In a critical period for both journalism and the popularization of the fine arts in Britain, a disproportionate share of press photographers, as well as editors, art-editors, and picture-agency heads were of Jewish origins from 1918 to 1951. Britain’s foundational historian and collector of photography, Helmut Gernsheim (a German-Jewish refugee), was acknowledged–even by his detractors–for having dramatically elevated regard for photography in Britain from the 1940s to the 70s.
The character of the photography trades allowed for the unrestricted penetration of Jews, so they became conspicuous as cameramen (and occasionally, women)—in part because it was not quite respectable. Photojournalism, from the late 1920s onward, also became a viable livelihood for refugees without work permits. A central figure is Stefan Lorant of Picture Post, who had a tremendous impact on journalism world-wide and promoted the legend of Robert Capa.
Jews specifically helped to transform relationships between photography and the fine arts. Especially due to the Warburg Institute (transplanted from Hamburg after the Nazi takeover of power) and Helmut Gernsheim, photography was positioned as branch of the arts, as well as visibly supporting the appreciation of painting, sculpture, and architecture. The Queen’s 90th-birthday photo shoot by Annie Leibovitz (2016) reveals continuity with the Jewish strain in Britain’s approach to professional photography.
Michael Berkowitz will present But is it art? Jews, photography, and photojournalism in Britain, 1860-2016
123 Buttrick Hall
Michael Berkowitz, a native of Rochester, NY, is a Professor of modern Jewish history at University College London and editor of Jewish Historical Studies: Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England (UCL Press). Most recently author of Jews and Photography in Britain (University of Texas Press, 2015), his research in photography has been supported by Yad Vashem (Jerusalem), the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Washington, DC), the Center for Creative Photography (Tucson, AZ), the Ransom Center (Austin, TX), the University of London, and the British Society for the History of Science. He is author of four previous monographs and his fifth edited book is forthcoming in 2016.
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Presented by The VU Program in Jewish Studies 2016-17 Lecture Series. Co-sponsored by VU Dept. of History of Art and VU Dept of History
Sponsor: VU Jewish Studies. Dept. of History of Art and History