In flickers and flashes : recovering Jewish loss in three American photographic anthologies
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This dissertation explores legacies of Jewish loss in three American photographic anthologies published over the course of the twentieth century. I argue that the images bound within the volumes reveal a fluidity between familial and cultural memory in order to foster ethnic, cultural, and religious togetherness. The photographic books function as sites of community formation, framing a shared painful past around which to construct identity and visualizing migration as a trauma that underlies American Modernism. Reflecting the process of unearthing the ancestral past, my study is structured in reverse chronological order. I begin with an analysis of Behold a Great Image (1978), a collection of photographs submitted to an amateur photography contest and compiled by editors Sharon Strassfeld and Arthur Kurzweil. I suggest that the book functions as a visual conduit into a painful past—one that reveals a continuity between the losses of recent history and present-day efforts to revive and celebrate cultural particularity. The subject of the second chapter is Raphael Abramovitch’s The Vanished World (1947), an album of photographs of rural European villages taken for immigrant audiences in the United States during the interwar period. This section explores the ways in which these images, reframed in the volume as monuments to the victims of Nazi terror, take on new layers of resonance as the entwined histories of cultural displacement and genocide continue to recede. Centering on the journal Camera Work (1903-1917), the final chapter contends that editor Alfred Stieglitz made his own Jewishness visible even as he obscured it, veiling it in the complex relationships he created between image and text. Without relinquishing his hard-earned place as an American cultural leader, he framed unanswerable questions about what it means to live between classes, between racial categories, and between cultures.