Poland in Photographs by Jewish Artists
Chapter 14. Slivers of Light
The image of Poland in Gusky’s Silent Places refers to the Polish present only as far as it enables representing its Jewish past. Camera trained on entropy, neglect and decay, Gusky expertly uses the play of light – in Gusky’s work it is nearly always natural sunlight – to redefine outlines of now non-existent architecture. Current destruction and the now missing pre-war world are thus seamlessly united. Gusky’s images are romantic: they evoke “the good old days”, tease longing out of crumbling stone, and call forth a nostalgic appreciation for life’s fragility out of rotting wood. The rich texture of his ruins makes stone and wood look as if they were dissolving into light and air; in Gusky’s album, entropy proceeds with grace. Jerzy Nowosielski used the words below to describe all reality, but of all places Silent Places certainly are somewhere where
we clearly and palpably feel… the presence and actuality of evil – that feeling is almost universal. Each, even merely adequately intelligent person knows it. But if its presence within reality is so powerful and so omnipotent, one can all the more suspect that beneath it or above it there lies another reality, which is opposed to it and which is more important.286
This duality is found in Gusky’s photography: deserted streets are not merely streets but sites of slaughter, and littered skeletons are not rubbish dumps but sixteenth-century synagogues. His photographs fall within the genre of vanitas, where into a meditation on the...
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