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Describing Who?

Poland in Photographs by Jewish Artists


Joanna Auron-Gorska

«Describing Who?» reveals the significance of photographs taken in contemporary Poland by professional American, French and Israeli Jewish photographers. Writing critically from the vantage point of her Polish and Jewish background, Joanna Auron-Górska argues that while visual representations of Poland and the Poles may appear atemporal, they are neither ahistorical nor apolitical. They are, instead, influenced by the culturally conditioned construct within which Poland serves to maintain the memory of the Shoah, by war trauma, and by post-war politics. The attitudes of foreign Western Jewry to non-Jewish Poles and Poland have so far received limited scholarship; this analysis is a contribution towards enlightening the conversation between Poles and Jews from outside of Poland.
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The history of East European Jewry firmly connects Israeli, American and West-European Jews with Poland. David Ben Gurion, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir; Alfred Tarski, Zygmunt Bauman, René Goscinny, Arthur Rubinstein, and Boris Kaufman–to name just a few–all have or had roots in Poland. But the Jewish history in Poland as it was before World War Two is over. Most Jews nowadays live in Israel and the USA; in Poland, merely a handful. So this book does not focus on Poland but, rather, on foreign Jewry’s attitude towards it. Being that, it is, after all, also a book about Poland, because it records the ways I, both a Jew and a Pole, see foreign Jews portray myself, my country, and non-Jewish Poles. In other words, I use images made by Jews to find out what Poland is to those Jews who do think about it (Poland is important to some, but not to all). I access relevant imagery through visual representation produced in contemporary Poland by professional western and Israeli Jewish photographers. The choice of professional over amateur photography is dictated by the need to find research material whose formal features do not result from stylistic and technical errors. To exclude photography driven by family narrative I choose as research material the work of photographers who do not have close family roots in Poland and who do not live and/or have not lived permanently in Poland.

Here I encounter the first problem: while giants of photography...

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