Broadening our understanding of photography’s history and its influence on modernism, this richly illustrated study—the first of its kind—reveals the remarkable extent to which British photography is a Jewish story.
From the 1850s to the 1950s, photography was one of the most open avenues for Jews in Britain to make a living, as well as to contribute to mainstream culture. If one’s picture was snapped for a price in Britain, the person behind the lens was more than likely born a Jew. Through the 1970s, Jews were prime movers behind nearly all things photographic in Britain, including photojournalism, portrait studios, collecting, applications of photography to the fine arts, and the emergence of photography criticism and history as distinct fields. Yet despite Jews having played such remarkable roles, far out of proportion to their number and in all facets of photography, little attention has been paid to ethnic-religious difference in studies of British photography.
Richly illustrated with both color and black-and-white images, Jews and Photography in Britain is the first-ever historical investigation of this topic, ranging from the mid-nineteenth century to Queen Elizabeth’s controversial photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz in 2007. Michael Berkowitz explores subjects such as the attempts of H. W. Barnett to unsettle portrait conventions, the spectacular photo editing of Stefan Lorant, the influence of Erich Salomon on Fleet Street, the inception of the “Gernsheim Corpus” (a seminal resource for art historical research) conceived by Walter and Gertrud Gernsheim, the innovative photography practices at London’s Warburg Institute under Fritz Saxl, and the pioneering efforts at collecting and publishing about photography as history and art by Helmut and Alison Gernsheim.
- List of Illustrations
- Preface: The Prince, the Professor, the Photographer—and the Jewish Question
- Introduction: Fancy, Fear, Suspicion
- Chapter 1. Studios: Between Intimacy and Commercialism
- Chapter 2. Elective Affinities in Photojournalism
- Chapter 3. Photographic Practice at the Warburg Institute, 1933–1948
- Chapter 4. The Brothers Gernsheim, Part I
- Chapter 5. Not Harry Gresham
- Chapter 6. Helmut Gernsheim, "Semite"
- Further Reading
Fancy, Fear, Suspicion
The material in this book was supposed to fill a footnote, perhaps a sentence or two. When I began research nearly a decade ago for an international history of the Jewish engagement with photography I assumed there was little to say about Britain. Few Jews in the country were important and their Jewishness was negligible. I was stupendously ignorant on both counts. As the work progressed I found that Jews were so vital in diverse photographic realms in Britain that the subject deserved a book all of its own. Jews were not only contributors but catalytic agents, advancing studio photography and its business practices from the time of photography’s inception. They profoundly shaped what came to be known as photojournalism. They were pioneers in applying photography to the fine arts. They were at the cutting edge of collecting, curatorship, the writing of photographic criticism and history, and photography publishing. Jews were not necessarily the most revered, talented, or illustrious photographers, but they were prime movers behind nearly all things photographic in Britain until at least the 1970s.
Originally I simply wished to fill gaps and detail the activities of persons and institutions that had escaped scholarly scrutiny. I soon surmised that most of them had not been examined from the perspective of how Jewishness and attitudes toward Jews had informed their perspectives and may have boosted or blocked their careers. Beyond this I came to see that our understanding of the history of photography in Britain might be substantially enhanced if a greater sensitivity to social and cultural history, which would include consideration of not only class and gender but ethnic difference, were interwoven in the narrative. My approach may be compared to recent explorations concerning Jews and music, which have sought to comprehend the highly noticeable presence of Jews in “all branches” of music beginning in the early nineteenth century, and which include reinterpretations of the history of modern music in and of itself.
The current book, centering on photography, examines, in the words of Lisa Silverman on a different topic, “the role Jewish difference played in the lives, works, and deeds of a broad range” of men and women, “from self-professed Jews to converts, from native Yiddish, Hungarian, Polish, and German speakers” to secular Britons, “regardless of their degree of Jewish self-identification.”2 Photography was one of the most open avenues for Jews in Britain to make a living as well as “to shape mainstream culture.”This book tries to examine the work of Jews in Britain “without making Jewish self-identification the ontological foundation of Jewish experience and Jewish history. Instead, it foregrounds Jewish difference as one of a number of analytic categories or frameworks, like gender and class, that not only intersected and overlapped, but also used each others’ terms in order to articulate their power.”Jews in photography, no matter their degree of Jewishness, “often were integrated in Jewish social networks that proved crucial” to the success of their endeavors.
With few exceptions, writers on photography have expressed little interest or even curiosity about religious origins and ethnic difference. At the time of writing I have yet to discover a single work of scholarship, beyond studies of solitary figures or couples, that treats the subject of Jews and photography in Britain historically. This book comprises, then, the first attempt to recognize and explore the association of Jews and photography in Britain in a cultural-historical context. There is no need, therefore, to ponder and pick apart the historiography. It simply does not exist.
Photography was continuously evolving from the time of its inception, yet we may generalize somewhat about its social character and business dimensions. From the 1850s to the 1950s, if one’s picture was snapped for a price, there was a good chance that the person behind the camera was born a Jew.This was true in Britain and most of continental Europe before 1939, with the possible exceptions of Belgium and France.Compared to almost any other vocation, there was little that stood in a Jewish photographer’s way. It was more or less expected that photographers, and assistants in a studio, might be Jews—or some other kind of socalled foreigner—possibly Italian, French, Spanish, or Armenian. Jews in photography often encouraged such ethnic obfuscation by adopting monikers that did not sound so, well, Jewish.8 Indistinct or “romantic” origins, and claims of having trained in Paris or Madrid, were thought to be good for business, even if one’s clientele was largely Jewish.This is part of the reason scholars have minimized ethnicity and religious background as factors in the history of photography.
In Britain—as in Continental Europe, North and South America, Australia, and South Africa—Jews were conspicuous in establishing and staffing photography studios, which in turn were geared to the greater, non-exclusively Jewish population. As to be expected, they also served the needs of their own communities. Although always a minority, there was a smattering of women among them, and Jewish girls and women were especially known for their expertise in “retouching,” which was integral to the trade. Many photographers, however, wished to distance themselves from retouching, which often was derided as grossly manipulative, thereby detracting from the “honesty” of a picture.“Truthfulness” was the watchword of countless photographers, if not the profession overall. The critical phase of retouching, as part of the relationship between sitter and the studio, is not well reflected in the historiography, although it was noted in the training and career paths of scores, if not hundreds, of Jewish photographers. Could it be that everyone’s ancestors were so free of acne, warts, scars, and other imperfections? How is it that one hardly ever notices a bride with a “bump”?
Jews with cameras on tripods or around their necks enticed customers to have their photos taken in public spaces such as the grounds in front of Buckingham Palace and in Trafalgar Square, and proceeded to sell them prints, postcards, albums, and buttons. Occasionally they were able to produce these goods on the spot.
Up through the interwar years, Jews photographed the recently deceased, although this was not a standard practice in Judaism. They encouraged the reproduction or enlargement of photographs of the dearly departed. Jews also helped to institutionalize the photographic commemoration of more cheerful life-cycle events, especially weddings. They helped invent the traditions of “class photos” and professional-quality “holiday snaps” in Britain.Because photography was taken, without question, as a heavily Jewish field, Jews participated in government-sponsored photographic expeditions, preservation efforts, and statebuilding projects. Jews were also court photographers—officially and surreptitiously, in Britain and elsewhere in Europe—from the time of photography’s inception.They advanced film and optical technologies, as individual inventors and as employees of major companies such as Kodak and Ilford Limited, both of which were based in north London.
Kodak’s stake in radiography, which became vital to the company, was advanced substantially by Nahum Luboschez (1869–1925), a self-educated scientist and chief demonstrator for the firm.A humorous, gentle, and self-effacing polyglot, Luboschez may have been the most important ambassador of photography of all time. Luboschez also was an excellent portraitist who took the best known photograph of none other than George Eastman (1854–1932), the founder of Eastman Kodak. As a photographer of socioeconomic conditions in Russia prior to the First World War, Luboschez was decades ahead of his time.
His underappreciated photographs rival, in terms of style and content, the socially conscious work of Dorothea Lange.19 Luboschez was a key figure in several networks of tremendous importance to the field, which included his brother and his sons. Since his death in 1925, though, few have noticed Luboschez except for Helmut Gernsheim, who arrived in London a dozen years later. Luboschez’s work was among the early acquisitions of Gernsheim’s world-renowned photography collection.
Beginning in the 1930s, Jewish émigrés from Central and East Central Europe, in Britain and elsewhere, played roles immensely out of proportion to their numbers in photojournalism, advertising, fashion photography, and sports photography. In these realms there might have been a fair amount of autonomy, depending on the individual’s career stage, and how highly she or he was regarded.21 This is, perhaps, where a kind of Jewish-friendly subjectivity was most manifested—especially on the part of editors and agency heads, such as Stefan Lorant (1901–1997) and Bert Garai (1890–1973), who worked with numerous Jewish and refugee photographers.22 Lorant has been hailed as “the first major editor of modern photojournalism,”23 and is best remembered as the editor of Picture Post. He will feature in chapter 2.
In 1933–1934, upon its relocation from Hamburg to London, the Warburg Institute intensively incorporated photography into its work, to an extent greater than any other scholarly institution. Photography became a leading means of connecting to scholars, universally, and disseminating the fruits of its research. The Warburg Institute is the main subject of chapter 3.
The very domains of British “photography publishing” and “photography history”—which came into existence from the 1930s to the 1950s—would have been unimaginable without their progenitors of émigré origin, namely Andor Kraszna-Krausz (1904–1989), Béla Horovitz (1898–1955), Walter Neurath (1903–1967), Hans Juda (1904–1975) and Elsbeth Juda (b. 1911),24 and Helmut Gernsheim (1913–1995). But few who write about photography see any reason to comment on the skewed social composition of the field. The sparse attention to Jews who were central to the evolution and fortunes of photography in Britain exists in approximately inverse proportion to the extent to which these men and women affected the country’s visual culture. They were so successful that almost nobody noticed.
The overarching tendency among scholars who deal with Anglo-Jewry is to examine Jews as an entity separate from gentiles, focusing on its dynamics as a people among itself, or in juxtaposition to non-Jewish society and British officialdom.25 The thrust of this book, in contrast, is to explore a part of the Jewish world that usually did not identify strongly with traditional Judaism, or with the established Jewish community in an institutional sense. This is mainly a story of Jews who are not terribly “Jewish.” But a central figure in this book, Helmut Gernsheim, had a more pronounced Jewish identity than is typically assumed. Until quite recently this has registered little interest for scholars of photography, despite Roy Flukinger’s clear assertion of how antisemitism figured prominently in Gernsheim’s life.26 With encouragement from Martin Deppner,27 Claude Sui, the head of the Gernsheim archive in the Reiss-Engelhorn Museum in Mannheim, in 2012 revealed some fascinating clues concerning Gernsheim’s thoughts about the “Jewishness” of photography, as well as his own Jewish identity.28 There is, in fact, quite a bit to say about Gernsheim’s Jewish consciousness—here the subject of chapter 5. Gernsheim, in something of a huff, claimed that writing about Jews in photography was an area he himself had staked out, and occasionally saw others who sought to comment on the subject as encroaching on his turf.
My work on this book started years before I became aware of Gernsheim’s interest in Jewish (hyper-)activity in photography. I found in Gernsheim’s own intellectual history, however, a complement to my investigation of the field; by no means should my work be read as an extension of that of Gernsheim. But I do wish to bring attention to the richness of his mind and his excavations of photography’s history, which did not preclude an examination of “Jewish questions.”30 Perhaps Gernsheim’s work on Jews and photography would have attained full fruition had a visiting professorship at Hebrew University materialized as he had hoped.
For most of the others, however, what we can reconstruct as most “Jewish” about them is the extent to which their Jewish origins helped to determine the content, limits, and possibilities of their social and socioeconomic opportunities— and sometimes their opposition to antisemitism. This is, then, a history of people of Jewish origins, and groups and networks of Jews, dedicated to photography, within the larger worlds of which they were a part. Along with prominent individuals I wish to illuminate communities and chains of persons who tended to give each other “breaks” that often made a difference in their lives—as has been noted by David Shneer in his pathbreaking study of Jewish photographers in the Soviet Union.32 It also is possible to see how relations between Jews, in addition to their providing a leg up for each other, comprised a vital connective tissue beneath the surface—albeit in a highly competitive professional milieu in which searing criticisms also were the norm.
In the 1970s, when Walter Benjamin’s star was sharply ascending, which saw him promoted as a font of wisdom about all things photographic, Tim (Nahum) Gidal (1909–1996) and Helmut Gernsheim were befuddled. Both were photographers as well as critics and historians of photography. They did not understand the canonical status that was accorded Benjamin’s two essays, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and his “Little History of Photography.”33 At first Gernsheim did not chime in when Gidal accused Benjamin of superficiality, saying, “So far I only read references to it and short extracts, but a fair judge should imbibe the great man’s knowledge first hand”; no doubt his dubbing Benjamin a “great man” was a subtle jibe.
Several weeks later Gernsheim arrived at his own opinion:
I have bought and read the little Benjamin. His History, even with Little in front[,] is a complete misnomer, but the megalomaniacal title is the most absurd part of the essay. It is very fragmentary as it is, for he only knows the work of four artists, published in monographs shortly before he penned his esthetic criticism, viz. Hill, Atget, Blossfeldt, and Sander. Though sometimes quite sound in his judgment he attempts no more than contemplative notes of the type Baudelaire penned of the Salon 1859. And like B. he combines sense with nonsense, errors and disputable statements such as “Atgets Pariser Photos sind die Vorläufer der surrealistischen Photographie.” I see nothing surrealistic in Atget’s documentation whatsoever, and his extremely precise pictures seem to me to be the very antithesis to the meandering Busoni genius. He condemns the materialistic gendering of RengerPatzsch’s Neue Sachlichkeit photos—and yet admires the Russian films of the day to which they are the closest approach in style to still photography. Forget about Benjamin. What he has written is not important enough to merit refuting.
Compared to the oceans of print on Benjamin, there is but a trickle for Gernsheim. The preference for Benjamin as guru says much more about intellectual fashions than about serious concern with photography’s history. The impressions Benjamin gleaned from samplings, as opposed to the deep archival research and sleuthing exemplified by Gernsheim, have been embraced as sacred texts by a number of disciplines. (Gisèle Freund’s brilliant treatment of the phenomenon is more historically grounded than that of Benjamin, but she is largely ignored.36) But whatever Gernsheim’s misgivings, he included Benjamin in a pantheon of “Jews prominent in photography”—with the insinuation that Benjamin had changed his name.37 Gernsheim was compelled to acknowledge that despite his faults, Benjamin triggered a surge of interest in photography, but this most often took the form of the interrogation of the theories of Benjamin and others, divorced from historical research.
One of Gernsheim’s close friends in later life, also both a photographer and historian of photography, Gisèle Freund (1908–2000), shot what became an iconic photo of Benjamin—in Kodachrome. Freund had met Benjamin in the Balearic Islands in 1932, and developed a warm friendship with him when they were both living in Paris in 1934. Freund relates nothing, though, about his views on photography.38 Despite Gernsheim’s placement of Benjamin in photography’s Jewish family tree, it is only recently that a scholar of Jewish Studies, Eric Jacobson, has rigorously explored the relationship between Benjamin’s thoughts about photography and his intellectual trajectory as a Jew.
The overwhelming tendency among scholars and curators has been simply to exhibit photographs by Jewish photographers, and to use photographs of Jews for illustrative purposes, without excavating deeper layers of the particular Jewish involvement in the field. Given the plethora of material, it is not surprising that historical museums exhibit Jewish family photos and that scholars mainly have analyzed the photographing of Jews “as Jews,” especially in interwar Europe. A great deal of this has centered on Roman Vishniac (1897–1990), who left a gargantuan but enigmatic body of work.40 Other photographers among the exiles from Nazism, as well as photographs of Jews as victims of the Holocaust, have gained scholarly and curatorial notice—in contrast to the Jewish engagement with photography generally.
As a matter of course I will address Jewish contributions and analyze internal Jewish discourses. But the main objective here is to interpret the integration of Jews and Jewish matters in photography in order to gain a better understanding of photography’s history and its influence on modernism in its diverse settings, applications, and meanings. The changing sense of what was considered respectable with regard to photography is especially germane in reconstructing the impact of Jews.42 After the rise of Hitler in 1933 Britain became a particularly significant social location, as a number of photographic trends prevalent in Eastern and Central Europe were transferred to London. The latter topic is illuminated in Second Chance (1991) and Arts in Exile (2004), projects of, respectively, Werner Mosse, and Shulamith Behr and Marian Malet.43 Although Second Chance was unprecedented, and Arts in Exile is an exemplary work, I believe that the influence of Jews on photography in Britain was far greater than suggested, especially in light of the efforts of Stefan Lorant, the brothers Walter (1909–2006) and Helmut Gernsheim, and the approach to photography assumed by Fritz Saxl (1890–1948) of the Warburg Institute upon its transplantation to London.
With the exception of the self-styled George Gilbert, to be discussed below, few historians of photography per se have said anything at all about Jewishness, other than statements about origins and outright persecution. Some astute commentators in British arts and letters have raised the issue. Colin Ford has come closest to the problem in his work on Hungarian photographers, which includes some who practiced in Britain.44 Ford, too, is intrigued by Helmut Gernsheim’s Jewishness.45 But the Jewish identities of his subjects have proven more evasive than their apparent Hungarian core. The sum total of what has been conveyed, however interesting, does little justice to the broad and complex significance of Jewishness in photography.
One of the few direct approaches to this subject, albeit via a fictional and highly stylized vehicle, is the feature film The Governess (1998), written and directed by Sandra Goldbacher (b. 1960). This steamy costume drama, set in roughly mid-Victorian times, stars Minnie Driver as a vivacious Sephardic Jew, Rosina da Silva. In order to support her family in London when they fall precipitously into economic distress, Rosina attempts to pass as a non-Jew. She attains employment as a governess for an aristocratic Scottish family. The head of the household, Charles Cavendish, played by Tom Wilkinson, is an early enthusiast in photography. At that time—prior to the Kodak innovation “you press the button, we do the rest”—photography required facility in the complicated processing of glass plates. As his main vocation Cavendish styles himself an inventor intent on improving the quality of photographic images. The scientific side of the Cavendish character may have derived from biographies of William Fox Talbot (1800–1877) and John Herschel (1792–1871), foundational figures in the history of photography in Britain, along with the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833).
While she is affectionately and effectively tending to the children, a torrid affair unfolds between Rosina and the otherwise buttoned-up lord of the manor. The governess is as smitten, however, with Cavendish’s “hobby” of photography as she is with the man himself. Rosina encourages, even teases her lover to push the boundaries of his picture-taking, toward the increasingly daring and erotically charged, with herself as the subject. Rosina’s combination of voracious sexual and photographic appetites may be seen as foreshadowing the efforts of Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946),46 arguably the most influential photographer of all time—from a reverse-gender perspective. Stieglitz was the leading exponent of elevating photography into the fine arts on its own terms, as integral to the modernist project in total. Although neither traditional nor religiously observant, Stieglitz was known as a leading Jewish personality of his day,47 and derided as “a Hoboken Jew without knowledge of, or interest in,” American art and aesthetics, and “hardly equipped for the leadership of a genuine American expression.” This dimension of his reputation has until recently been largely ignored.49 Especially through his nude photographs of Georgia O’Keeffe and Rebecca Strand, Stieglitz wished to obliterate the taint of pornography that contributed to the perception of photography as unseemly, or as an inherently dubious form of creative expression. Goldbacher’s Rosina, too, is indulging in the making of art, not pornography, although the stodgy Cavendish ultimately cannot overcome his discomfort with the governess as a pornographer and a Jew.
A critical twist of the plot is Rosina’s accidental discovery of a monumental advance in photography—in the midst of a private, clandestine Passover seder held in her room. After clumsily spilling the salt water from the ceremony (which traditionally represents the tears of Jewish slaves in Egypt) on an underexposed print, she observes that salt plays a role in photochemical processes. Rosina gleefully shares this insight with Cavendish, hoping to win the acceptance and respect of her lover, with the ultimate aim of becoming his partner in the full light of society. The cad Cavendish, though, appropriates her revelation as his own, which leads to tension and conflict between him and Rosina. In the end, predictably, Rosina’s Jewish identity is unmasked, and she is expelled violently from the manor. The film’s close shows Rosina ensconced as the proprietor of a photography studio in London’s East End. She is no Stieglitz, but she seems to have achieved a fulfilling livelihood.
While the central conceit of The Governess, that a Jewish woman invented photography, is bunk, Goldbacher’s story is, in fact, true to history to a certain degree. The ultimate shot of The Governess, showing Rosina with a client, is the moment of the film that most nearly reflects an important, yet little noticed, reality. There were indeed Jewish women, and Jewish men, who owned and operated photography studios in London—and elsewhere in the world—in numbers well out of proportion to their percentage of the general population.
This fragment of social history from the midto late nineteenth century also serves as the main subject of an 1888 novel by Amy Levy (1861–1889), The Romance of a Shop.50 The book details the exploits of a fam0ily of Jewish women who open a photography studio in London. In a narrative similar to the storyline of The Governess, they seek to overturn a family tragedy and the possibility of destitution. The Jewishness of its characters is lightly worn, yet is nevertheless recognizable, and the inside knowledge Levy displays of how a studio was run is impressive. It took almost a century for Levy to gain widespread acclaim as a novelist and poet who was particularly sensitive to the conditions and sentiments of London’s Jews. Her novel Reuben Sachs: A Sketch, which also appeared in 1888, was reissued in 1973,51 and major reconsiderations of her work and reputation commenced in the 1990s.52 The scholarly attention lavished on Levy as a writer, however, has not led to more penetrating investigations of either women or Jews in photography. There has been no London equivalent of the effort of curators at the Jewish Museum in Vienna, whose work resulted in a stunning survey of women photographers in the pre-Anschluss capital, Vienna’s Shooting Girls/Jüdische Fotografinnen aus Wien (2012).
Along with the fact of the presence of Jews in photography, Goldbacher’s film and Levy’s novel serve to introduce some of this study’s themes. Many Jews did enter the field because of economic distress. This was particularly true of those who came from Central and East Central Europe as refugees, beginning in the 1930s. Therefore the connection between Rosina reenacting the Jewish escape from bondage in the Passover service and her embarking on a career in photography is not as absurd as it may seem. But in contrast to Rosina learning the rudiments of photography during her tempestuous sojourn in Scotland, the majority of Jews who opened studios in Britain came to the country with both specialized knowledge and professional equipment. Some of the best-known firms in London, such as those of H. W. Barnett, Boris, and Perkoff ’s, were reestablished in London after having been founded elsewhere. Photography businesses opened by Jews were most often transplanted enterprises, rather than an endeavor starting from scratch.
The Governess is most insightful, however unknowingly, in its imagining of a Jewish character at photography’s cutting edge. A repercussion of this is the possibility that one who ventures into uncharted terrain tends to be looked at with suspicion or disdain. Perhaps most significantly: the film is one of the rare reflections on photography, as a medium, to confront its problematic relationship with respectability. This, I believe, is integral to any understanding of Jews and photography. Because photography was less than respectable, Jews were afforded entry into the field. It was not typically the vocation of an upstanding Englishman. The fact that Jews and recent émigrés became dominant in photography, from its early days, also is crucial. Although Jews did not invent photography, they were among its chief purveyors and practitioners throughout Europe from the 1840s until the Holocaust. This fact has all but disappeared from Jewish memory, and hardly ever surfaces in the vast historiography on photography.
In addition to Amy Levy’s Romance of a Shop, Louis Golding’s Magnolia Street (1932) is a notable Anglo-Jewish novel of a social-realist bent that features a Jewish photographer and highlights the place of photography among Jews in interwar Manchester.54 As opposed to Levy’s reserved, genteel characters, the photographer in Magnolia Street, Johnnie Hummel, is the novel’s most unappealing figure. Golding plays off of the stereotype of the photographer taking advantage of the desire of his clients, especially women, for self-flattery and vanity.
Along with reading about “prize-fighting and the merchant navy” to lend authenticity to Magnolia Street,56 Golding also conducted research into photography. His depiction of Hummel’s operation is worth quoting at length, as there are few (if any) such descriptions in the history of photography.
His speciality was the commemoration of the dead. Whenever and wherever a farmer died in the counties within a radius of fifty miles from Doomington, his widow would find Johnnie Hummel at her ear, almost before the corpse had been taken off. He would talk and talk and talk. . . . If she sought to escape, he would make her feel she was guilty of gross disrespect to her dead. A week or two later her husband’s image, an “Enlargement of the Trade,” would hang on the parlour wall, a series of gray blurs, slipped eyesockets, thickened lips. She would be poorer by anything between ten shillings and three pounds, according to the amount of gold in the frame and the impotence into which her grief had thrown her.
Sparing no reservation about the predatory essence of his vocation, Golding asserts that “[t]here was something vulture-like about Johnnie Hummel. For not only would he appear on the scene when someone was dead already. He had an uneasy instinct for finding out when a death might be hoped for in a day or two.”58 Johnnie, it was said, “would put up at the village pub until the moment to pounce was due; in the meanwhile he could pick up an honest penny with his camera, though you could never expect anything like such good results from the direct photography of the living as from the indirect photography of the dead.” This recalls later American discussions of the photographer Weegee (born Usher Fellig, 1899–1968). Although Beaumont Newhall, the dean of photography historians, found his work compelling, important, even artful, it was scorned by some as violent sensationalism.60
In addition to prefiguring anti-Weegee criticisms, photographers like Johnnie were their society’s equivalent of ambulance-chasing lawyers and insurance agents, as he “displayed his real genius at the times when the papers announced ‘Five Hundred Miners Buried in a Mine near Bolton’; or, ‘Terrible Tragedy in Blackburn Sunday-School Treat, Three Hundred Children in Blazing Hall’; or, ‘Isle of Man Pleasure Steamer Sunk, No Survivors.’ Then Johnnie got busy. Then Johnnie flew like lightning to Bolton, to Blackburn, to the Isle of Man.” After a barrage of bullshit, “Johnnie reaped his golden harvest. The goods trains groaned with the crates in which he despatched” his photographs to his prey.61 Sometimes, though, “he reaped another sort of harvest, a couple of black eyes and one or two missing teeth. But that was not often. The most furious fist fell limp in the blast of that talking. And there were times when he talked to win more delicate prizes than gold sovereigns. He talked to win a wink here, a body there” (emphasis added).
The most beautiful girl he set eyes on, and decided to pursue as his own, was Ada Berman, from a family of “slum Jews.” Golding unflinchingly portrays an order in which the dispensing of sex was an established part of the political economy of photography. “They lived in a dreadful hole called Magnolia Street. They were not, like himself, the sort of Jew whom any right-minded person would take for an Italian. But he did not let them see how low he thought of them. On the contrary he was very charming to them.” He saw Ada “as a plum, a peach, a little red apple; a lovely bit of goods to get back to after a gruelling week among the widows and orphans among the miners; and a real economy, too. Sometimes you had to pay the women you slept with; always you had to pay the landladies” (emphasis added).
While being with Johnnie meant a vast material improvement over Magnolia Street conditions, Ada’s marriage in every respect was an unhappy one.64 She reacted by fervently embracing Jewish rituals. In addition to neglecting his wife and children and subjecting them to beatings when he was around, Johnnie humiliated Ada in a most dramatic fashion. On the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of high holidays and a fast, he came home “with a few slices of ham. He got a handful of plates and defiled them all by placing a little slice on each. He also brought in a pint of milk to swallow the ham with” (the laws of kashrut forbid having milk with meat).65 Johnnie taunts Ada:
“Won’t you have a little? No? You won’t? You’re fasting. Of course! It’s Bank Holiday! Come and kiss me then! Come here, you little bitch, come here!”
He seized her round the waist and kissed her with his abominable mouth full on the lips.
“How’s that darling? A bit hammy? . . . And now I’m off for a little rough-and tumble with Elsie. You don’t know Elsie, do you? That girl’s got a mouth like a cork-screw—” and winking genially he left her.
Leaving for good, Johnnie wrecked the contents of their house and “treated with especial malignance the enlarged photographs of Ada herself, posed against French chateaux, the Pyramids, Niagara Falls.”Of course, she had never visited such places. These were stock backgrounds in studios at the time, as derided by Walter Benjamin. Upon seeing the utter devastation of her daughter and her home, Ada’s mother died a few days later.
Besides the base individual motives detailed by Golding there were other reasons for seeing photographers as prone to corruption. By its very nature, the relationship between the photographer and his or her sitter was intimate. Posing the client for a long-exposure shot usually meant touching and even holding a face, shoulders, and, often, exposed skin. As recounted in the tale of Johnnie Hummel, photographers were denigrated for taking liberties with their female clients. Some believed that the camera allowed photographers to see inside of clothing and underneath dresses. Photography studios were not hard to imagine as “dens of iniquity,” as were other commercial spaces associated with Jews, such as department stores in Central Europe.
One humorous early twentieth-century postcard, depicting a photographer with a doughty elderly customer, has him asking: “But Madam, won’t you take that cord from round your ankles?”; this strap holds her hem so tightly she can barely move. “Oh no!” she exclaims. “I know your little tricks, young man; when you look through that machine I shall be upside down.”70 Another piece of photographic humor implies that the suspicion of the photographer as “on the make” was not just a matter of paranoia. The card shows two scenes: on top is the docile wife, at home, on the phone; on the bottom is her husband, the photographer, with a woman on his lap. “Sorry I shan’t be home to tea,” he says. “I’ve got a sitter.”
In the photographic caricature collection of Helmut Gernsheim and the illustrations on display at the National Media Museum of Bradford, all of the photographers pictured have stereotypically dark “Jewish” features. In the words of Francis Hodgson, in the end they were just tradesmen.72 Certainly there were many among the general public who sensed something distasteful about the photography trade in general, from the 1880s up through the 1960s, despite the huge demand for its services.
In post–Second World War Britain, an imaginary photographer was depicted on film who was even more menacing and sex-obsessed than Johnnie Hummel: the title character of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), which was conceived and written by Leo Marks (1920–2001). Peeping Tom retains a whiff of infamy as the smut that derailed Michael Powell’s career,73 despite a determined effort by Martin Scorsese and numerous critics to appreciate it as monumental.74 One reviewer charged that the film indulged pornography; this opinion is primarily a response to Powell’s ‘unfortunate collaboration’ with Leo Marks.It was too puzzling, sexualized, and visually overpowering to be widely accepted in early 1960s Britain.76 Despite initial reactions, the film remains a fabulous testament to the creativity of both Powell and Marks,77 as the tide surely has turned and Peeping Tom is now held in lofty esteem,78 appearing on many lists as one of the greatest films of all time.
Michael Powell, a non-Jew, obviously is essential to any analysis of Peeping Tom.80 A number of secularized Jewish discourses, however, had an impact on and are interwoven in the film—including Leo Marks’s understanding of the Jewish relationship to photography.81 Critic Luke Jennings pointed in this direction in 1999: “Perhaps the best key to an understanding of Peeping Tom is Between Silk and Cyanide,” Leo Marks’s memoir of the Second World War.82 Between Silk and Cyanide is drenched in yidishkeyt (Jewishness), overtly and covertly. I would go so far as to say that Peeping Tom can be fruitfully explored as a “Jewish” and even, to a lesser extent, a “Holocaust” film.
Peeping Tom is undoubtedly odd: boy meets girl, takes her picture, kills her with the end of a tripod fashioned into a bayonet. Boy meets another girl. Almost kills her. Kills himself. The film features Mark Lewis, played by Carl (or Karlheinz) Boehm,84 a subtly “German” photographer in London who identifies himself as having been born in the house he lives in, and rents out the lower floors. He is obsessed with taking photos of women, preferably in the nude, at the moment of their murder. Lewis’s horrific acts are shown as a consequence of his having been experimented upon by his “biologist” father, Professor A. N. Lewis, purportedly conducting an investigation of fear in children. A. N. Lewis’s last project, we learn toward the end of the film, was the study of “scoptophilia.” Peeping Tom is not based on any known murderer or case. The story derives from the imagination of Leo Marks, and is fueled by his desire to convey, to a general public, an appreciation of Freudian psychology, which is inextricably tied to the sense of Jews as outsiders held by both Marks and Sigmund Freud.
Apparently the original choice to play the lead character in this movie was a European-born Jew, Laurence Harvey,85 whose career was cut short by his death from cancer at age forty-five.86 Harvey was reputed to be “a fastidious connoisseur of antiques, food and wine. His baronial manner, cheeky wit, and upperclass British accent gave the impression that he was of aristocratic birth. But Mr. Harvey, whose real name was Larushka Misha Skikne, was born in Joniskis, Lithuania, of Jewish parents.” Harvey also was recalled for his “arrogant manner” and a personality that “could freeze ice cubes.” He had been one of the world’s greatest playboys, someone “who most mothers feared their daughters might marry—or be ruined by—during an afternoon in the country.”87 Michael Powell leaves no doubt that he was pleased with himself for casting Carl Boehm in the role after “losing” Harvey.88 But no interviewer thought to ask Leo Marks about Harvey being replaced by an actor with such different looks, temperament, and lineage.
Marks’s complex historicizing of photography is articulated more explicitly in Between Silk and Cyanide. This intimates that Peeping Tom’s Mark Lewis is not simply an everyman. He represents a connection between Jews and photography, as one of Peeping Tom’s wellsprings is the history and mid-twentieth century practice of photography as perceived by Marks. One aspect of this is the overrepresentation of Jews in the making and peddling of pornography. “Model” Pam Green, a talented actress, astute businesswoman, and art director, appears twice in Peeping Tom during Mark Lewis’s shoots for pornography magazine publicity, and Weegee himself visited the set. In the film she teases Mark, “Come on, sonny . . . make us famous,” and further requests that his photos avoid revealing her “bruises,” received at the hand of her jealous fiancé. When Lewis first appears at her door she exclaims: “Well look who’s here—Cecil Beaton!” It is a joke within a joke. Mark was a nobody. Beaton was one of Britain’s most famous society and royal photographers, but he was seen as a phony by some of his fellow photographers, and notorious as one of the few within the photographic world who expressed antisemitic views. She also is aware that taciturn Mark is not what he seems, telling him, “You’re a puzzle and a half.”
Green is well known for her collaboration with former “glamour photographer” George Harrison Marks (born George Harris Marks, 1926–1997, no apparent relation to Leo), later her husband, in founding the magazine Kamera (1957–1968). Toward the end of Peeping Tom, when Mark is filming the outside of the newsagent shop above which he plans to kill Milly (Green), he specifically shoots covers of Kamera featuring Green. A number of publications in this genre, in the guise of one-off magazines, had innocuous titles like Art Advertiser, Studio News, and Qt No. 62. Harrison Marks “was a byword for the softest kind of soft pornography, a smut peddler who became a self-perpetuating legend. He was twice bankrupt, twice arrested and four times married, a vaudevillian at heart who pioneered porn in Britain and lived all his life in the same house where he was born.”89 It is not surprising that there is little investigation of a particular Jewish role in British pornography, given Anglo-Jewry’s discomfort with less becoming “contributions” to society.
Who was Leo Marks? A boiled-down synopsis, which barely does justice to his talents, begins with his family background: His father was the founder and proprietor of the bookshop, Marks & Co., at 84 Charing Cross Road, which was the subject of the book by Helene Hanff90 and later the film starring Anne Bancroft (1987).91 Marks’s memoir, Between Silk and Cyanide, details his exploits as a cryptographer for the British armed forces during the Second World War in the complex espionage and counterespionage operation based in Baker Street.92
The first chapter, entitled “A Hard Man to Place”—the first of many double, triple, and quadruple entendres—begins:
In January 1942 I was escorted to the war by my parents in case I couldn’t find it or met with an accident on the way. In one hand I clutched my railway warrant— the first prize I had ever won; in the other I held a carefully-wrapped black-market chicken. My mother, who had begun to take God seriously the day I was called up, strode protectively beside me—praying that the train would never arrive, cursing the Führer when she saw that it had and blessing the porter who found me a seat. Mother would have taken my place if she could, and might have shortened the war if she had.
Marks’s reminiscence is quite similar to that of photographer Robert Capa (1913–1954) before his departure to cover the invasion of Normandy. The degree to which Capa articulates his Jewishness through his relationship with his mother has likewise been underappreciated by scholars.94 For both Marks and Capa, beginning their stories with the image of their stereotypically overprotective yidishe mames, doting on their baby boys well into adulthood, was a way of marking themselves as Jews. For both, it was a literary equivalent of brit milah (a briss, or circumcision). Underscoring his hypersexualization, upon his interview for service in Special Branch with the “headmaster of the code-breaking school,” a Major Masters, Marks was asked about his hobbies, to which he replied: “‘Incunabula and intercourse, sir.’”
The characterization of Mark Lewis as “Peeping Tom” was an inside joke, one of a series of jokes, about Jews as Jews, and Jews as photographers. There was an explicit reason why Marks wished to call attention to their questionable characters. In Between Silk and Cyanide, in an episode central to his distinctive contribution to fortifying secret codes, Marks describes his need to enlist the efforts of photography firms. His initial, callous treatment at the hands of several photographers, whose rejection of the assignment could have meant the difference between life and death for scores of Allied agents,96 may have helped inspire his negative, wildly exaggerated tale of “Mark Lewis.”
The very title of the book reflects this: either the code would be printed, photographically, on silk—or the agents would be compelled to swallow a cyanide capsule. The photographers, though, did not want to undertake the work because they thought it would cost too much to produce, and they also were afraid that it would not turn out right. Although Marks presented this as a matter of life and death for those in the field, many of the London (Jewish) photographers he met seemed unmoved. In an interview he explained that “I knew nothing whatsoever about photography, but every single code had to be printed onto silk, and they were all different. Although they knew how to mass-produce maps on silk, this was a [different] technique. So I became obsessed with photography, and even more obsessed by how to persuade photographers to work around the clock so that every agent could have a code printed on silk that was unique to him, or her. That is why Peeping Tom became a photographer” (emphasis added).
A far more generous glimpse of a Jewish photographer in British popular culture is offered by Simon Blumenfeld’s 1937 novel, Phineas Kahn: Portrait of an Immigrant. Born in a small town in the Crimea, in Russia’s Pale of Settlement, Phineas emigrated, like thousands of others, to Vienna, then the East End of London, and, with millions of others, eventually to New York. He sailed to the United States with the intention of getting a foothold and then sending for his wife, Shandel. When the Titanic sank (1912), Shandel feared that she and her family would not survive the trans-Atlantic crossing, so she implored Phineas to return to London. As Phineas was getting aboard ship, a friend, Rubin, offered to make him “a made man,” that is, to supply him with a good livelihood.
He picked up a receptacle shaped like a violin case, and placed it on the table. He opened the case and extracted a small camera and tripod and a square tin tank. He leaned confidently across the table, and like a purveyor of precious stones poised the camera under Phineas’s nose.
“You see this little machine,” he whispered. “It’s one of the greatest inventions of the age. It takes photographs and develops them in five minutes. You can go about the streets and pleasure resorts and they’ll be fighting to have their pictures taken, and it is so simple that a child can work it.” He put his hand in his pocket and drew out a pile of tin types and passed them over to Phineas. “Taken with this identical camera. Good eh? . . . Good! It’s marvellous!” He continued enthusiastically, without waiting for a reply. “And it’s yours for ten dollars.”
Rubin’s enthusiasm seeped through Phineas. It seemed legitimate enough. . . . He set out on his long journey . . . returning not empty-handed but with a heavensent contraption that would put him on his feet once more and prevent those eight long-suffering stomachs from ever going hungry again.
The camera did indeed perform as demonstrated, even if it was not, in the end, the instrument of deliverance for Phineas. After he was returned to the bosom of his family,
[l]ike a conjurer extracting rabbits from a hat, he produced the camera, the touchstone of their salvation. He photographed the family in a group, then each member individually. He photographed old Copper-beard and Miriam, and his neighbours all gratis. The first pictures bore traces of amateur handing, the figures being swathed in a greyish mist, but in a day or two he discovered the trick of precise exposure and development. Now he was all set for his new career, but simultaneously with the perfection of the process his plates gave out and the quick-developing solution dwindled into a few weak drops at the bottom of the tank. He went around to every photographer and chemist in the district trying to replenish his apparatus, but nobody could match up the exact size and composition of the plates, or had any idea of the ingredients of the solution. To import these necessities from America would be too expensive, so after a week of fruitless endeavour Phineas reluctantly discarded his photographic career and sold the camera for the best offer—three and sixpence.
Although there is no reason to assume that a work of fiction reflects a social reality, this story of Phineas and the camera is highly plausible. There were at least one hundred and fifty distinct development processes in use from the 1840s through the early decades of the twentieth century. During this period photographs were printed “using a mind-boggling array of materials, some of them highly fragile: bitumen (mineral tar), albumen (egg whites), potato starch, collodion, salt, mercury, silver, gold, platinum and even uranium.”100 Many of these represented some variant of “instant” photography. There was, in fact, at least one camera available (it appeared in 1911) whose processing matched that described by Blumenfeld: the “minute picture machine” of the American Minute Photo Company, based in the West Side of Chicago, where the city’s Jewish community was then concentrated. Ads proclaimed, “The pictures are developed, toned and finished in a single developing solution.”Similar products were packaged as get-rich-quick schemes; among them was the “Plateless Daydark,” which advised its buyers: “Do it now and start making money.”102 The New York Ferrotype Co. appeal could not have been more stark: “It means your future.”
After the Second World War a Jewish refugee inventor in Britain, Salman Stemmer, invented a way of taking and presenting photographs, what he termed a kucker. Countless people would come to take a kucker for granted as the way a holiday moment is preserved—through a small plastic object in which one looks at the photo. Kucker comes from the Yiddish expression, gib a kuk—“take a look.”
While it is difficult to reconstruct the history of these firms, many seem to have been either owned or operated by Jews and especially pitched to a Jewish clientele. In 1926, “a Jewish inventor from Siberia named Anatol Josepho (shortened from Josephowitz) opened a photo-booth concession, the Photomaton,” in Times Square, which became a huge sensation. Customers “spent 25 cents each to pose and then wait the eight minutes it took to process a strip of eight small photographs.”
The most important point, however, of the incident in Phineas Kahn is the assumption that Jews were able to make their way in photography in Britain, like elsewhere, with little or no thought of antisemitism. This was crucial in Helmut Gernsheim’s turn to photography when he came to Britain as a refugee. When confronted with the immediate objective of having to make a living, especially for those who wished to be connected to the arts, photography seemed to be a better bet than almost any other vocation.
It is not surprising that another instance of recessed memory regarding Jews and photography surfaces in the work of novelist David Lodge. Near the outset of his historically faithful novel of 2004, Author, Author, Lodge reconstructs the relationship between Henry James and Punch illustrator George Du Maurier. Reminiscing about their earliest encounter, Du Maurier describes his attempts to establish himself.
“I had my sights set on Punch, and a salaried position on the staff. I got my foot in the door, but for a long time no further. A few initials—decorative capital letters, you know—at fifteen shillings a go. One cartoon—not very well drawn, though I have a soft spot for it now. ‘The Photographer’s Studio.’”
“I remember it,” said Henry.
“Do you?” Du Maurier was gratified but surprised.
“I told you I followed you from the beginning,” said Henry. “If I remember rightly, there’s a rather overdressed, Jewish-looking photographer in his studio, and three young artists coming in through the door, smoking cigarettes, and he is telling them very pompously that they musn’t.”
“What a memory you have, James!” exclaimed Du Maurier, and proceeded to quote the caption, with appropriate accents: “‘Please to remember, Gentlemen, that his is not a common Hartist’s Studio.” Dick Tinto, and his friends, feel shut up by his little aristocratic distinction, which had not yet occurred to them.’ There was a lot of rot being talked then, of how photography would kill off the illustrator’s trade, so there was some personal feeling behind it.”
The individuals entering the studio in the image were meant to be none other than Du Maurier himself, with the artists James McNeil Whistler and Thomas Lamont.107 In fact, Henry James was photographed by Henry Walter Barnett (1862–1934), who “was on the staff of the leading London court photographer of the day, W. and D. Downey.”108 Barnett, whose career played out in his native Australia, England, France, and the United States, is responsible for more than five hundred pictures in London’s National Portrait Gallery, and the Downey’s firm—which apparently employed a number of Jews—has thousands in the collection. Barnett’s parents were London-born Jews who emigrated to Australia in the late 1840s.
The aim here is not to underscore the relatively genteel antisemitism in the discourse of James and Du Maurier, but to suggest three subtexts in the memorable cartoon of 1860. First, that it was common in London, and throughout Europe, from the mid-nineteenth century until the 1950s, to assume that a photographer in a photo studio would be a Jew. Second, that the Jew often was a relatively recent immigrant, from Eastern, Central, or Western Europe, as marked by a distinct foreign accent. And third, that the Jewish photographer could easily be lampooned for his artistic pretensions. Historiographically speaking, however, we have known relatively little until now about Du Maurier’s photographer and his ilk. There has been some interest in the most prominent individuals and firms but sparse investigation of the general character of those who peopled the field.
The first chapter of this book explores connections between Jews and studio photography in Britain, with special reference to developments in Central and Eastern Europe as well as the United States. It argues that Jews established methods of innovative entrepreneurship in photography that came to be adopted generally. Numerous Jews—in addition to H. W. Barnett—worked for Downey’s, and several ran their own firms. Barnett’s career is illustrative of the interrelationships between photography and art, as Barnett used his wealth and reputation to become a player in the cultivation of public art collections in his native Australia. As is clear from the portfolios of Barnett and others, the proliferation of Jews among studio owners helped facilitate both the reality and the imagining of the transformation of Jews into Englishmen and Englishwomen. In contrast to the theme of a popular exhibition at the Jewish Museum, London, highlighting the work of “Boris” (Bennett)—who specialized in Jewish weddings109—the focus here is on Jews whose horizons extended beyond the Jewish community and the East End. An argument put forward concerning Jewish economic history, generally, is that Jews sometimes were “tutors” and “commercial guardians” of the “younger” nations before they matured. In commercial photography Jews may be said to comprise a “mature nation” as an ethnic community.
Chapter 2 examines Jews as press photographers, as well as agents and editors. There are a number of connections between studio photography and those who became cameramen, such as James Jarché (1890–1965), the grandfather of actor David Suchet. Many of the preeminent press photographers had significant British connections, including Erich Salomon (1866–1944), Robert Capa, Zoltán Glass (1903–1982), and Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898–1995). Although Erich Salomon is remembered as a pioneer in Weimar Germany of what would later become known as photojournalism, he likewise was a signal figure in Fleet Street. There is a relationship as well between the Jewishness of the vocation and its relative receptivity to the inclusion of women. The work of Stefan Lorant and Picture Post has been noted but not explored in depth in the contexts of the history of photography and Jewish history in Britain. In particular, the revolutionary character of Picture Post has been minimized, and it has sometimes mistakenly been assumed to be an imitation of Henry Luce’s Life magazine.
Chapter 3 details the uses and popularization of photography under the auspices of the Warburg Institute, which promised a complex and mutually beneficial relationship between photography and the study of antiquity and appreciation of the fine arts. Relocated from Hamburg to London in 1933, the Warburg was mainly dedicated to the study of classical civilization, through the Renaissance. Assuming the role of a good corporate citizen in Britain, it embraced photography as a chief means by which it could fulfill a popular, educative function.
It held four major photographic exhibitions from 1939 to 1943, and assisted in the National Buildings Record project. One of the chief photographers of the latter was Helmut Gernsheim, who was responsible for Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, a number of other Wren churches, and palaces.
The Warburg Institute also supported the enterprise of Walter Gernsheim (older brother of Helmut), who endeavored to photograph illuminated manuscripts and prints; this body of work later came to be known as the Gernsheim Photographical Corpus of Drawings, which is a major subject of chapter 4. Although the Gernsheim Corpus is now appreciated as a seminal tool for art historical research, little scholarly notice has been taken of the fitful and complex origins of the enterprise.
The beginnings of his brother Helmut’s career in Britain, before his immersion in collecting and the history of photography, will be explored in a socialhistorical context. Upon his escape from Germany Helmut was one of a handful in England to specialize in color commercial photography. After his voyage on the Dunera and internment in Australia, where he conducted seminars on photography, Helmut Gernsheim became a strident critic of photographic practice in Britain. In the midst and wake of the Second World War Helmut emerged as a leading photo collector, and this complemented his vocation as one of its seminal, outstanding historians.
Chapter 5 takes up the story of Helmut Gernsheim in 1951, when he curated an unprecedented exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum for the Festival of Britain. Gernsheim saw this as a first step toward establishing a British national museum of photography, with his own growing collection as its nucleus. Having been turned down in England, Gernsheim explored some possibilities in Germany and elsewhere; eventually his collection was sold to the University of Texas in 1962. That deal would have been unimaginable without a critical Jewish interlocutor, Lew Feldman, who is hardly ever recalled in the history of photography. While Gernsheim was too far ahead of his time as a collector, he attained success as an author and compiler of photography books, a specialization that he and other Jewish émigrés helped to create.
Chapter 6 catches up with Helmut Gernsheim in the 1970s, when he began sketching his thoughts about Jews and photography. He enjoyed close ties to the Israeli academy, attending a memorable event at the Hebrew University. He seriously entertained the possibility of teaching there. Around that time he was committed to situating his own and his family’s history in the context of German Jewry. He wrote a poem about the Holocaust in which he interweaves the destruction of the Jews and the German nation’s undermining of its liberal and creative tradition, which had given rise to revolutionary advances in photography.
It is important to recall that the émigrés who feature so prominently in this book “emigrated as Jews, and the experience of emigration decisively shaped them. Whether they wished it or not, Nazi racial policy imposed the category of Jewish upon them.” On the one hand, their “intellectual trajectories were shaped” by the institutional “cultures of Great Britain” they encountered. On the other hand “their Jewishness . . . served as a touchstone” for approaches to photography “that have shaped trans-national European [and American] culture far beyond the boundaries of any particular local affiliation.”
The book’s conclusion investigates a project that resulted in 1979 in an exhibition and book, The Great British, by the American photographer Arnold Newman. The choice of Newman was contentious, supposedly because he was an American. This episode is worth a closer look, because at that moment the history of photography in Britain seems to have been substantially rewritten, sidestepping the significance of figures such as Salomon, Lorant, and Helmut Gernsheim. This study ends by recalling the Queen’s controversial photo session with Annie Leibovitz in 2007, which brought back to life many of the long-buried murky associations of Jews and photography.
The serious, complex approach to photography that came to be associated with Britain has a great deal to do with secularized Jews who did not simply assimilate into the respective realms they inhabited. Some of them wished to disown or downplay their distinctive ethnic origins, support systems, and networks, but the extent to which British photography is a Jewish story is remarkable. This study builds on the notion that a cultural realm that only occasionally “addresses Jewish subject matter, created by artists and thinkers with a range of Jewish selfidentifications, can also reveal much about Jewish difference.”113 Manifestations of Jewish difference, in tension and contact with the general culture and British officialdom, was tantamount to the trauma in the oyster that induces the making of a pearl. In this case the processes resulted in an ongoing explosion of creativity in nearly every dimension of photography.
“There is nothing in the historical or critical literature on the topic of Jews and photography in Great Britain except a few short essays, and Berkowitz is responsible for most of these. This volume is a first-rate and successful account of the complicated relationship between Jews and photography in Britain. It is also brilliantly illustrated, as any such study must be.”
Sander L. Gilman, Distinguished Professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of Psychiatry, Emory University; coeditor of Jewish Culture in the Age of Globalisation and author of Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews and Multicuturalism and the Jews