ICP’s New Roman Vishniac Exhibit Features Treasures from the JDC Archives

The International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York is mounting a milestone exhibit, "Roman Vishniac Rediscovered," that takes a new, more comprehensive look at the scope and avant-garde bent of this legendary photographer, best known for his iconic pre-World War II images of Eastern European Jewry, many of which he created on assignment from JDC.

Opening on January 18 and scheduled to run through May 5, 2013, the exhibit is the culmination of a decade of work by ICP Curator Maya Benton, who oversees the photographer’s vast archives at the Center.

A recent feature in ARTnews explains how Benton, using recently discovered and diverse bodies of work, is reformulating and solidifying Vishniac’s reputation as a multifaceted artist whose “well-honed Modernist sensibility” colored a kaleidoscope of subjects recorded throughout a long and accomplished career.

JDC figured prominently in various stages of that career. Between 1937 and 1939, it commissioned Vishniac to photograph Jewish communities and JDC’s work in Central and Eastern Europe, images that later became part of the renowned volume, A Vanished World.

According to Benton, even in these Eastern European images, Vishniac employed ”an avant-garde sense of composition not often associated with his work.”

In 1940, JDC helped Vishniac (newly released from an internment camp in Nazi-occupied France) make his way from Portugal to the U.S., giving him a letter of recommendation that helped him establish professional connections here. Vishniac was commissioned by what was then UJA (United Jewish Appeal) to photograph people and programs in the postwar European Displaced Persons Camps, and JDC assisted him with his plans.

The JDC Archives includes a large collection of Roman Vishniac photographs, including the maquette (mock-up) of an unpublished book with over 80 images. The upcoming exhibition will feature this maquette, along with documents, pamphlets, and an artifact borrowed from the Archives.

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