Thursday, August 13, 2020

David Shneer's "Grief"

David Shneer is Louis P. Singer Endowed Chair in Jewish History, Professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is a Distinguished Lecturer for the Association for Jewish Studies, faculty advisor for Yiddishkayt, co-editor in chief of East European Jewish Affairs, the academic director of CU Boulder's Post Holocaust American Judaism archive, and the 2020-2021 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) fellow.

Shneer applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Grief: The Biography of a Holocaust Photograph, and reported the following:
I opened to page 99 and low and behold, “the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.”

On page 99 of Grief it says:
Although the Ogonek editor had cropped the P. Ivanova photograph to give a reader a close-up of her, Dmitry Baltermants very intentionally did not take a close-up. Perhaps he wanted to respect her privacy. Or he understood that a photographer, as Henri Cartier-Bresson suggested to his Moscow-based colleagues in 1958, should always imagine the widest frame of the photograph and crop only later, when figuring out the final story. In other words, the click of the camera was only the beginning of the process of creating a great photograph.
This meditation gets at the crux of my book.

My book is about the photographer Dmitry Baltermants and the January 1942 photograph he took of P. Ivanova on the outskirts of Kerch in southern Russia that graces the front cover called Grief. Although Ogonek, the Soviet Life magazine, published the images of fighting fascism during World War II, these photographs about creating memory around the war came out in the early 1960s. I found four photographs of P. Ivanova, the third one being the best, but it was damaged due to staining in the sky, so Baltermants had to figure out how to tell the story in the most complex way possible. At that, he tried just using an original sky (“too documentary”); then he tried shifting the contrast, so that blacks became blacker, and the whites became whiter (“too modernist”). That’s when he came to perspective, when two-dimensions finally become three with the formation of the clouds. Nothing about that was in scene, but when one gets a look at the photograph disappearing into infinity as the clouds disappear in the sky, it is easy to see why he wanted this photograph.

At its core, Cartier-Bresson is the cornerstone of my book, when he says that photography is always about getting the largest shot and then only cropping later when you see what the story tells you. This is about Grief, the first widely circulating Holocaust liberation photograph in history that sits on white walls at the Museum of Modern Art and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but it is also a story about Grief, a human experience so haunting that it becomes a moving piece for everyone.
Visit David Shneer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue