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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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Chapter 12. Biblical, à Rebours



Photographs by Gusky and Bar-Am, Francisco and Zachmann do not display events sequentially, as series of images which construct storylines, but relate them in a paradigmatic manner. Even when, as is the case with photographs of city spaces in Gusky’s album, they were taken as series of shots following each other in relatively quick succession (indicated by their dating to the same year and the same weather conditions as well as the same state of neglect of the photographed places), in the actual album their sequencing is broken to allow a paradigmatic relation instead. Similarly, while Bar-Am’s photographs may be read as representing relations between the passage of time and the survivors and between the latter and the subject of their meditation, regarded as a collection the relationship between images is neither temporal nor causal; they are, instead, a visually encoded pattern of interpreting the experience of return to Auschwitz camp. Both Gusky’s and Bar-Am’s photographs put forth the paradigm of aberration familiar from Holocaust literature: a reversal of moral laws governing life before, after, and presumably outside the Auschwitz camp. Here, too, the location of the camp, in Poland or elsewhere, is irrelevant.

On closer inspection the paradigm upon which rest both Bar-Am’s and Gusky’s photography goes back farther than Holocaust narrative: it is in fact rooted in the structure of biblical narrative; however, as in Shoah testimony, in works by Gusky and Bar-Am the biblical paradigm is reversed. Gusky expresses the upheaval by contrasting...

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