Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky
Through July 12, 2009
The Detroit Institute of Arts
5200 Woodward Avenue, Detroit
About 2,500 years ago, the prophet Jeremiah, having predicted Nebuchadnezzar’s imminent destruction of the First Temple, composed the famous line, “Why did I leave the womb – to see toil and pain – that I may live out my days in shame?” About 500 years later, Joseph ben Matthias, also known as Josephus, observed and recorded the destruction of the Second Temple by Roman emperor Titus, claiming in Book VI of the “War of the Jews” (chapter nine) that 1.1 million Jews were killed and 97,000 were enslaved in the siege.
Jeremiah was a prophet who communicated with G-d; Josephus was not. The Jewish general was something close to a historian, albeit prone to exaggeration and to various biases, including the belief that Greco-Roman culture could and should embrace Judaism. Jeremiah wrote the book on Temple mourning, while Josephus simply came up with a sequel.
The same could be said of the pair of photographers featured in the exhibit “Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky” at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Separated by six decades rather than half-a-century like Jeremiah and Josephus, Vishniac and Gusky both captured the destruction of Eastern European Jewry.
Roman Vishniac, Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow, 1938, gelatin silver print,