The intersecting narratives in the current exhibitions at the International Center of Photography include some of the darkest moments of the 20th Century. They include images of cities in ruin, refugees and orphans, and storefronts spewing anti-Jewish propaganda. Most feature ordinary people. Up through May 5, “We Went Back: Photographs from Europe 1933–1956 by Chim” and “Roman Vishniac Rediscovered,” present the life’s work of two photojournalists whose works pulse with life even as they edge closest to death.
Vishniac and Chim’s work overlap in both content and goals. Chim, a political photographer, at times collaborated with propaganda offices to further his own political passions. From 1935 to 1938, Vishniac exposed the hardships of European Jews to attract funding for a Jewish relief organization.
Their work is linked by a spirit of advocacy. “The overlapping point is Warsaw,” says Maya Benton, curator of “Roman Vishniac Rediscovered.” “Chim was born in Warsaw; his father owned a Yiddish and Hebrew printing press there, and he was very much of the world that Vishniac photographed.” Vishniac initially documented lives like Chim’s to attract philanthropy, and the work only later came to be seen as a record of an annihilated people. Vishniac’s post-war work is more of a conscious testimony of destruction, depicting scenes of Berlin reduced to rubble and Passover at displaced person camps.