Director of Roman Vishniac Archive Comes to Boulder

An elder of the village, Vysni Apsa, ca. 1945-38 ©Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy of International Center of Photography

The Movers: Art and Conscience collaborative together with Congregation Har HaShem, the Mizel Museum and the Program in Jewish Studies at CU Boulder are excited to offer an evening with Maya Benton, the director of the Roman Vishniac archive and adjunct curator at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York on Thursday, December 1 at 7:30 PM at Congregation Har HaShem located at 3950 Baseline Road, Boulder.

Roman Vishniac was a Russian-American photographer and biologist who was best known for his dramatic photographs of Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. His photographs shape our memory of that vanished world, yet only a small selection of his images – a very small fraction of his life’s work – has ever been printed or published. The recent donation of Vishniac’s entire estate to the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York includes tens of thousands of negatives, contact sheets, prints and a lifetime of personal correspondence and ephemera.

Curator Maya Benton will be discussing the process of establishing the Vishniac archive at ICP, and will present recently discovered work, including never-before-seen moving film footage, images of Zionist agrarian training camps in Holland before World War II and Displaced Persons camps in Berlin following the War, photographs made in America in the 1940s documenting the work of Jewish social service organizations, as well as a large selection of contact sheets, negatives, and never-before-seen work from Central and Eastern Europe.  She will also discuss the influence of

European modernism and avant-garde movements on his most accomplished work. Benton will also address new research focusing on the commission of Vishniac’s photographs by the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), repositioning Vishniac within the broader context of commissioned social documentary photography in the 1930s, and revealing a profoundly versatile artist who belongs firmly in the canon of the great photographers of the 20th century.

Featured in a New York Times profile, Maya Benton is director of the Roman Vishniac archive and adjunct curator at the International Center of Photography (ICP).  An A.B.D. at Courtauld Institute of Art, her research focuses on documentary photographs of Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe, Israeli contemporary photography and video art, and more broadly, Jewish visual culture and vernacular photography.

Benton has recently curated exhibitions on the work of photojournalist Ruth Gruber, a series on contemporary Israeli video art, and is currently establishing a major public archive of Roman Vishniac’s work at ICP, in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C.  This work will culminate in a traveling retrospective and catalog on Vishniac, set to open at ICP in 2013. The archive and exhibition have recently been awarded a lead National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant.  A slide show of Vishniac’s photography is available online.

Additional images from the Vishniac archive are available for publication in association with the promotion of this event.  Please contact Jamie Polliard at or via phone at 303.492.7143 for more information.

About Jamie Polliard

Assistant Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder

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