Roman Vishniac and Chim Photography at International Center of Photography

Roman Vishniac photograph at ICP of people in a crowd standing, the focus is on a little girls wearing a hat looking over at someone else while smiling

The title of the International Center of Photography's excellent, career-long retrospective of the great photographer Roman Vishniac, "Rediscovered", is a bit puzzling at first. After all, Vishniac's A Vanished World, published in 1983, has been one of the bestselling photography books of all time, its record of Jewish life in Eastern Europe on the eve of World War II as invaluable as it is heartbreaking.

But even if many of Vishniac's most famous, indelible photographs are repeated here at the ICP exhibition–not at all a bad thing, but not really a discovery either, re- or otherwise–there are also dozens of never-before-shown prints on display, recently uncovered during an in-depth examination of the artist's considerable archive.

Roman Vishniac photograph at ICP called Anhalter Bahnhof, a black and white image of business men walking through a train station

Roman Vishniac photograph at ICP called Girl In Plaid Dress, a black in white image of a little girl looking up at the camera smiling in a paid dress

Roman Vishniac Photographs: Rediscovered

The ICP exhibition spans Vishniac's entire career, from his earliest street-photography days in the 1920s to his post-war celebrity portraits and scientific studies of tissue samples–from frogs, newts, slime mold, cockroaches etc.–that read like abstract paintings. But though these later works are interesting in context, our favorites remain his pre-war work, as narrow in its focus–commissioned by an American Jewish relief fund, all the people in Visniac's world are impoverished, deeply religious, and almost medieval in their style and sensibility–as it can sometimes be. This is searing stuff. Even better, perhaps, than his most familiar, Vanished World-era images are Vishniac's pre-PRE-war prints, when he roamed the not-yet-doomed streets shooting whatever caught his remarkable eye.  

Roman Vishniac photograph at ICP called Beggers, this is an image of two old men sitting on the ground up against a fence

Chim photography at ICP exhibition We Went back, this black and white image is of a large stone wall that looks to be the remains of a building, surrounded by children dancing

Chim Photography: We Went Back Exhibition

Covering similar chronological ground but from a different POV is the also-engaging ICP exhibition of works by the legendary photojournalist Chim. Called We Went Back, the Chim retrospective takes over the entire main floor of the ICP and offers more than 120 photographs of pre-war anti-fascist/worker's rights rallies and battles, as well as the painful rebuilding of the post-war world. In addition to just being an amazing, intimate historical record of a time and place–it's striking how, even two, three years after the Nazi surrender, so much of the continent remained buried in rubble–Chim's photography is instinctively brilliant compositions and aesthetic decisions are as eye-opening and instructive as ever. 

Chim photography at ICP exhibition called We Went Back, this black and white image is of a crowd of people standing around looking up, one women is breast feeding their baby

Roman Vishniac and Chim at the ICP details 

Both Roman Vishniac: Rediscoverd and Chim: We Went Back will be at the International Center of Photography through May 5. The ICP is located on 43rd Street and Sixth Avenue, and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., except for Fridays, when it stays open until 8:00 p.m. Closed Mondays. For lots more information about the Vishniac and the Chim exhibitions, see the ICP website!


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