveled to New York and Seattle, and then to Europe, where he took photos of religious imagery in Poland, Hungary, Germany, the Czech Republic, Bratislava, Paris and Amsterdam.
Shoes along the Danube River, Budapest, Hungary, Oct. 21, 2014. “The place where 20,000 Jews were murdered during World War II. They were brought here, tied together three or four at a time, and then one was shot and pushed into the river…”
Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood, where Romanoff is a member, said the two have known each other for more than 25 years. Romanoff shot many of the religious images while on a synagogue trip Rosove organized to Central Europe to explore Jewish life and culture before and after the Holocaust. The rabbi said that while Romanoff’s upbringing was Jewish, he’s “a universalist in his thinking,” seeing bridges between faiths rather than walls.
“Whenever I study other religions, I am clearer; it’s almost like shining a light on my own tradition of Judaism,” Rosove said. “I’ve always seen all of our religious traditions as one color of a rainbow refracted through a prism, on the other side of which is the pure light of God. But each of us is a different color. And God isn’t the color. God is the totality of the color. And in concrete form, this is what he’s doing as well, with imagery.”
Relatively few of Romanoff’s photographs depict Jewish or Muslim icons, partly because those religions tend to avoid a representational approach to sacred art. Islam prohibits any images of Muhammad, and in Judaism, anything that might be confused with idolatry is prohibited. Romanoff actually approached Rosove with the concern that his photography of sacred objects could be considered idol worshiping.
“And he said, the prohibition is not about seeing idols, it’s not about photographing idols. The prohibition is about making them real, giving them powers that they don’t have,” Romanoff said.
The project has brought Romanoff into sacred spaces of faith traditions that he knew little to nothing about. But rather than undertake extensive research into the religious images he’s photographing, he decided to approach his subjects with an open mind.
“What I wanted to do was to respond very directly to the thing that was in front of me, and to not know what it symbolized,” he said. “And only later, because it’s inevitable, then you learn what it symbolizes. But that wasn’t where I was starting from. Where I was starting from was just to experience it and try to capture my experience in front of it.”
That’s why, he said, each first visit to a church, monastery or other religious place starts with a few minutes of calm, meditative rest, allowing him to absorb the site. Eventually, an icon may draw his eye. He then approaches that object and talks to it, asking for its help to understand what the creator of the object intended — “I know it’s a little crazy,” Romanoff admitted, laughing. Only when he thinks he’s found the right angle, he said, “I pick up the camera and shoot.”
This is Romanoff’s second long-term photo project in recent years. In 2013, he documented all three of the buildings at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, spending six months working there, photographing the art and furniture galleries, the parties and events, and making portraits of the building’s employees and even some dogs that come to work with their owners. More than 200 of these images were featured in an exhibition titled “Seeing the PDC,” which was displayed in the building.
Romanoff, 72, was raised in Chicago and discovered photography as a teenager, photographing weddings and bar mitzvahs, as well as taking pictures on the street. He was a hippie in the 1960s, at one point living on a bus traveling across the United States with former members of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters as a member of the Hog Farm commune. Romanoff went on to have a long career in Hollywood as a camera operator, cinematographer and a specialist operator of remote-control camera equipment. He also owned an equipment rental company and invented some camera technology. He returned to still photography about five years ago.
First Congregational is a fitting setting for this exhibit, as the church often hosts interfaith discussions among religious leaders and places an emphasis on social justice actions that transcend barriers.
“I think all religion is pointing us to this deeper human experience of understanding ourselves and building community within the human family,” Colglazier said. “And so I think there are ways for people to distinctively hold on to their faith and their faith tradition without diminishing it, without watering it down, while at the same time opening one’s self to understand their neighbor. To me, that’s just so important to what it means to be a person of faith.”
Although Romanoff has already produced hundreds of photographs of sacred objects, he said he’s planning more trips to gather additional material.
“I’ve been in eight or nine countries at this point, and I can’t tell you how many churches, monasteries, roadside shrines and more. This is not the end of this project at all. This is the beginning,” Romanoff said.
“I’m a year in on something that I intend to continue doing for years and years.”
Photographer Bruce Davidson’s eye for the beauty of people on the margins
Bruce Davidson’s influence looms large in the world of American photography. In 1958, he was the youngest photographer to be invited by Henri Cartier-Bresson to join the cooperative photography agency Magnum — with which he remains affiliated to this day, at the age of 81 — and his powerful work shows him to have been present to document an array of seminal events in American history, capturing thousands of subjects with his lens.
Davidson’s numerous celebrated series of photos, such as “Brooklyn Gang” (1959); “Freedom Riders” and “Time of Change” from the civil rights movement; and “Subway” (1980), reveal deeply contained truths about American culture and Americans themselves, in the tradition of better-known greats such as Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander. An exhibition of his work currently on view at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, however, focuses on a distant location.
“Bruce Davidson/Paul Caponigro: Two American Photographers in Britain and Ireland,” co-organized by the Yale Center for British Art, (huntington.org/davidsoncaponigro) includes approximately 150 photographs by the two photographers, who were born one year apart. Boston native Caponigro’s style is more closely aligned with formalism and has an ethereal quality grounded in nature and connected to the artist’s own spiritual quests. Davidson’s U.K. and Ireland work, which began as a two-month assignment from the British magazine The Queen, pulses with an immediacy and engagement with his subjects that’s only somewhat tempered by journalistic distance.
Raised in Oak Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb, Davidson’s interest in photography began when he was just 10. He was the first in his family to become a bar mitzvah, for which he received an Argus A2 camera as a gift. Speaking by phone from Manhattan, where he’s been based since the 1950s, he described his family’s trajectory in Chicago as “an ordinary good-luck story,” one that was largely secular. “We weren’t terribly observant. My grandfather came over from Russia at the age of 14 and taught himself English. He was an expert tailor, and his brother had a business,” he noted.
Bruce Davidson, Wales, 1965, gelatin silver print, 8 3/8 by 12 1/2 inches, Yale Center for British Art Courtesy of Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos
As a student, Davidson was more interested in pursuing his creative passion than in academics, and he eventually enrolled at the Rochester Institute of Technology, even then an important center of photographic learning. He then went to Yale for one semester, where he studied color theory with the famed Bauhaus-trained artist and educator Josef Albers. Davidson’s photographs of the Yale football team were published in Life magazine in 1955. He was then drafted into the military and stationed near Paris, which is where he met Cartier-Bresson.
Like Cartier-Bresson, Davidson is affiliated with the school of observational urban street photography, and he described his own work as “going into a world within a world. I’m open to things that draw me close to the situations, like the Freedom Rides and the civil rights movement. I took whatever I saw and observed and felt and understood, and whatever reached me.”
His portfolio also contains a trove of celebrity portraits that he shot for major media outlets. That included many years’ worth of photographs he took in New York’s Lower East Side, starting in 1957. “My first color pictures are of the Lower East Side pushcarts,” Davidson said. (An exhibition of Davidson’s work in color is on view through Dec. 5 at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in Manhattan.)
Davidson would come back to the neighborhood to work with his friend Isaac Bashevis Singer, and the two collaborated on a short film in 1973, “Isaac Singer’s Nightmare and Mrs. Pupko’s Beard.” He sought to capture a “climate that existed, and remnants of the old Jewish neighborhoods in New York,” which, given demographic changes in that city, are now virtually unrecognizable to many longtime residents. “I felt very close to it because those are my people,” Davidson said of the project. Decades later, he spent a month shooting for Esquire magazine at Katz’s Delicatessen after the tragedy of 9/11, thinking about “peace and pastrami” and recording how people responded to that event in a specific time and place.
Given that Davidson told The New Yorker in 2012, “I love gloom,” his affinity for the countries featured in the Huntington exhibition comes as no surprise. “But now it’s changing for me. The light in L.A. is extraordinary,” he explained. His relationship with photographing Los Angeles began with an Esquire magazine assignment in 1964, and Davidson has refocused his attention here in recent years.
“I spent a number of weeks in the foothills,” he said, “photographing the wonderful relationship between the hills and the city grid below,” along with other details of the Southern California landscape, such as the contrast of trees and the built environment. These photos have been collected into the “Nature of Los Angeles” series. (The New Yorker’s subsequent repeated use of a particular Davidson image from the grouping prompted journalist Alissa Walker to joke on her blog, “I’m really worried about The New Yorker. Apparently the publication only owns this one photo of Los Angeles.”)
Perhaps being a Jewish American enhanced his perspective as a stranger in a strange land when photographing in England, Scotland and Ireland, as well as helped forge an empathic connection with people living on the margins, such as Irish carnival performers, burlesque dancers, street urchins and Welsh coal miners. To Davidson, however, the angle of identity politics doesn’t resonate.
“I wouldn’t call myself a ‘Jewish photographer.’ I’m just a photographer,” he said. “I might be a Jewish photographer when I’m having smoked salmon and a bagel and cream cheese, but I generally don’t think of myself as anything other than a human being.”
Given the many decades he has lived on the Upper West Side (in the same building where Singer resided), and that much of his career has explored the city’s complex culture, people and places, does he consider himself a New Yorker?
“Barbra Streisand’s a New Yorker. I’m not a New Yorker. I feel close to everybody,” he said.
For more information on “Bruce Davidson/Paul Caponigro: Two American Photographers in Britain and Ireland” at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, click here.
Photographers share their favorite weddings photos
For a newly married couple, the wedding day itself can be a blur. The nerves, the excitement, the rush of a life-changing celebration. That’s why the ever-present, artistic eye of the photographer becomes so important in capturing memories of the occasion.
To see what makes a great picture, we asked two veteran Los Angeles-area photographers to choose some of their favorite Jewish wedding images. David Miller of David Miller Studios (millerfolio.com) and Shimmy Lautman of Shimmy Photography of Encino (shimmyphotography.com) responded with images that convey love and beauty — both in classic and unconventional ways. For couples preparing for a wedding — and the photo album that’s sure to follow — these pictures offer inspiration. For the rest of us, well, they sure are nice to look at.
Miriam Veffer (photo at top)
“I sensed a certain conviction in the bride knowing that this was a special day. I sensed her happiness, even as she remains rather serious.”
An eye for synagogue photography: Louis Davidson
If you want to track down Louis Davidson, try the local synagogue.
Of course, “local” in this case could mean anywhere from Hong Kong to Morocco, from the Ukraine to Hawaii — in any city other than Los Angeles or Tulsa, Okla., between which the retired architect-turned-photographer-historian divides his time when not traveling.
On a midsummer evening in July, Davidson is in Sydney, Nova Scotia, along with his wife Ronnie. The reason? Why, because there’s a synagogue to photograph, of course!
“Yesterday we shot one in Halifax,” Davidson said, launching easily into a backstory about the structure. “There was another one in North Sydney until two years ago, when the congregation shrank away to nothing. Originally Jewish families came to Sydney. They were tailors and merchants, and Sydney was a major port because there were coal and iron mines nearby. This is a typical pattern that we have seen in other towns. You get important mineral deposits that bring in the population, and Jews come and settle to service the population as merchants. Once the minerals pay out and the towns dwindle, the Jews tend to move away.”
Left behind are synagogues of cultural and local historical significance, structures that Davidson feels are worth preserving, one shutter click at a time. Which is exactly what he is doing through his “Synagogues360” project, a photographic record of synagogues throughout the world.
The website synagogues360.com displays Davidson’s photos of more than 350 synagogues, an A-to-Z chronicle that takes site visitors from Adas Jeschurun in Stockholm to Zeizmariai in Lithuania. The latter is one of eight remaining wooden synagogues in Lithuania, a former Orthodox Ashkenazi synagogue that is no longer operational. In fact, the exterior makes it resemble a dilapidated barn.
Davidson books journeys to houses of worship that are in some way architecturally or historically significant. He shoots both exterior shots and a series of moving 360-degree panoramas of the interior to take viewers on a virtual tour around the structure. A series of still shots from 30 synagogues will be on display at the Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA’s Hillel, opening Oct. 23.
The exhibition is titled “It Started in Sighet” because that is, indeed, where Davidson’s project began: Romania — where the photographer and his wife were impressed by the gorgeous and crumbling old synagogues of Eastern Europe.
“We thought we would preserve them photographically. Gosh, we should preserve all of Eastern Europe,” Davidson said. “And the project gradually got wider, and we had to choose which buildings to document. You can’t photograph them all.”
Maybe not, but if you’re Louis Davidson, you can get to a bunch of them. Davidson has photographed the world’s northernmost purpose synagogue (Trondheim in Norway), and the world’s most southern synagogue (Dunedin in New Zealand). His travels have taken him to Beth Sholom in Elkins Park, Penn., the only synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and to Paris’ Agoudas Hakehilos, one of the world’s few synagogues still in use designed in the art nouveau style.
Beth Shalom, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania
The synagogue's interior
“They have to be special in some respect,” said Davidson, who estimates that he visits 40 synagogues each year. “It can be that they were designed by a great architect or are somehow historically significant. That’s how we sort them out. Interestingly, I spend far more time researching which ones to photograph and making the contacts.”
Finding the synagogues that fit his criteria is challenging enough. Gaining access and historical data is a different ballgame. Because many of the structures are located in places without large Jewish populations, Davidson goes into detective mode, Googling articles in local news archives and trying to track down names in phone directories. Calling the synagogues themselves can often lead to a dead end — many are either operating on a skeleton staff or are no longer operational.
Those synagogues that do have a staff often have to submit Davidson’s request to their board of directors. The photographer estimates that four or five have refused permission. The Davidsons also travel with their dog, Harley Davidson, who Louis estimates has been inside more Jewish places of worship than any canine in history.
“He has only been denied entrance twice,” Davidson said.
Davidson spends about 90 minutes inside the building, taking panorama shots from multiple angles and then returning later to shoot the building’s exterior, often during the evening or when the natural light has changed. Using a customized Sony camera with a Leica lens, Davidson said he comes away with 400 shots of each synagogue. He’ll also typically spend at least 24 hours visiting the city, and an accompanying blog allows Davidson to give further historical detail of some of the featured synagogues.
The Synagogues360 project has turned Davidson into a historical resource. Site visitors frequently contact him seeking information about a given synagogue or asking to reproduce his photographs. For research and nonprofit requests for Jewish causes, Davidson grants permission to use his shots free of charge. If the intended use is for-profit, he charges a fee. Other site visitors contact Davidson’s website looking for information about a given temple and seeking practical information such as hours, directions or booking fees.
“I got an inquiry from a party in New York who had been planning on having a bar mitzvah in Israel, but he decided to have it in Livorno, Italy, instead, and did I know how to get in contact with the synagogue,” Davidson said. “Well, yes, I did.”
Samuel Gruber, president of the International Survey of Jewish Monuments, teaches classes in Jewish art and architecture and frequently sends his students to Davidson’s site for assignments and research.
“Louis shoots with great skills and with great technical virtuosity, and he allows us to enter the places, to study them and to consider them collectively, which most photographers don’t allow us to do,” Gruber said. “He’s doing a great service. I hope he does 600 synagogues.”
Not a bad goal, said Davidson, who has no plans to cut back on his travel. He has a trip planned to the southeastern United States and would like to pay more visits to southeast Asia. Davidson, who has assembled photobooks before, has been asked whether the synagogues could be the basis for a published volume. But he would rather be traveling and shooting than editing.
Las Cruces, New Mexico
“I’m 73, and while I have the mobility and the ability, I want to concentrate on getting synagogues photographed,” he said. “So many of the synagogues we have photographed literally closed the week before we got there, or we got in just before they moved furniture. Or they’re turning to dust. I feel like it’s my mission get them photographed before they’re gone.”
“It Started in Sighet” opens Oct. 23 at the Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA Hillel. The exhibition is part of a triple opening that also features “Eastern Parkway” photographs of the Lubavitcher Community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn by Mary Leipziger, and “Not Forgotten,” a series of collages of old retrieved photographs depicting Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish life in the Middle East and North Africa at the beginning and middle of the 20th century by Erella Teitler. Hedva Amrani will perform at the opening. She will be accompanied by her son, musician, composer and singer, Doron Danoff.
Vermont Avenue communities on display in Santa Monica
Nearly every day for a year and a half, Pamela Mayers-Schoenberg woke up at 7 a.m. and traveled along one of Los Angeles’ longest streets, Vermont Avenue. She’d snap photos of the people on the street, capturing scenes from the various distinct neighborhoods. These photos are on display at the dnj Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica through May 31.
For Mayers-Schoenberg, 44, who also owns dnj, this is her first exhibition of her own work at the gallery. She chose to showcase her “The Vermont Project,” which she completed in 1998, because she wanted to educate people about the rich cultures that exist within the city. “People don’t travel enough in Los Angeles,” she said. “I started a more educational component to my gallery. I thought my project would be a good addition.”
The Vermont Avenue exhibition includes 50 black-and-white photos of Harbor City, South Central (now known as South Los Angeles), Hollywood, Koreatown, and Los Feliz, all taken along the 23-mile street.
Mayers-Schoenberg documented Muslim men praying in a mosque, products on display at an Asian grocery store, Latino children inspecting plants in a garden and African-American men handing out literature about the 12 tribes of Israel. There are pictures of boys warming up for a jog, a couple dancing at an outdoor restaurant, customers at a food truck, churchgoers standing with a priest and kids coloring in a classroom.
My 50 best friends are Holocaust survivors
“How did you learn to make brushes? Who taught you?” I’m talking to Boris Abel on the phone, trying to fill in some small details requested by my editor of his Holocaust experiences. Boris tells me once again that when the Russians occupied Lithuania in 1940, they nationalized his family’s rope-manufacturing company in Panevezys. He moved to Siauliai, and, under a law that allowed small businesses to operate, Boris began making brushes. “But who taught you?” I ask him again. I know he didn’t make brushes when he worked in the family business.
“When you have to live, you try it, and you do it,” he tells me.
Boris is on the phone with me from his bed in a convalescent hospital. Soon after our initial interview, he was hospitalized with pneumonia and is now recovering. “It’s fine to call him there,” his son, Chuck, had assured me. “He’s telling everyone in the hospital his story.” Boris will be 99 in July. He knows what it takes to live.
Boris is just one of the many Holocaust survivors I’ve profiled — and whom David Miller has photographed — for the Journal’s Survivor column. These bi-weekly articles now number 56, though, sadly, four of the survivors have died since the column first appeared in October 2011. Some today are facing serious health challenges. Others have fading memories. But in response to my invitation to participate, all of them have graciously shared the terrifying narratives of their Holocaust experiences with me. And none, as far as I know, has regretted it.
I volunteered to take on this project as soon as I heard about it. I’ve been drawn to the subject of the Holocaust ever since I was 11, when my mother took me aside, and, in the same hushed tone in which she had explained the facts of life, she told me about the Shoah.
“But how do you kill 6 million people?” I asked. “You can’t just line them up and shoot them.” Five decades later, I’m still asking similar questions.
“You thought you were dead?” I ask Adela Manheimer during one interview. “Yes,” she explains. “I was under a mountain of dead girls. I touch my hand, and I see it’s not cold. It’s warm. And I walk out.” I try to picture this spunky, diminutive woman, now almost 93, on a death march from Grünberg, wearing only a thin dress and one shoe as protection against the fierce cold. Sitting with me at her dining-room table, she’s now smartly dressed in a deep-blue sleeveless top, with a coordinating pendant and earrings. Seventy years ago, she was almost dead, her only possession a ragged pillow.
Each time I meet a survivor, I am struck by the incongruity. I meet with them in their homes, apartments and retirement communities, amid their plush furniture, artwork and family photographs, often including some pre-war portraits that were somehow rescued or presciently mailed to relatives in America. They’re dressed nicely, the women often in skirts and sweaters and stylish scarves, and the men in collared shirts and slacks. They’re grandparents, and even great-grandparents. Seventy years ago, they were emaciated and ill, their clothes rags. They lived in filthy, lice-ridden ghettos or barracks. Or hid in forests or attics. They fought hunger and cold, some in the frigid wilds of Russia.
I’m impressed by the survivors’ willingness to share their stories for publication, including the most graphic details of beatings or bodily searches. But, occasionally, there’s a deal-breaker: the birth year.
“People here don’t realize I’m 92,” one survivor confided to me, referring to her retirement community. “Do you have to use it?”
Still, sharing these stories can be painful and sad. Violet Raymond, the first survivor I interviewed for the series, cried for almost the entire two and a half hours we were together. I teared up along with her, especially when she talked about her first husband, George Singer, who died of starvation in a labor camp at 19. She was 17 and pregnant. When I visited her a second time, she wept for another hour and a half. Violet had previously told her story only to family members, but she was determined to speak to me, and via the Journal, to the world at large.
Often the tears begin when the survivors describe the last time they saw a family member. For Rosalie Greenfield, this happened while telling me about her chaotic and terrifying arrival at Auschwitz. She was abruptly separated from her mother, who hurriedly handed her a blanket and cautioned, “Don’t catch a cold.”
Describing the postwar homecomings can also be emotional. Joseph Davis returned to find his family’s apartment in Munkács, Czechoslovakia, completely emptied, with only a few pages from a children’s book lying on the floor. “I started to cry,” he recalled, choking up in the telling.
Lidia Budgor is an exception. “Every time I tell my story, I’m back with my family,” she told me.
For contrast, and to most poignantly depict what the Nazis destroyed, I always ask the survivors to describe some happy times they shared with their families before the war.
Jack Adelstein, who was only 4 when he was captured by the Nazis and has few early memories, recalls going down to the river and swimming with his pony. Gitta Ginsberg remembers her grandmother picking her up from nursery school in Brussels every day, always bringing her a cookie. And most of the survivors fondly recall Shabbat dinners with their families — the home-baked challah, the table covered with a white cloth and their mother lighting the candles.
Parts of our interview can be challenging. I work chronologically, but it’s not always easy to keep survivors on track. Those who have told their story multiple times often have a set way of narrating the events. And for those who have rarely told their story, sometimes not even to family members, the memories emerge in haphazard order. A few with fading memories struggle to recall words or incidents.
And I know the survivors are annoyed — or frustrated — by my constant requests for specific dates and names. Yes, I’m writing about their life, but I also want to place it in its historical context as accurately as possible. When did you arrive in the Lodz ghetto? When did you set off on the death march from Blechhammer? More than once, a survivor has smiled and said, “You know, we didn’t have calendars in the camps.”
At the end of the interview, I can usually count on the survivor showing me memorabilia. Sometimes they have photo albums, previously published articles, letters from schoolchildren thanking them for their talks, and war or postwar documents ready to share with me, spread out on the dining room table when I arrive. Sometimes the memorabilia is displayed on a bed. Or framed and hung on walls. The most precious objects are photographs of their wedding, which frequently took place in a displaced-persons camp, where they dressed in borrowed finery. Or the pre-war pictures of parents and siblings.
Also precious are the photographs of their children, grandchildren and often great-grandchildren. Many, I’m sure, share Gloria Ungar’s sentiments. Proudly showing me pictures of her 18 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren, she said, “I have a beautiful family. This is my revenge.”
Albert Rosa’s entire house is a testament to his Holocaust and Holocaust-speaker experiences. First, he shows me photographs of his late wife on a shelf near the front door. “This is the most beautiful woman in the world,” he says. In his den are photos and souvenirs from a talk he gave to 500 pilots at Edwards Air Force Base. His hallway walls are covered with various framed or laminated letters of thanks, commendations and appreciation from schools, police departments and the military. In a bedroom is a Purple Heart he received for rescuing an American general under enemy fire. His knee was grazed by a bullet in that action; he raises his pant leg to show me the scar. In the same room, a bayonet sits on the dresser. “The German stabbed me with it here,” he says, pulling up his shirt to reveal an abdominal scar. Albert then wrestled the SS soldier, grabbed the bayonet and stabbed him.
After every interview — and after I’ve compiled a chronological history — I follow up with a second interview, phone calls or, for those survivors who are tech savvy, e-mails to fill in the missing pieces. Some of the information, particularly dates, I can find online. Sometimes the survivor will suddenly remember a needed fact or know where to find it. Hadasa Cytrynowicz recalled — and found — a tape of her family’s history that her uncle had recorded. Sometimes a son or daughter helps out. Rodney Liber, Sol Liber’s son, was tenacious — and continues to be tenacious — in researching his father’s Holocaust history.
The survivors are often surprised by the response that follows the publication of their profile — the many phone calls, letters and invitations to speak. “You made me a ballerina,” Motek Kleiman, now deceased, called to tell me when his profile appeared. Residents in his retirement community lined up to receive copies. And Idele Stapholtz recently e-mailed to tell me she had been asked to speak to several organizations about the “Righteous Among the Nations.”
“You know, that was the reason I hoped you would keep a space for me [in the Jewish Journal],” she wrote.
Connections have also resulted. A first cousin of Liselotte Hanock, who lives in Australia, had been searching for Liselotte, but knew only her maiden name. He came across her Jewish Journal profile and contacted her. Another survivor got in touch with Alex Friedman, now deceased, to talk about their shared experience in Mühldorf. And Fred Wolf and Julius Bendorf, both of whom were profiled, met to talk about their imprisonment in Buna-Monowitz. These are only a few of many such stories.
Many survivors continue to call or e-mail me, long after their profiles have appeared. They suggest names of other survivors to interview and recommend articles and books for me to read. They convey holiday greetings, and they comment on other survivors’ stories. They also contact me to correct errors, which occasionally occur. (Thank you, Zenon.)
I’d also like to thank the 30 survivors who participated in the “Survivor Portraits From the Jewish Journal” exhibition that opened Jan. 26 at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, sharing their photographs and stories with the museum’s many schoolchildren and other visitors. That show closes on April 27 and thereafter will travel to schools and communities with whom the museum partners. A second exhibition is being planned for next year to include additional men and women featured in the Journal’s Survivor column.
As we commemorate Yom HaShoah, I’m proud to count these 50-plus survivors as friends. They’ve graciously opened up their homes and their hearts to me. They’ve fed me and hugged me. They’ve been patient with my questions and generous with their time. And they’ve taught me about courage, resilience, love, luck and the kindness of strangers.
To all of them, I’d like to say, as Adela Manheimer said to me recently, “Stay in touch.”
Jane Ulman interviews Holocaust survivor Frank Schiller, here.
Barbra Steisand arrives in Israel
Outstanding Graduate: Joelle Milman — Transforming herself
When Joelle Milman was a high school sophomore, she met award-winning photographer Art Streiber, who has contributed to Vanity Fair among other high-profile publications.
It didn’t happen as you might expect. It was her work on display during an art show at the Annenberg Space for Photography, and he was the one who approached her — to offer a compliment on one of her photos.
“That was, like, the best moment ever,” said the 18-year-old recent graduate of the Academy of Music at Hamilton High School, where she majored in drama.
Committed to the arts, Milman has had several “best moments” during her four years in the magnet program.
There was the time she was picked for a role in NASA’s “Space School Musical,” an educational “hip-hopera” series of videos about the planets, moon, asteroids and more, as a freshman. Or you could point to the school’s annual AIDS awareness play, which she wrote and produced this year.
“I think that drama, when done right — which I think Hamilton is pretty good at — is something really transformative,” Milman said. “You can take someone and really make them feel something that that they never thought they would feel. As people in the world, we should try to make everyone see things different than they would usually feel.”
There have been some challenging moments along the way. After middle school, the Modern Orthodox teen left Shalhevet School because she knew she needed to break out of her comfort zone. She had been at a Jewish day school since kindergarten and entered into the new, unfamiliar world of a magnet music academy at a public high school.
[Next Grad: Ruth Maouda]
“Me leaving Shalhevet just felt like the hugest thing in the entire world,” she said. “I didn’t think anyone could go through anything that different in terms of [a change from one school to the next].”
To her pleasant surprise, she made friends quickly. She credits the school — specifically, the mix of cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds within the student body — as contributing to her personal growth.
Milman excelled academically and plans to attend Barnard College in New York, where she is considering studying English and environmental policy. But she also found time to give back to her school and local communities, planning school fundraising events and mentoring struggling students while working with Jewish organizations. She volunteered at Friendship Circle Los Angeles working with children with special needs, assembled groceries for the poor with Tomchei Shabbos and manned a photo booth at a party for Chai Lifeline, which serves kids who have deadly illnesses.
Her time at Hamilton has influenced how she views her religion, too, she said.
“I think everyone should make a concentrated effort to be a diverse and well-rounded person, and I think that’s how I want my Modern Orthodoxy to be,” she said. “I think that’s really important.”
My Single Peeps: Brandon B.
Brandon’s an only child. He tells me he’s the kind of kid who kept to himself. “I didn’t break out of my shell until late in high school. I’m still kind of introverted, but an outgoing introvert, if that makes sense.”
“How’d you break out in high school?” I ask. “I just started doing things to get more confidence in myself. I didn’t want to be a nerd, for example. I wasn’t comfortable with that.”
He decided to own up to his strengths. “I got into programming, code … that whole world.” He joined the robotics team.
“I also got into photography. I got my first DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera and started playing with it and got really good at it. I learned Photoshop, and I learned that I liked Photoshop more than I liked taking pictures. And that turned into someone asking me to build a Web site. It wasn’t easy at all, but I did it. Things I couldn’t do, I hired people to do for me. One turned into two. Two turned into four. And now I have developed over 200 Web sites.
“[In college] I went from having no Jewish friends to having mostly Jewish friends. I realized their personality was similar to mine. The way I think about things, the way I approach things, and the way I think about family.”
He’d love to meet a Jewish girl. “I want someone who’s very driven. I like someone that’s as busy as I am but always makes time to see me. Someone who cares about her appearance. Someone who understands that friends and family are more important than career. Education’s important. I like someone who’s healthy — who goes to the gym on a regular basis. Someone who tries as hard for me as I try for them. I think it should be 60/60 rather than 50/50. Each person should put in more toward the relationship than the other person is.”
Last summer, Brandon, 22, needed surgery. “There’s three scars on my shoulder — it’s pretty cool. I started going to physical therapy, and then I got a personal trainer. It ended up with me gaining about 20 pounds of muscle in about four months, and it completely changed my body. … All of a sudden, my arms were twice as big, and my shoulder was never stronger.”
He’s into self-improvement — if he doesn’t like something about himself, he fixes it. “I try too hard to be perfect, which is the best and worst attribute about me.”
When it comes to work, he’s extremely confident. “When I was younger it was very difficult for me to say good things about myself. Society tells you people will think you’re cocky. But why shouldn’t you be able to say, ‘I’m good at this; I’m the best Web developer you’ll find.’? I’m not saying I’m better than you. I’m saying I’m better than you at building a Web site. That’s my thing. That’s what I do. So I might as well be the best at it.”
In high school, when he was still shy, he read the book “The Game.” “It changed my life.” He learned a lot from it. “I wouldn’t date someone I was attracted to, because I didn’t feel I was good enough, and that’s absurd. I was good enough — I just didn’t have the confidence to tell them I was good enough. If you’re not proud of who you are, why would someone else be? If you wouldn’t date yourself, why would a girl date you?”
If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to email@example.com, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.
Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.
‘Women and War’
Growing up in Beverly Hills, Marissa Roth remembers her father and mother, both European refugees, as parents who repressed their emotions and personal suffering, and forbade their children to cry.
So there is some irony, or perhaps compensation, in the title of Roth’s one-woman photo exhibition, opening Aug. 16 at the Museum of Tolerance, titled “One Person Crying: Women and War.”
The exhibit consists of 88 gelatin silver prints, culled from some 27,000 photos taken over 28 years in a dozen countries torn by fighting, massacres and natural catastrophes.
Almost all the subjects of Roth’s lens are women, in order “to reflect on war from what I consider an underrepresented perspective,” she said. “The project brought me face-to-face with hundreds of women who endured and survived war and its ancillary experiences of loss, pain and unimaginable hardship.”
There are photos so eloquent that no explanations or commentaries are needed, such as the picture of Sara Duvall, holding a flag and a photo of her Marine Corps son killed in Iraq.
Or the two fully veiled Afghan women, who make Roth wonder what lies under the burqa. Also, the 12-year-old Pakistani girl, her head completely shaved, who, Roth said, “implored me to continue my project and kept me going.”
Los Angeles Times international correspondent Carol J. Williams, who has seen her share of wars, commented, “Marissa Roth’s images of women who’ve survived war are alternately disturbing, inspiring and illuminating of the staggering burdens borne by those fighting with their hearts and minds to protect home and family.
“The battle to restore normalcy drags on for years after the shooting stops, and women’s forced roles as provider and protector forever transform their relationships and family status when the men, whether victorious or vanquished, stagger back home.”
Over nearly three decades, Roth and her 35mm Nikon FE2 camera have portrayed women’s lives amid war and the aftermath in Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Albania, Japan, Northern Ireland, Germany, Cambodia, Bosnia and The Philippines.
In parallel, she had covered on-the-spot news stories across the globe for major publications and was part of the Los Angeles Times photo team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
And, particularly in the early 1980s, there was Roth, the commercial photographer, who shot high society fashions and red carpet Oscar receptions, as well as the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
By inclination and family background, Roth seemed fated to become a roving witness to history in the making.
Both parents separately fled the gathering European storm clouds in late 1938, her actress mother from Budapest, and her father from Novi Sad, then part of Yugoslavia and now Serbia.
They met during a trans-Atlantic voyage aboard the Queen Mary, but then lost sight of each other after landing in New York. Five months later, they bumped into each other in — where else? — Times Square, and the shipboard meeting eventually culminated in marriage.
Roth’s paternal grandfather had been a textile manufacturer in the old country and her father followed up in the new California home by establishing a clothing line in West Hollywood.
Another member of the family was Roth’s uncle, violinist Feri Roth, founder of the famous Roth Quartet.
Born and raised in Beverly Hills, Roth went through the city’s renowned public school system, augmented by private finishing school classes.
At 10, she was given a Brownie camera and started snapping pictures of family and friends and taking photo classes in school. At 17, she got her first 35mm camera, “instantly taking to it,” she said, and set up her own darkroom.
However, showing an early rebellious streak, she said she “loathed Beverly Hills as soulless and phony, the whole status thing. I was conscious of the civil rights movement and very aware of Vietnam and the woman’s movement. I yearned to be a hippie. I was wild inside but a good girl outside.”
Another factor was the impact of the highly popular illustrated magazines of the time, such as LIFE, Look and National Geographic. Through them, she said, “I began to understand visual language, and the magazines’ coverage of world events probably turned me into a journalist, rather than an artist.”
After high school, she left “phony” Beverly Hills for the real world and people at the University of Colorado, but after two years found Boulder a bit too “small townish.”
She transferred to UCLA and launched her future career as a staff photographer on the Daily Bruin, covering the campus but also the Hollywood film and rock scenes.
Twice married and divorced, Roth is quite open about her age (55) and personal relationships.
“Photography saved me when I was in my early 20s and I met a lovely guy, who was killed in a plane crash,” she recounted. “That event changed my life and shattered my innocence. It pushed me to live my life flat out, to seize life’s moments.”
Among Roth’s emotional impressions during her career, a few stand out.
“In late 1984, I went with my father to his birthplace of Novi Sad, and we found the house where he grew up,” she recalled.
That was also the house where her grandfather and great-grandfather were killed by rampaging Hungarian troops, who staged their own pogroms of Jews and Serbs in January 1942, dragging bodies across the ice and dumping them into the Danube.
A few years later, she traveled to Afghanistan and met some of the 100,000 women widowed during the nine-year war (December 1979 to February 1989) between their country and the Soviet Union.
“Something happened to me there,” Roth said. “I found a completely different world, where women were completely segregated.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Roth photographed the bombing of Kosovo, wedged between Serbia and Albania, and atom bomb survivors in Hiroshima.
After reading the book “A Woman in Berlin,” which described the mass rapes by Soviet troops immediately after the conquest of the city in the spring of 1945, Roth traveled to Germany in 2008 to meet and photograph some of the victims.
“I had seen Warsaw and Auschwitz, and it was hard for me to go to Berlin. I kept seeing the ghosts of the past, but I tried to be as nonjudgmental as possible,” she commented.
The Museum of Tolerance also hosted Roth’s 2005 photographic exhibit of 70 Holocaust survivors serving as volunteer guides and lecturers.
“One Person Crying: Women and War,” curated by Howard Spector, opens Aug. 16 and is scheduled to run through Oct. 18 at the Museum of Tolerance. For more information, call (310) 553-9036 or visit jewishjournal.com.
Red tape imperils naked photo shoot at Dead Sea
A planned photo shoot of some 1,000 naked Israelis is in jeopardy after the regional council where the event is to be held said it had not given its authorization.
American photographer Spencer Tunick is set to photograph the installation Sept. 17 to raise international awareness of the condition of the Dead Sea, which is rapidly receding. Tunick’s website directs viewers to vote for the Dead Sea in the New7Wonders of Nature contest.
More than 3,000 Israelis signed up to participate in the project; one-third of those were invited to participate.
The exact location of the shoot has not been made public due to fears that protesters would upset the event. Tunick has said that he would like his naked subjects floating in the Dead Sea to be covered in its beneficial black mud.
No permits were requested for the event, Dov Litvinoff, head of the Tamar Regional Council, told Israeli media. Several religious lawmakers also have condemned the project.
Tunick has photographed installations of large groups of nude people In 75 locations throughout the world.
Holy land revealed
With the introduction of photography in 1839, pioneer practitioners of the nascent medium flocked to the Holy Land, expecting the glorious biblical scenes imagined by Renaissance painters, but finding instead mainly dusty villages and a largely ramshackle Jerusalem.
One disappointed visitor in 1867 was the American Samuel Clemens, who, under the pen name of Mark Twain, wrote in “The Innocents Abroad” that “Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince.”
Yet, the 21st century visitor to the exhibition “In Search of Biblical Lands: From Jerusalem to Jordan in 19th Century Photography” at the Getty Villa in Malibu will be amply rewarded.
The daguerreotypes, salted-paper and albumen silver prints, and stereoscopic views may lack the subtlety and color of modern photography, but they offer a fascinating glimpse of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian inhabitants of that era.
Jerusalem, with a population of 9,000 in the mid-1800s, was hardly the shining city on the hill, but its skyline is dominated by the magnificent Dome of the Rock, and the pious Jews praying at the Western Wall testify to the unbroken connection of the Jewish people to the city.
Most of the early photographers were French and British, with the Maison Bonfils studio, founded by France’s Félix Bonfils, particularly active in scouring the hinterlands. Bonfils, his countryman Louis Vignes, and such British pioneers as James Robertson, Francis Frith and Sgt. James M. McDonald, took their bulky equipment to Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jaffa, Gaza, the Dead Sea and the Jordanian rock city of Petra.
The first photographers, like those who came later, were not above “enhancing” their works to meet the expectations of their Bible-loving customers and boost sales.
Bonfils may well have been the founding father of Photoshopping. Finding a view of the Jordan River uninspiring, he combined multiple negatives to add a picturesque Arab with a camel and a tented encampment of pith-helmeted British tourists.
Such photos soon became all the rage in Europe and North America, spurring Jewish immigration and a boom in Christian tourism.
Among the latter were many Americans, whom Twain viewed with a jaundiced eye. Describing the “solemnity and silence” of one particular desert site, he added, “Behold, intruding upon a scene like this comes this fantastic mob of green-spectacled Yanks, with their flapping elbows and bobbing umbrellas.”
Also drawn to the Holy Land were Christian missionaries, who sought to convert the local Jews, “but met with little success,” the exhibition brochure notes.
A side attraction are the early 19th century maps of Jerusalem and Palestine, with a vast area east of the Jordan River, stretching from the Sea of Galilee to the Gulf of Akaba, designated as an uninhabited “Great Syrian Desert.”
The exhibit continues at the Getty Villa through Sept. 12, along with the exhibit, “Apollo From Pompeii: Investigating an Ancient Bronze.”
Admission is free, but parking is $15 and advance reservations are required. For more information on the exhibition and related events, visit getty.edu/art/exhibitions/biblical_lands.
Capturing Life: The Tree in Photographs
On car trips as a young girl, Francoise Reynaud traveled through the French countryside, captivated whenever she saw a single tree alone at the side of the road or in the middle of a field.
“Its presence was so strong,” recalled Reynaud, curator of photographs at the Musée Carnavalet in Paris and a co-curator of “In Focus: The Tree,” opening Feb. 8 at the Getty Museum. “I always wondered, ‘What is this fellow thinking, seeing where he is?’ ”
“Cultures all around the world view the relationship between human and tree as intimate,” Reynaud notes in her new book celebrating trees, which accompanies the exhibition and appears just as Jews are preparing to celebrate the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees, on Jan. 20. For Jews, trees represent life; for some ancient civilizations, trees symbolized the origins of the cosmos.
Among the approximately 40 photographs is Andrew Young’s majestic 1879 image “Arbor Vitae” (Latin for “Tree of Life”), a dramatic Romantic portrait in which deep shade contrasts with bright light.
In Robert Adams’ “Near Heber City, Utah, 1978,” the branches of a flowering tree burst through a fence, overflowing with blossoms that appear to explode through the picture frame, “as if you cannot contain life,” said the exhibition’s co-curator, Anne Lyden, the Getty’s associate curator of photographs.
Other artists represent trees “in their vulnerability, subject to being cut down,” Reynaud said in a phone interview from Paris. Diane Arbus’ “Xmas Tree in a Living Room in Levittown, Long Island” is a tinsled pine whose top has been shorn in order to squeeze it into a spare early-1960s living room.
The gnarled trunk in Roi Partridge’s “Mother Nature” approximates a female torso. Two pieces by the late Czech photographer Josef Sudek, who lost an arm in World War I and whose work became darker in tone after the Nazi invasion, are quasi-self-portraits — in particular a stunted, broken tree in “Vanished Statues: A Walk in Mionsi Forest,” with its truncated limbs, a stand-in for the artist himself.
“In Focus: The Tree,” Feb. 8 through July 3 at the Getty Center.
City of Images
Los Angeles has long held a fascination with the visual; beholden to looks, surfaces and images, it is a city where even the buildings seem to strike a pose. So it might seem surprising that until now, there’s never been an institution here devoted to photography. But that all changes this week with the opening of the stunning new Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City.
Located on the site of the former Schubert Theater, in the shadow of the CAA “Death Star” offices at 2000 Century Park East, the Annenberg Space is a freestanding, 10,000-square-foot facility. With free admission and inexpensive validated self-parking, it is a community space, inviting residents and tourists alike to engage with print and digital images. More than anything it is a “Temple of Photography,” as Wallis Annenberg herself called it recently, celebrating an art form, but also a means of seeing the world we live in.
Form meets function in the design for the space, by architects DMJM Design: A central exhibition space for digital exhibits – circular in form and with a ceiling that resembles a camera aperture – is surrounded by galleries filled with photographic prints. The floor plan consciously suggests a camera, though at the same time, walking through the print galleries reminds one of a piece of film threading a camera spool. Other references to the medium can be found in the gray metal finishes throughout the museum and floors made from recycled tires that remind one of camera grips.
There’s also a full-service kitchen and an area for classes and workshops.
Interviewed at the opening press event, Annenberg explained that her passion for photography is a response to an upbringing surrounded by art, where the focus was always on “the beautiful.” Her parents collected Impressionist paintings (which were donated to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art). Given that she believes “life was far more complex,” Annenberg said she was drawn to photography that expresses “the full range of human emotions and gives us insight into our own souls.”
That is a pretty fair way of describing the opening exhibition,”L8s Ang3les,” a collection of work from 11 Los Angeles photographers. The show reminds us of the power of photography to show beauty and horror in all its forms and asks us to marvel at how the eye and the instrument can capture a story or encapsulate a whole life in an instant.
Included are the conceptual work of artist John Baldessari, the social reporting/portraiture of Catherine Opie and Lauren Greenfield, architectural photography by Julius Shulman and Tim Street-Porter, celebrity portraits by Douglas Kirkland and Greg Gorman, and the photojournalism of Carolyn Cole, Lawrence Ho, Genaro Molina and Kirk McKoy, all staff photographers at the Los Angeles Times.
One wanders from Kirkland’s images of Marilyn Monroe, to Greg Gorman’s portrait of Leonardo DiCaprio, to Catherine Opie’s images of members of the gay, lesbian and transgender community, to Lauren Greenfield’s portraits of girls at their quinceaÃ±era or a bar mitzvah boy yearning for gifts he imagines will lend him status, or a young girl in the Barney’s shoe department. Then there are Coles’ searing images of the brutality of war, the reportage of the other staff photographers, which bring our world home to us. What sticks, in the end, is a sense of the humanity captured by these works.
The Annenberg Space, Kirkland told me, represents “the dawning of a new time for photography,” adding that he believes the Annenberg will come to equal the renown International Center of Photography, a museum and school in Manhattan .
Greenfield, who grew up in Los Angeles, told me she sees the educational potential of the Annenberg Space in the power of “photography to speak directly to kids.” She feels photography is an art form that kids understand intuitively and immediately. What impressed her about the Annenberg was that “everyone will feel welcome. No one will be intimidated.”
All the photographers I spoke with stressed that the Annenberg Space’s technological breakthrough lies in its ability to display so much of an artist’s work at once – a feat accomplished by using digital projection screens and by a series of tabletop touch screens that allow the visitor to examine an artist’s work in depth (plans are being made to allow one to order prints from the tabletops, as well). Having a center in Los Angeles where they could see the work of their peers and participate in workshops that will create a greater sense of the photographic community excited them all.
The Annenberg Foundation was established in 1989 by Walter Annenberg, whose father, Moses “Moe” Annenberg, owned the Daily Racing Form and acquired the Philadelphia Inquirer. Walter Annenberg expanded the empire with such publications as TV Guide and Seventeen and was canny enough to sell out at the right time to Rupert Murdoch in 1988 for a reported $3 billion (recently TV Guide magazine changed hands for $1 – I kid you not).
Walter Annenberg, who died in 2002, served as Richard Nixon’s ambassador to Great Britain, and Leonore, his second wife, studio boss Harry Cohn’s niece and chief of protocol for the State Department under Ronald Reagan, died just this month. Wallis, Walter’s surviving child, and several of his grandchildren, Lauren Bon, Charles Annenberg Weingarten and Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, serve as trustees of the Annenberg Foundation, which is one of the largest private foundations in the United States and which supports a wide range of charitable activities both in the U.S. and abroad, many of which are the specific passions of its trustees.
Although the name of the Annenberg Foundation is well known to anyone who watches public television, or from their endowments to museums, universities, schools and hospitals across the United States, several local projects dear to Wallis Annenberg are set to open over the next several months: This week’s opening of the Space for Photography will be followed this summer by the Annenberg Community Beach House, located in Santa Monica on the site of the former Marion Davies estate, the only public community beach club on Pacific Coast Highway – or as I intend to refer to it, my beach club. And next year, the former Beverly Hills Post Office will be rebooted as The Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts.
If ever we needed to be reminded of the power of art and community to lift our spirits, it is now. The iconic American photographer Edward Steichen once said that “photography is a major force in explaining man to man.” The Annenberg Space for Photography gives Los Angeles a place to enjoy the artistry of the surface image and the humanity that lies beneath.
Doctor Calms Radiation Fears With Nature Photos
The walls of Dr. Bernard Lewinsky’s office resemble the pages of a National Geographic calendar: sweeping lake vistas and verdant forests brush up against sculptured rock formations and sun-mottled Yosemite hills. Looking at his photographs, patients remember vacations, times when they felt relaxed and at peace. It takes their minds off their cancer.
Lewinsky, medical director of Vantage Oncology’s West Hills Radiation Therapy Center, found that serene landscape portraits tend to calm patients’ fears as they face the harrowing realities of living with cancer. So the avid nature photographer created a Healing Art Gallery at the center featuring 80 of his images to put patients at ease when they come in for treatment.
“Nature tends to soothe your mind,” Lewinsky said. “The treatment room is often full of hustle and bustle. Patients are scared and upset — they have been given a diagnosis that means life or death. To walk into an environment that’s full of chaos is not what they need.”
The soft-spoken doctor, 66, began taking pictures at age 8. Born in San Salvador, El Salvador, and raised Jewish by his German émigré parents, Lewinsky grew up near the coffee plantation his father owned. He would often go out to photograph the coffee trees and flowers.
The idea that a radiation therapy center could have a calming effect on patients had been with Lewinsky for decades, ever since his 1974-76 stint as chief of radiotherapy at Letterman Army Hospital.
“We had one of the old radiotherapy machines that was a monstrosity,” he recalled. “It looked very much like the early atomic weapons that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
The generator was an intimidating two stories high. Lewinsky didn’t want his patients to feel any more frightened than they already were, so he obtained funding to redecorate the radiotherapy department. He had the interior painted the same color as the machine and placed large, majestic images of Yosemite landscapes around the treatment room.
In recent years, Lewinsky’s concept has taken off — his art now adorns the walls of 20 medical centers across Southern California, including Vantage Oncology’s five regional locations and the company’s corporate office in Manhattan Beach, the Breast Center in Van Nuys and the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at USC.
Lewinsky shoots landscapes mostly in the American West — Utah, Mexico, Arizona — traveling with 20 to 30 pounds of equipment, including 4×5 film and a large-format field camera. His favorite places are Yosemite National Park and Zion National Park, which “puts humanity in place, it’s so big.”
People derive a sense of tranquility from natural settings, he said, which stems from similarities we perceive between the natural world and our own bodies.
“A normal person wouldn’t look at a photograph and see the shape of his thyroid, for example. But I think there is a subliminal connection,” Lewinsky said.
That connection shows up time and again in conversations with patients, he said.
“I spend more time talking about photography to some patients than I do about their disease,” Lewinsky said with a laugh. “They talk about how much relaxation they feel.”
For Lewinsky, photography has also been a form of personal therapy. The doctor was thrust into the spotlight in 1998 after news broke of the sex scandal involving his daughter, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and then-President Bill Clinton. “My salvation through that was photography,” Lewinsky said, adding that the time he spent in the darkroom that year produced images that were “very black and white.”
In his West Hills office, however, Lewinsky points out richly hued images on the walls and explains their back-stories with obvious fondness for the locales in which he took them. He greets patients waiting for treatment with a smile and shakes their hands as they leave.
His methods, he said, are expressions of a simple and intuitive philosophy: “You have to treat the tumor and also the soul.”
Annie Leibovitz, Ed Asner, Shelly Berman, Lainie Kazan and Elliot Gould
SAT | NOVEMBER 15
Jack and Robin Firestone, an average American Jewish couple, were vacationing in Paris in 1997. Then tragedy struck — right before their eyes, a car carrying Princess Diana fatally crashed in a Paris tunnel. The Firestones have since written a book, “Chasing Diana,” about their tumultuous experience and their role in the ensuing investigation. “You never want to believe it was anything more than an accident, but the more we saw, we could not help believe that there’s something deeper here,” Robin said. “The inquest, the verdict, the book; it’s all closure for us. Now we’ll just let the reader decide.” Sat. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.belairfilmfestival.com.
You can lend a hand in the fight against cancer by playing a hand at the eighth annual Visions Israel Cancer Research Fund’s Monte Carlo Night. Dressed in chic evening attire, you can dance, bid on auction goodies, roll the dice in craps, take a chance on roulette and don your poker face in Texas Hold’em while feeling good that your money is going to the best hospitals, universities and cancer research institutions in Israel. Visions, the ambitious “next generation” of charitable organizations, will honor Rachael Tanenbaum and Benjamin Sternberg with its “Visionary of the Year Awards.” Sat. 8 p.m. $80 (before Nov. 14 at noon), $95 (thereafter). Petersen Automotive Museum, 6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 651-1200. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.westsidejcc.org.
SUN | NOVEMBER 16
Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews are a minority within a minority. The largely understudied cultures of Jews from Iraq, Syria, Georgia, Iran, Morocco and other Arab countries are the focus of an academic-minded conference, “Integrating Sephardi and Mizrachi Studies, Research and Practice,” co-sponsored by Hebrew ” target=”_blank”>http://www.huc.edu/sephardic/conference.
Going Metro is becoming all the rage in our eternally traffic-jammed city. Even ATID is hopping on the bandwagon with its Outdoors Metro Rail Art Tour — a sightseeing trip that takes you below ground to view the eclectic artwork in and around the Metro Rail system in Los Angeles. Knowledgeable guides will point out the works, tell you about the artists and provide insight into the communities they beautify. The tour, beginning at the Union Station Metro stop, will also provide a chance to try out the city’s burgeoning public transportation system — it ain’t New York, but it’s a start! Sun. 10:45 a.m. Free (members), $8 (guests). Metro Station at Historic Union Station, 900 Alameda St., Los Angeles. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.aabgu.org.
The West Coast Jewish Theatre invites you to “An Evening of Stars!” The benefit show, starring Jewish theater favorites Ed Asner, Shelley Berman, Hal Linden and others, will enable the organization to continue producing quality theater that presents Jewish themes, traditions and ideas. Famous former host of “Let’s Make a Deal,” Monty Hall, will be the master of ceremonies at this grand evening of entertainment. Sun. 6:30 p.m. $150-$225. American Jewish University, Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (323) 650-6973. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>relationship with the courageous German businessman who saved the lives of hundreds of Jews, at “Little Leyson — The Youngest Schindler’s List Survivor Tells His Story.” Mon. 8 p.m. $15-$20. Hyatt Westlake Plaza Hotel, 880 S. Westlake Blvd., Westlake Village. (818) 991-0991. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.skirball.org.
WED | NOVEMBER 19
Painting and poetry meld together beautifully in Marcia Falk’s new exhibition, “Inner East: Illuminated Poetry and Blessings.” Falk, author of “The Song of Songs: Love Lyrics from the Bible” and “The Book of Blessings: New Jewish ” target=”_blank”>http://www.uclahillel.org.
THU | NOVEMBER 20
“M*A*S*H” and “Ocean’s Eleven” star Elliot Gould will be honored at the Laugh Factory during a special night for Hillel 818. The comedy-filled evening will feature Elon Gold, Bret Ernst and The Skylar Brothers. Proceeds from the event will help support Hillel programs at Cal State Northridge, and Pierce and Valley colleges. Thu. 7 p.m. (VIP reception) 8 p.m. (show) $10-$25; $75 (VIP). The Laugh Factory, 8001 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 887-5901 or (818) 886-5101. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jmcla.org.
What can the Jewish community expect from our next president? Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay will host Jonathan Adelman, a professor at University of Denver’s Joseph Korbel School of International Studies and author of “The Rise of Israel: A History of a Revolutionary State,” for a special Shabbat service that will address this and many other questions. Adelman will speak on “What Does Our New President Mean for Israel and the Middle East?” If you’re not already impressed with Adelman’s credentials, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice can vouch for him: She was his former doctoral student. Fri. 6:15 p.m. Free. Congregation Ner Tamid, 5721 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes. (310) 377-6986.
Photo exhibition reveals challenges, dreams of teen immigrants
Arsim Mustafa, a 14-year-old boy who immigrated with his parents from Kosovo to the United States, is leaning against a paint-spattered wall, arms loosely crossed as they rest on the oversized T-shirt he is wearing. He looks like any American teen, wearing baggy pants and high-top sneakers, his boyish face framed by close-cropped dark hair, his gaze meeting the camera with apparent equanimity.
But when documentary photographer Barbara Beirne asked him about his homeland, he told her how scared he had been before he came to America.
“In my country, it was always war. I saw people dying. I saw people without arms, eyes, hands — without heads,” Mustafa said. “We finally got away, but I was upset.”
On a winter day, just four months after arriving from Ukraine, a 15-year-old girl stood beneath low-hanging gray clouds on a deserted stretch of Coney Island Beach, amusement park rides visible far behind her. Engulfed in winter garb, holding a scarf to her neck against the wind, her eyes are fixed on a point in the distance over the ocean. She told Beirne that she missed “Ukraine and nature,” where everyone in her village worked in the fields, then picked and ate apples together.
“Is it true that you can’t pick apples from trees here?” she asked.
These teens’ impressions of their homelands — from Mustafa’s wartime horrors to the young Ukrainian woman’s pastoral idyll — are just two examples of the wide-ranging sentiments expressed by 59 teens included in the exhibition, “Becoming American: Teenagers and Immigration,” opening Oct. 17 at the Skirball Cultural Center. Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), “Becoming American” premiered March 10, 2007, at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and will travel to various venues around the country through 2011. The teenagers’ stories, as told through their own words, appear alongside Beirne’s evocative photographic portraits, drawing viewers into a maelstrom of the teens’ hopes, fears and dreams as they face a new life in a foreign land.
Beirne, who studied photography with Philip Perkis and Robert Mapplethorpe, has amassed an impressive body of work over the past 25 years. She has worked in India, Nepal and Ecuador; has documented the lives of children in war-torn Belfast, Ireland, and has had a prior exhibition, “Serving Home and Community: The Women of Appalachia,” tour the United States from 1999-2003, also through SITES.
Beirne first became interested in teenage immigrants while on a magazine assignment in her home state of New Jersey in 1999. More than 3,000 Kosovar Albanians had been brought to the United States in a humanitarian response to the crisis in Kosovo; hundreds of them were housed at Fort Dix, N.J., awaiting resettlement assistance. Visiting them weekly, Beirne discovered that of the refugees, it was the teenagers who were the most willing — excited, even — to talk to the news media.
All photos by Barbara Beirne
The indestructible spirit of Holocaust survivors
These photographs by Bill Aron are part of a project titled “Holocaust Survivors: The Indestructible Spirit.”
The project, sponsored by Chapman University, unites interviews and images of local Holocaust survivors, with each illuminating the other, telling their stories from the war and also showing them today as they have not only survived, but prospered.
The biographies here were condensed and excerpted by The Journal from interviews by students of professor Marilyn J. Harran, director of Chapman’s Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education. The interviews were conducted as part of Harran’s Holocaust history courses at Chapman, and are © 2007-2008, Chapman University.
“I was welcomed not only into their homes, but also into their hearts. They gave me a gift of openness and trust, which made possible one hundred truly memorable encounters. It was the essence of these encounters, a deep sense of connection, an exquisite intimacy, if you will, that I felt, and that I tried to put into the images. The extent that my photographs are successful is due to their openness and trust. . . .
The prophet Zechariah proclaims that the people of Israel will prevail “not by might, nor by power, but by spirit alone … will you survive.” Clearly, it was not by might, nor by power that they prevailed, but by the strength of their enduring spirit.
— Bill Aron, photographer
Jack Pariser was born in 1929 in Poland, south of Krakow. His father sold lumber and his mother sold fabric. When the Nazis began terrorizing Jews in 1939, Jack’s grandfather was beaten unconscious for refusing to walk on the Torah; he died soon after. In early August 1942, Jack’s mother learned that the Germans were planning to murder the town’s Jews the next day, and the family fled, hiding for months in the forest. They were rescued by a Christian man who had worked for Jack’s father and were hidden in a bunker under a woodshed floor. When they eventually moved to another hiding place, they were betrayed and arrested by Polish police. They escaped from jail by cutting through the wall with a penknife. They were again protected by non-Jews until the war ended in 1945.
The family moved to the United States in 1949, and Jack went on to become chief scientist at Hughes Aircraft, where he retired from in 1987.
Eva Brettler (nee Katz) was born in Romania in 1936. She was visiting her grandparents in Hungary in 1944 when the German soldiers took her grandmother and aunt as she hid. When she emerged, she sought out the town rabbi, who reconnected her to her parents. When her father was made to do forced labor, her mother tried to protect young Eva, at one point taking on a false identity as a non-Jew, for which she was later denounced and mother and child were arrested. In September 1944, the two were sent on a forced march to Germany with thousands of Jews; Eva’s mother was killed on the walk, and the young girl tried to understand why her mother didn’t come for her. Eventually, with the help of a fellow prisoner, she arrived at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she was encouraged and protected by women prisoners. With the advance of the Russian army, the Germans moved the prisoners to Bergen-Belsen by cattle car, and Eva survived — and helped others — by luck and ingenuity, squeezing through wire fence to steal scraps of potato peelings from a kitchen refuse area. After liberation, she reunited with her father and they returned to Hungary. In 1956, after the brutal suppression of the Hungarian Revolution, Eva fled her country, arriving in the United States in 1957, where she met and married fellow survivor Marten Brettler. In 1983, she earned a degree in psychology from UCLA and became a social worker.
Sally Roisman (nee Zielinski) was born in Sosnowiec, Poland, in 1930 to a devoutly religious family. When war broke out, the family had nowhere to flee to, so they survived by bartering jewelry for food. Young Sally was often sent to do the job. In 1942, her father was sent to Auschwitz, and the rest of the family was moved to the ghetto. Eventually her sisters, then Sally, were sent to Graeben, a sub-camp of Gross-Rosen. Sally, just 13, survived with the help of her sisters. In January 1945, as the Soviets approached, the Germans sent 250 prisoners on a death march to Germany; Sally was among the 150 to arrive at Bergen-Belsen, where she almost died of typhus. In April 1945, when the British liberated the camp, the sisters learned that their brother had also survived at a nearby camp and two other brothers were at Buchenwald. Their parents, three brothers and two sisters were murdered at Auschwitz.
The remaining six siblings eventually moved to Australia. On a vacation to New York, Sally met her future husband, Steve Roisman. The couple settled in Los Angeles, near Sally’s sister and brother. Today, Sally is an artist, making award-winning paintings of Jewish life before the Holocaust.
Curt Lowens was born in 1925 in East Prussia (now Poland), to a home filled with music and laughter. His father, once a respected lawyer, lost all his clients with the rise of Hitler. The family moved to Berlin in 1936, hoping to find safety in the large Jewish community there, but eventually decided to immigrate to the United States. The day before they were to depart on the SS Veendam from Rotterdam, the Germans invaded Holland, preventing the departure. In June 1943, the family was sent to Westerbork, a transit camp, and then to Auschwitz. However, they were released and immediately went underground. Curt received a false identity and became an active and valiant member of the resistance, under the name “Ben Joosten.”
After the war, in 1947, Curt, his father and stepmother immigrated to the United States; he became an actor, and met Katherine Guilford at the famous Berhoff Studio. He is a respected character actor, working onstage on Broadway and in film and television.
Israeli’s ‘Makom’ sculptures merge art and archaeology
In the quiet, pastoral village of Kfar Shmu’el, not far from Jerusalem, Michal Rovner’s studio is an inspiring place to create art. The large, white building, with its high ceilings and minimalist decor, has several dark workrooms full of computers, screens, projectors and various video installations.
In the center of the building is a small kitchen, where the sun streams in from a large terrace. A plate of avocados and pears arranged neatly on a shelf are the most vivid colors in a sea of soft pastels made even brighter by the afternoon rays.
Outside, a row of heavy stones with unique sizes, shapes and colors stand guard at the entrance like mute soldiers. These static objects bear the weight of numerous, paradoxical connotations within Israeli society — from construction and deconstruction to violence and peace — that often underlie Rovner’s art.
“I have been collecting stones for many years for this or that excuse,” Rovner says. “I love them because you can’t help feeling the energy of the stones and the residue from the timeline each stone carries.”
And perhaps it is this penchant that inspired her most recent creations: “Makom I,” Rovner’s first outdoor sculpture, and “Makom II,” a 60-ton stone structure that is currently on exhibit at the Pace Wildenstein Gallery in New York. Rovner will be in Los Angeles to discuss her work at the Getty Center on April 27.
Although she has a diverse portfolio that includes more than 40 solo exhibitions, it wasn’t until Rovner was honored with a midcareer retrospective at New York’s Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art in 2002 that she really began to gain international recognition. The first Israeli artist to ever show at the Whitney, Rovner’s works in “The Space Between” included photographs and video installations.
A year later, she was given the honor of representing Israel in a solo exhibition at the 2003 Venice Biennale to great acclaim.
The event, which has presented group exhibitions from a number of other Israeli artists in recent years — including sculptor Carmit Gil, painter Avner Ben Gal, photographer Efrat Shivly, sound and light artist Michal Helfman, video artists Amit Goren and Doron Solomons and installation artist Nahum Tevet — marked the beginning of trend in the international community to take Israeli artists more seriously.
Yet, although more and more Israeli artists are enjoying some success abroad, the numbers are still relatively small. Few others have the notoriety that Rovner enjoys.
At the Venice Biennale, Rovner’s provocative video installation titled, “Against Order? Against Disorder?” depicted thousands of miniscule human figures moving around the four walls of a dark room. Hand in hand, their constant but erratic motion is a mesmerizing testament to both continuity and change.
Best known for her work with photography, video and multimedia, Rovner has worked with a wide range of mediums throughout her prolific career.
“A former curator once wrote that my work defies classification, and I think this a beautiful way of putting it,” she says, picking up a photograph of “Makom I,” the first of two monumental stone sculptures that cross the lines between sculpture, architecture and archaeology. “I wanted to make a work with pieces of Israeli and Arabic houses that employed stone masons from Israel and Palestine who worked together side by side,” she explains.
In “Makom I,” the smaller of the two installations, two tiny windows allow the observer to peer in at a ghostly, white figure that moves its outstretched arms up to its head in a gesture of woe and then splays them back out again. Rovner decided to make “Makom II” larger, and rather than making windows, she placed a large gap in one of the square walls to add an element of fragility.
This stands in stark contrast to the durability and permanence of the stone itself. Inside the structure, a large stone that shares the same gap on one side mirrors its gigantic outer shell.
In order to complete the structures, Rovner gathered more than 10,000 stones in the field just below her house, which is up the hill from her studio.
“I did not want to cut or chip the stones in order to make them fit. I wanted to put them together like a puzzle, and that meant finding the precise size and shape for each space in order to complete the square walls,” Rovner says.
She points out that the work was like that of an archaeologist sifting through ruins, and it was especially emotional to work with stones of various ages that came from all over Israel and the West Bank.
Today, piled in the periphery of Rovner’s sprawling garden amongst blooming wildflowers, olive trees and vegetables, the leftover stones await Rovner’s next project.
“Makom II” took many weeks to complete, and once it was finished, Rovner meticulously marked each stone with a Hebrew letter and a number using permanent paint. This label recalls an ancient language that blends their old origins with a new location.
The fact that the stones were constructed in Israel out of old buildings and houses and then deconstructed and shipped abroad to finally be reconstructed in New York adds another layer of meaning to the structure.
“Taking these stones out of their context in Israel and putting them in New York revealed something even stronger,” says Rovner, who also has a studio in New York, where she has worked since 1988. “Something even more intense was revealed with the geographical change. If only stones could talk,” she says wistfully, contemplating the complex past, present and future of each of her chosen stones.
The interest in shifting landscapes and changing mediums is reflected in Rovner’s wide array of artistic creations. And although she is loath to categorize her work for fear of being pigeonholed, she will say that it always presents questions that invite the spectator to consider a new vantage point.
“The single thread that runs through different projects is an interest in the human living thing,” she says. “My goal is to create a situation that will inspire people to change their point of view and see things differently — even if it’s only for a moment.”
On Sunday, April 27, Michal Rovner will discuss “Makom I” and “Makom II” at the Getty Center at 4 p.m. in the Harold Williams Auditorium.
Celebrating Israel’s 60th, Skirball Style
There are many ways to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary, and the Skirball Cultural Center is leading with its strength by offering a series of wide-ranging programs of art shows, music, film and lectures.
Two current shows pay tribute to the nation’s distaff side: “Ziva Sivan: Painting Is Her Home” and “Israeli Women: A Portrait in Photographs.”
The Sivan exhibition marks the first public showing of her paintings, drawings and sculptures in the United States, but she is relatively unknown even in her native country, though she was born in Jerusalem, rarely left the city and died there.
By her own choice, Sivan remained a nonpublic figure whose house was her studio. She rarely allowed a showing of her works and discouraged potential buyers.
Judging by the 33 works selected for the current exhibition by curator Barbara C. Gilbert, who also edited the handsome catalogue, Sivan’s expressive, colorful and large-sized paintings on canvas and cardboard varied in style during a 30-year career from naturalism to abstract and back to realistic.
Throughout, Sivan’s predominant subject was the female nude, to the point that her often Rubenesque models became part of her extended family.
Her smaller-sized bronze sculptures are again mostly female, with the exception of a particularly expressive figure of a seated old man.
Sivan lived from 1936 to 2004, during the last decade finding some relief from the pain of a malignant cancer through her art, which complemented, but did not overshadow, her domestic life.
As art historian Dalia Manor quotes Sivan, “I see myself, first and foremost, as a family woman. The home and the family are the most important things to me. The art — which is my more public persona — that’s very important for me spiritually, but still, my first priority is my family.”
In light of these sentiments, it was fitting that at last week’s opening of the exhibit, which closes June 30, Skirball president Uri Herscher introduced, as honored guests, Sivan’s husband, Uzi; son, Ehud, and daughter, Noa.
The companion photo exhibit of Israeli women represents an instant time warp, with tanned kibbutzniks plucking oranges in 1948 and their uniformed sisters somewhat unheroically bringing tea to male officers.
But, as the decades pass, there is also a suitably gowned Miss Israel 2000 and hip young Tel Avivians frolicking at the beach.
In between the two eras are some exceptional portraits by Moshe Milner of immigrant women from Yemen and Algeria, as well as contributions by Hollywood’s own Roman Freulich and from documentary filmmaker Zion Ozeri.
A total of 63 images by 18 photographers make up the display, which runs through Aug. 10.
Other upcoming Israel at 60 events include the multicultural Esta musical ensemble, which will perform May 15, and theater artist Sara Felder, starring in the play “Out of Sight” on May 21 and 23.
For additional information, call (310) 440-4500.
Ziva Sivan, Musicians, 1988.Acrylic on canvas.Photo by Oded Antman
Calendar Girls picks and clicks for April 5-11
SAT | APRIL 5
The three-movement composition titled “Water From a Stone” was inspired by a gift — the Jerusalem Fountain — given to the Catholic Church by the Skirball Foundation and an anonymous Jewish family. Composer Michael Isaacson, founding music director of the Israel Pops Orchestra, has written a work combining Jewish biblical themes, Hebrew prayers and Israeli folksongs. With forceful hands, pianist Andrea Anderson will tell the story that begins when Moses defies God, strikes the rock and incites dramatic confrontation, followed by a second movement that draws its melody from a Hebrew prayer for rain. The end is buoyant and hopeful, echoing the imperative of an Israeli folksong based on the words of Isaiah: “Draw water joyfully from the Fountain of Deliverance,” says the prophet, bringing the music and its message back to the symbolic fountain sitting in the cathedral’s courtyard. The performance also includes works by Mozart, Debussy, Copeland and Prokofiev. Sat. 8 p.m. $10 (suggested donation). Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. (213) 680-5200.
It’s a scenario not commonly heard: a young Eastern European Jew flees the pogroms of Russia in 1909 and floats his banana boat to Hamilton, Texas. The story made its stage debut as “The Immigrant” in the 1980s. Written by Mark Harelik, the coming-to-America play reveals the true-life tale of Harelik’s ï¿½(c)migrï¿½(c) grandparents and will premiere new creative content in an updated musical version. Sarah Knapp’s lyrics add dimension, depth and emotionality, buoying the spirit of a story about starting over. Sat. 8 p.m. $37-$42. Through May 4. The Colony theater, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. (818) 558-7000, ext. 15. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.plays411.com/wings.
SUN | APRIL 6
Menschs for mitzvahs wanted! Jewish Family Service is enlisting volunteers to help with their three community seders for immigrant families and seniors. Those who are blessed with holiday celebrations filled with family and friends are just the right people to bring those feelings of warmth and comfort to others. Sun. 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Hollywood Temple Beth El, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., Los Angeles. To sign-up, call Sherri at (323) 761-8800 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prepare to answer touchy questions today at a forum organized by UCLA Extension Public Policy that ponders “Can Faith Be Rational? Cooperation and Conflict Among Christians, Jews and Muslims.” While these faiths trace their roots to a common source, they can and do clash in the context of contemporary life. Is peaceful coexistence possible? How does the religious diversity of modern society impact public policy decisions on education, scientific research and foreign relations? Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of UCLA Hillel, Amir Hussain, associate professor in theology at Loyola Marymount University, and Phyllis Herman, chair of the religious studies department at CSU Northridge, will dialogue during this half-day seminar, explaining their respective faiths’ historical backgrounds and spiritual beliefs and how these philosophies can survive in the current world. Sun. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. $50. UCLA, Semel Institute for Neuroscience, 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. (310) 825-9971. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.temple-sinai.net.
New Age Senior Singles could simply never tire of the theater. During their Theater and Dinner Party, they’ll first head to the proscenium for “Moonshine,” described as a “musical romantic comedy with touches of magical realism.” Following the performance, the group will dine at Pomodoro’s during a no-host dinner, where schmoozers can air their best art criticism and satiate their appetite after those theater-snack morsels. Sun. 2 p.m. $24. Woodland Hills theater Group, West Valley Playhouse, 7242 Owensmouth, Canoga Park. For reservations, call (818) 347-8355.
Photo exhibit highlights the human cost of our bounty
In the stark black-and-white photo, two small children play in and around water, as children anywhere might do on a hot day. But there’s something odd about the image: it isn’t the shore or a recreational pool they’re playing in, but a concrete irrigation canal.
“The children’s father works in the orchards,” said Rick Nahmias, creator, writer and photographer of “The Migrant Project: Contemporary California Farm Workers,” a recently opened exhibition at the Museum of Tolerance and of the book of the same name.
“Their mother works in the packing houses. Midday they pack a lunch and the kids bring their pet chicken, and they play in the canal…. Against all odds, these people are holding their family together. There’s something beautiful about that,” Nahmias said.”At the same time, there’s something horrifying because it’s not Santa Monica Beach or the YMCA. It’s an agricultural canal, and the water is tainted with pesticides.”
Nahmias, who is Jewish and in his early 40s, lives in the San Fernando Valley. A photographer/writer/filmmaker who has worked for corporate and organizational clients, his recent efforts have focused on what he feels “really matters”: documenting the lives and struggles of marginalized people and communities. His other photo-documentary projects include “Golden States of Grace,” a collection of images and oral histories depicting off-the-beaten-path religious groups in moments of sacrament and prayer. Another undertaking, “Last Days of the Four Seasons,” now in post-production, chronicles the lives of Holocaust survivors residing in a Catskill bungalow colony that is in the process of being shut down for good.
Nahmias said that the idea for “The Migrant Project” took root in 2002, when he was working for Arianna Huffington as a writer and researcher.
“On a break from my political writing, I spent a week at a culinary institute in Napa,” Nahmias said. “While there, I realized that no one talks about how this amazing bounty of food gets to our kitchens and tables. And I thought: ‘Let me take a stab at this.’ I felt passionate enough about this issue to leave a paying job in order to try to do something that was both creative and political.
“Another thing was that I had spent time [researching] the life of Edward R. Murrow, especially ‘Harvests of Shame,’ his groundbreaking 1960 documentary on migrant farm workers. I had not seen anything done currently that addressed that.”
In order to gather material for “The Migrant Project,” Nahmias crisscrossed California’s agricultural areas, from Calexico to Sacramento, listening to stories and taking photos. His aim was to put a human face on what he calls an “invisible and consistently neglected population.” Each of the exhibition’s 40 black-and-white photos — which are accompanied by Nahmias’ written commentary — offers a glimpse into the “collective saga about the very human cost of putting food on America’s table.”
For example, there’s Maria. She looks, unsmilingly, straight at the camera, her face framed by leaves. On the day Nahmias was scheduled to shoot Maria’s portrait, she was evicted from the trailer park where she lived with her three children. Her Latina landlady had “snooped around” and discovered Maria is HIV-positive.
“Here was an incident of bad behavior by someone in the community to someone beneath her,” Nahmias said. “Do I glaze over that? Or do I document it? I felt I had to bring that truth out and let people make of it what they will. It was amazing to me that Maria could put aside her own issues, her eviction, her fear and pain, her anger and sadness, and talk very candidly with me about her journey, what she’s doing now, how she’s surviving.”
Nahmias pointed out another photo: A laborer is in the shade of a grapevine, cutting down a bunch of grapes. He’s on one knee, his back ramrod straight, a hedge-clipper in his right hand, his left hand swathed with a protective cloth. A shaft of sunlight slants down on the grapes and makes them look like precious jewels. The light, the farm worker’s pose, his concentration — it looks like a religious moment in a classical painting.
“It had to be about 110 degrees when this photo was taken,” Nahmias said. “This gentleman was kneeling in this grape arbor all morning. I’d heard from a number of farm workers that they see their labor as a spiritual duty — helping to bring God’s bounty to the earth. Religion is one of the few shreds of dignity that farm workers have, something they can hold onto while doing enormously hard work and suffering degradation.”
Nahmias said more than a million people in California are involved in migrant farm labor, and the big growers have little or no human connection with them.
“A middleman-agent brings the growers undocumented laborers who are willing to work for three or four dollars per hour,” Nahmias said. “If a worker is owed [money], what’s he going to do? He doesn’t speak English; he can’t go to court because he works six days a week, and there are 8,000 complaints piled up ahead of his.”
While preparing this exhibition, Nahmias said he came to believe “that no other group of people in this country works as hard and is paid so little for that work. And no group plays such a vital role in preserving the lifestyle that we’re fortunate to have.
“I hope that this exhibit lays a few seeds of compassion … so that when people look at ‘the immigration issue,’ they’ll realize it’s a human issue…. We eat three meals a day, and we’re incredibly lucky to do that…. I do educational programs, I talk with the kids, I tell them, ‘Look, you’re going for your Happy Meal, this is where that tomato comes from’…. [So] by virtue of the lives we lead, as Americans and as human beings, we owe it to the migrant workers to look in their eyes and understand how we’re reflected in their eyes. We owe it to them to understand what responsibility we have.”
The exhibition continues through May 25 at the Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. “The Migrant Project” book is available at the Museum of Tolerance. Half the proceeds from book sales will go to organizations helping migrant farm laborers. For more information, call (310) 553-8403.