Photo Memories

Reflections on an artwork related to the Passover holiday, evoking memories of families known and unknown.
3 minutes reading time (590 words)

Passover, Monday 22 April 1940

It's said that "memory" is an engrossing theme for Jews ...

It's the first night of Pesach, Monday 22 April 1940. The photo with the women at the right is of the Hershfield family seder. Zaideh officiates, flanked by two grandsons, and Baba is to his left. Their sons and daughters-in-law are ranged at the table in descending ages.  My father Leible, age 31, is 3rd from bottom left; my mother Babe, his 23 year old bride of six months, is 2nd from bottom right. Two grandsons and a grand-daughter at the foot of the table, an infant grandson in the carriage in the kitchen. On the fridge sits the precious samovar that Baba and Zaideh brought with them to Winnipeg from Zhitomir in 1910, and that I've seen at my cousins' all my life. I'm years away from being born.b2ap3_thumbnail_03a_Hershfield-photo.png

Through a YIVO "share" on Facebook, I find a photo held by Yad Vashem of another family seder, this one in Warsaw that same Monday 22 April 1940. The similarity between the photos is unbalancing, foreboding: women on one side men on the other line the linen covered table, wine-filled kiddush cups, candles, plates of matzah, women bare-headed, men with Fedoras, haggadahs, even flowers on the Warsaw table. A time of celebration, a time of despair, a few goose-steps away from being burnt to a crisp.

Hershfield family seder, 22 April 1940, Winnipeg, Canada

 Memory weaves in and out of my conceptual image-making. I gather, save, archive. My work is digital: I photograph, download, alter and manipulate in Photoshop, scan, import my writing from Illustrator, and then produce inkjet prints on archival paper with archival inks. These days, I'm  also sending image files on-line to the photo lab at Costco. Yet with these two Passover photos I couldn't bear to do anything manipulative except for a bit of dodging here and there, trying to bring some life to even one of those Warsaw faces. And, yes, I did repair a rip in the Warsaw photo: their lives were torn from them, but the image of them needn't be torn. Besides, who knows when the photo was damaged, perhaps at some careless moment decades after the shutter clicked. Hardly worth curatorial agonizing.

Unknown family seder, 22 April 1940, Warsaw b2ap3_thumbnail_03b_Warsaw-photo.png

My dear family almost all gone now. Those dear unknowns from the ghetto for whom, perhaps, this seder was their last, most likely gone, too. Unknown, unknowable, unbearable.  Not even identified the way Leible did on the back of our family snapshot.

In my print Passover, Monday 22 April 1940, I juxtaposed the photos to highlight and focus on the immense mystery of it all, not the myths and stories of the Passover, but the painful mystery of that Warsaw family, it's disappearance, who they were, what they meant to one another, what they did, who loved and who resented whom, what might have been, what was never to be. Some of the women could be as young as my mother, but no one looks happy, and no one looks at the  camera capturing them forever.  For me and I hope for you, dear reader, the focus is also on a mystery equally as great as that of the Warsaw family, that of the inexorable passage of time that will turn us all eventually into dust.

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Passover, Monday 22 April 1940
Inkjet from a digital matrix, on Fujicolor Crystal Archive paper, 18" x 12," 2013

 

 

For a larger view of this image, please click here.

 

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