Photography and Jewish History
Five Twentieth-Century Cases
by Amos Morris-Reich
- Published: November 2022
It is a sign of the accepted evidentiary status of photographs that historians regularly append them to their accounts, Amos Morris-Reich observes. Very often, however, these photographs are treated as mere illustrations, simple documentations of the events that transpired. Scholars of photography, on the other hand, tend to prioritize the photographs themselves, relegating the historical contexts to the background. For Morris-Reich, however, photography exists within reality; it partakes in and is very much a component of the history it records. Morris-Reich examines how photography affects categories of history and experience, how it is influenced by them, and the ways in which our understanding of the relationship between history and photography can be theorized and reoriented.
Morris-Reich here turns to five twentieth-century cases in which photography and Jewish history intersect: Albert Kahn’s utopian attempt to establish a photographic archive in Paris in order to advance world peace; the spectacular failed project of Helmar Lerski, the most prominent photographer in British Mandate Jewish Palestine; photography in the long career of Eugen Fischer, a Nazi professor of genetics; the street photography of Robert Frank; and the first attempt to introduce photography into the study of Russian Jewry prior to World War I, as seen from the post-Holocaust perspective of the early twenty-first century. Illustrated with nearly 100 images, Photography and Jewish History moves beyond a focus on Jewish photographers or the photographic representation of Jews or Jewish visibility to plumb the deeper and more significant registers of twentieth-century Jewish political history.
"In a highly personalized way, Amos Morris-Reich unpacks five important episodes where Jewish history and the history of photography come together. For Morris-Reich, photography has changed the world not only by endowing it with better and more accessible images, but also by changing the way people think about certain things—and Jews have been particularly subject to these changes."—Michael Berkowitz, University College London