Tag Archives: Holocaust

World War II Through Soviet Jewish Eyes

In 2003, a young American historian named David Shneer was conducting research in Moscow when he heard about an exhibition of photographs called Women at War. At the time, displaying photography on gallery walls was still a fairly novel concept for Russia, and the exhibit was not meant to be a blockbuster. To get inside, Shneer found that he had to ring a doorbell at a nondescript building, at which point a raspy voice came over the intercom and demanded: “Who are you? What do you want?” But the images inside astounded him.

Not only had they been taken with incredible skillarranging light and form in a way that would put to shame many of today’s war photographersbut they were from the Soviet battlefields of World War II, which made the surnames of their authors seem all the more strange. About four out of five of them, Shneer noticed, were Jewish surnames. “How is it possible,” he thought, “that a bunch of Jews, who are supposed to be oppressed by the Soviet Union, are the ones charged with photographing the war?”

As delicately as he could, Shneer put the question to one of the curators, who in typical Moscow style had a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other. “She looked at me like I’m an idiot and said, ‘Yes, the photographers were all Jewish.’” It turned out she was the granddaughter of one of them, Arkady Shaykhet, and their conversation that day is what led to the exhibit that opened on Nov. 16 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. Links backlinks blog comments . It has the same title as the book Shneer wrote from his researchThrough Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War and the Holocaust.

The show explores the way World War II was covered in the pages of Soviet newspapers such as Pravda, casting light on a side of the Holocaust that often gets short shrift in western history books. The genocide against the Jews, usually associated with images of Nazi death camps and gas chambers, was also perpetrated through mass shootings across Eastern Europe. Later termed the “Holocaust by Bullets,” it took more Jewish lives than the concentration camps, says Shneer, and it was documented most poignantly by the Jewish photographers of the Soviet press.

Although none of them are still alive to tell their story, Shneer spent the better part of a decade tracking down their relatives in Moscow and collecting nearly 200 works from their family archives. The prints were often no bigger than a pack of cigarettes, taken with beat-up cameras and two roles of film allotted for each battle. There are more faceless soldiers in these frames than intimate portraits of victims, and the most common theme is emptiness, at once bleak and monumental. But given their historical context, what seems most striking is the duality that runs through the lives and works of these photographers. On the one hand, these are works of Soviet propaganda, glorifying the Red Army in the tradition of socialist realism. “They needed photos of nurses doing good work on the home front, patriotic soldiers conquering territory,” says Shneer. “And their Jewishness rarely appears in that kind of material.”

But it does appear when they go off assignment to explore the Jewish ghettos in places like Ukraine and Hungary. There they found survivors living among the ruins of Europe, the yellow Stars of David on their overcoats still marking them for death. In the Budapest ghetto, the photographer Evgenii Khaldei found the corpses of his fellow Jews strewn about the floor of a gutted shop, a scrap of butcher paper covering the face of a man whose body lies in the doorway. Images like this did not appear in the mainstream Soviet press, but they were published in Eynikayt, or Unity, the Yiddish-language newspaper of the USSR. “We have this image in our heads that Jewishness was completely suppressed in the Soviet Union,” says Shneer. “But that’s really apost-war image of the country.”

Antisemitism only became part of Soviet dogma in 1948, the year that Israel was founded and Josef Stalin began his campaign against the”cosmopolitans” a Soviet byword for Jews. Many of the best Jewish photographers lost their staff positions at Pravda and other major publications that year, and phrases like “too many Jews on staff” began appearing in the official correspondence between the editors and their government censors. Some of the photographers continued working as freelancers for the propaganda press, but even after their experiences on the front, they rarely embraced their heritage. “None of these guys were buried in the Jewish cemetery,” says Shneer. “None ever tried to leave for Israel. None learned Hebrew.”

Soviet patriotism and its predilections came first, in their lives and in the work they produced. Even long after the fall of communism, when Shneer was conducting his research, the last surviving photographer from this group refused to meet with him. “He was still living in the Soviet world where meeting with a foreigner was scary.” In their style and execution, the images they captured are rooted in that world. They document the greatest triumph of the Soviet Union. But regardless of whether they are viewed on the pages of Pravda or a gallery wall, that world does not bind their relevance as monuments and works of art.

Simon Shuster is TIMEs Moscow reporter.

ThroughSoviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War and the Holocaust will be on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage from Nov. 16 2012 to April 7, 2013.

Success Stories: Deborah Parkin

I was driving home one recent afternoon and Deborah Parkin’s wonderful photographs appeared in my head. It got me thinking about her amazing trajectory in the last year. Several years ago, I started seeing images by Deborah in magazines and online and wrote about her work in LENSCRATCH in 2010. Her timeless and poignant work has captured the attention of many in the photo world and I was interested in the fact that Deborah does not live in a big city, is a mother at home with her children, and yet her work is seen internationally through social media and other outlets.

from Stillness

Deborah recently shared the wonderful news that her first monograph is being published by Galerie Vevais and edited by William Ropp in October, and her first solo exhibition will open at The Theater by the Lake in Keswick in September.  How did she make it happen?  I decided to find out.  Deborah’s interview follows.

 To order the collection, go here

To order the book, go here.

 from Diary of Growing Up


I first wrote about your work two years ago, when I started to see
you images out in the world.  So much has happened for you in those two
years, including a book to be published this fall, but let’s start at the
beginning.  What brought you to photography?

I have always loved photographs.  I can spend hours with my family going through the family
album, but I think my passion for the photograph came through when researching for
a Ph.d in Women’s Holocaust writing. 
It was here that I saw the power of the photograph & it’s place in
personal history & memory.

However, when my daughter Fleur was born just over seven years ago,
I gave up my Ph.d (was supposed to be a temporary measure) & enrolled on a
local photography course – which I did for a couple of years.  From there I went to university to
study a part-time photography degree. 
I took these courses as a way of breaking the monotony of changing
nappies & cleaning the home.  I
loved having children but I needed to use my brain or do something creative
too.  So the passion for the
photograph turned into a passion for photography with the birth of my children.

 from Diary of Growing Up

What triggered you to leave school?

My daughter.  The course
was only supposed to take up 12 hours a week of my life but because of my
nature, it became more like a 50 hour week.  It was also an 80 mile round trip too & I needed to be
there at least 4 days a week.  I
set up a darkroom at home & would work into the early hours of the morning
learning my craft – the children would come in & help – Fleur would
sometimes fall asleep almost at my feet.  At university I studied all different genres of photography
from documentary, studio, street, historical processes & to the more
conceptual/staged photography.  It
was great to have a go at all of these but it was here that I realized that I
wanted to concentrate on things closer to my heart & photograph my family
& things personal to me.
It was at university that I started my series ‘memory’.  I used my children to recreate
childhood memories – mainly about my feelings of my parents’ divorce & my
troubled time at school.  However, Fleur
was becoming more unsettled at nursery & I knew she was starting school
within a year & I didn’t want history repeating itself.  I wanted her settled & happy. So, I
decided to leave. My tutors were very understanding.  They did try to persuade me to stay & said that I needed
to ease up on myself – don’t chase grades – but I knew that I would only ever
be happy if I put 100% into my work – I needed to find a balance.  University was great as it allowed me
to learn so much, but leaving was also the best thing I did as I liberated me
& allowed me to follow my own path.

 from Diary of Growing Up

Tell us more about the book, how did it come
about, etc?

The publisher Alexander Scholz from Galerie Vevais saw my work via
the photographer William Ropp and asked William to introduce us as he was
interested in buying some of my work.   After that we became friends on Facebook and he saw
that I was making my own books.  He
asked me if I would be interested in Galerie Vevais publishing my work (at this
point it was for the ‘September is the Cruellest Month’ series).  The books I had been making had tipped
in prints & handwritten text – Alex wanted to create a similar book, with
the same intimacy (although so much better).  It evolved from there. 
It started as one book, Alex then included my ‘Stillness’ &  ‘memory’ series into what has become the
Trilogy.  Originally William Ropp
was to be the editor with Professor John Wood (poet & editor at 21st
Century) writing the essay. Then, Alex had another idea.  He wanted to make a softcover version,
with a collection of my work that was more affordable to the public.  William Ropp has kindly edited this
book & John Wood has now edited the Trilogy. 

 from Memory

You are also mother with young children, and certainly have time
constraints…when do you make your work and how often?

I work mainly at weekends and school holidays.  It’s not that difficult really because
I work with my family – although saying that, every minute of my day is full
& I am constantly trying to catch up. 
I think it would be much more difficult if I was working on something
that outside of family life – like landscape or a documentary project for
example.  Photography fits into my
family life & not the other way. 
I also get up really early & have a wonderful husband who supports
me in everything I do.

 from Memory

What has working in historical processes
brought to your work?

It’s quite a difficult question to answer because I am living in a
time in which those working with historical processes are criticized for hiding
behind the process.  In other
words, creating weak work (whatever that is) and making it more interesting by the
process they use.  However, I do
feel that working with wet plate collodion has made my work feel more intimate,
more personal (although I do feel that working with a large format camera also
adds to this).   I love the
intimacy of the process.  It is really
wonderful working with your hands, it becomes more than seeing with your eye or
feeling with your heart  – I love
the tintypes as objects – I think it comes back to my love affair of the

The object also becomes part of the image or in other words the way
you craft this object –the way you pour your chemistry all adds to the way the
final image will look.  For
example, if you rush, or are nervous, under pressure (which you can easily feel
when working with children which requires you to stay calm & work
efficiently so that they relax and the plate doesn’t dry) this can be reflected
in the way you pour or develop or even focus your camera. 

 from Memory

As an emerging photographer, what insights can
you share?

For me, it’s always been about the work.  I never really imagined being published or having gallery
representation etc – things like that were for other people.  I just wanted to be a good photographer
and leave something, a legacy for my children & maybe grandchildren.  So ultimately I feel you need to work
hard, learn your craft & be passionate about your subject.  Do it for yourself because not everyone
will like what you do & you can’t please everyone, so you must love doing
what you do.  I have also found the
Internet to be an excellent way of sharing work & for being inspired by
other artists too.

 from Memory

Tell us some of the wonderful things that have happened for you in
the last two years?

Since I first appeared on Lenscratch I have had an amazing
time.  Naturally, it’s a
rollercoaster ride but thankfully the positive has outweighed the
negative.  During this time I have
been published in several magazines, both online & traditional print such
as Ag & Shots.  I have also
been in several exhibitions in the U.S including at Gallery Carte Blanche in
San Francisco.  And, as previously
mentioned I have had all my three series published by Galerie Vevais, which are
due to be released in October 2012.  I even have an image on a cover of a Cd, which is lovely.

On top of that I have been on workshops as a way of learning new
ways to present my work, such as Ethiopian bookbinding & more recently a
platinum/palladium, digital negatives. I have also helped assist Carl Radford
on wet plate workshops –who has been an amazing mentor to me. 
During this time I have met some absolutely amazing people, both
online and off.  I hope they know
who they are.  These people have
supported, advised and encouraged me in ways that I could never have envisaged.  

from September is the Cruellest Month

You live in a small, rural town in England…how did you connect
with a global photographic community?

The Internet. My husband set up an account with Facebook & a
blog.  I just posted as a way of
sharing work with family & friends but this grew. Tom Chambers kindly
suggested that I should send in one of my images for the Lenscratch family
exhibition – which I did.  I
remember he was so kind and actually came back and reminded me.  Then, I was featured on Lenscratch and
the photographic community opened up enormously – especially in the U.S.  Andy Adams of Flak has also been very
supportive of my work and again it has allowed me to connect to people I never
would have had the opportunity too living here in Hexham.  It’s quite funny really because I can
walk into the school playground to pick up my daughter and hardly anyone knows
that I am a photographer & yet I correspond with lots of people from around
the world.

Image from September is the Cruellest Month

Your Internet presence seems to be integral to your success, and I
notice that you post your work on FB quite a lot–has that helped get the word

I am not the most confident person and in some ways quite shy.  I know I would have never had the
confidence to go around galleries with my work & to be honest, I wouldn’t
have the money to travel around the country or abroad or go to some of the
portfolio reviews on offer.  
So the Internet has allowed me to be part of a community that would have
never otherwise happened.  As a
mother of small children, I never would have had the time either to be

If I hadn’t have posted on the internet & FB in particular I
would have never come into contact with many people who have become my mentors
and friends.

Image from September is the Cruellest Month

What’s next?

I still have more work to do with my wet plate series with the
children.  I am looking forward to
working with new children this summer (and my old friends too).  I will always photograph my children –
or as long as they allow me and I want to start on platinum/palladium
printing.  My Polaroid work is all
4×5 positives so would be lovely to convert them to a digital negative and print
them using this process – not sure how it will turn out but always need to be
learning something new.  Other than
that, I have no idea.  I will just
go with the flow in the way I always do.

from September is the Cruellest Month

And finally, what would be your perfect day?

My image ‘Catbells’ sums up my perfect day.  A walk over the fells & mountains
of the lake district with my family & then sit by the lake in the evening
eating fish & chips & no-one else is around – it is so quiet and we are
so happy.  Of course my camera is
perched on its’ tripod ready to capture this & the branch is found that
will hang out my Polaroid to dry.
from September is the Cruellest Month
 from September is the Cruellest Month
from Stillness

from Stillness

from Stillness

from Stillness

from Stillness

from Stillness

Deborah Parkin, Siblings

Deborah Parkin, Siblings

Deborah Parkin

United Kingdom, 2012
Website – DeborahParkin.com

Deborah Parkin is a photographer based in rural Northumberland, UK. She spent many years in Academia – researching for a Ph.D in Women’s War Writing & teaching as well as gaining an MA in Holocaust Studies. Deborah has always been fascinated with childhood, whether it is recording her own memories of childhood, photographing her own children or other children. In her series Stillness in Time she wanted to photograph children using the wet plate collodion process – a process that requires stillness, the antithesis to the frantic, sometimes pressurized world these children live in. She wanted to record moments of stillness and disengagement from their immediate world. Her work is to be published by Gallery Vevais this summer and is held in collections in the U.S and Europe.

Deborah Parkin, Untitled

Deborah Parkin, Untitled

Deborah Parkin

Hexham, Northumberland, United Kingdom, 2011
Website – DeborahParkin.com

Deborah Parkin is a photographer based in rural Northumberland, UK. She spent many years in Academia – researching for a Ph.D in Women’s War Writing & teaching as well as gaining an MA in Holocaust Studies. Deborah has always been fascinated with childhood, whether it is recording her own memories of childhood, photographing her own children or other children. In her series Stillness in Time she wanted to photograph children using the wet plate collodion process – a process that requires stillness, the antithesis to the frantic, sometimes pressurized world these children live in. She wanted to record moments of stillness and disengagement from their immediate world. Her work is to be published by Gallery Vevais this summer and is held in collections in the U.S and Europe.

Gay Block

I was introduced to the work of Houston photographer, Gay Block, by Frazier King from the Houston Center of Photography. Gay has been a portrait photographer for a good long while, and her site has many wonderful series worth exploring. I’m going to feature several in order to peak your interest. As a portrait photographer, Gay began in 1973 with portraits of her own affluent Jewish community in Houston and later expanded this study to include South Miami Beach and girls at summer camp. Her landmark work with writer Malka Drucker, RESCUERS: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust, both a book and traveling exhibit, has been seen in over fifty venues in the US and abroad, including the Museum of Modern Art, NY, in 1992.

A few of her terrific portraits:
In these first pictures, I became interested in the way families looked together. I had never noticed that family members sometimes assumed identical gestures. When this happened, I stopped the interview and asked them to stay that way so that I could photograph it. I almost never gave a direction about the way someone should look or sit, except that I usually asked them not to smile, explaining that a smile put on expressly for the camera would create a facade which might give a superficial quality to the picture.

“And I’ll say that I got a knot in my stomach when I realized that, well by golly, it has happened. A son of mine is engaged to a non-Jewish girl, and I didn’t like it. That was my immediate reaction. I didn’t like it, and I was a little surprised at my own reaction.”

I came to understand that children are simply short people….The first time I asked a child to go into his own bedroom for the picture, I realized later that I had done it because his room was his domain and the place he was most comfortable. He relaxed, he became himself, and began to collaborate with me. Children do not need to be coached not to smile; they do not yet have the adult’s involuntary response of smiling the minute they are in front of a camera.

Gay has focused some of her work on her mother. She created a book, Mother exPosed, in 2003 of images that were created over a 20 year period.

How do you like my new necklace?, 1997/2003

In 1981, Gay decided to photograph the girls at Camp Pinecliffe, and re-photographed them as women almost 25 years later.


Images from The Women the Girls are Now 1981-2006

Images from Underwear