A hummingbird recently paid a visit to my garden while I was enjoying a coffee outside. I wanted this photo to be the one on the back cover of the Summer issue, but, taken with my phone, it just wasn’t a high-enough resolution. So, I went back to a photo I took last spring for that year’s Summer issue but didn’t use because it felt too cheerful at that point in the pandemic. Now, however, with vaccinations well underway and restrictions soon to start easing in the province, a little colour doesn’t seem out of place.
A still from the documentary Crackin’ Out: The Ronnie Tessler Rodeo Collection, showing photographer Ronnie Tessler. The documentary was directed by Sarah Genge and produced by the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia.
The Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia is currently hosting Crackin’ Out, an online exhibit of photographs of rural Western Canadian rodeo from 1976 to 1980 by Ronnie Tessler, along with a short documentary by director Sarah Genge. In rodeo, the term “crackin’ out” means “the beginning of the new season, breaking out of the chute, or even breaking out new chaps.”
“These explosive words epitomize for me the spirit of rodeo and the cowboy way of life,” Tessler explained.
The idea to shoot the images began as a “fun photo expedition” to Williams Lake Rodeo in 1976 by four friends who were members of a photography group, the Vancouver Image Exhibition Workshop, which is known for bringing in acclaimed guest artists.
The group worked together for a year and, with the permission of the Canadian Cowboys Association, produced an exhibit at the Finals Rodeo in Edmonton in 1977. Tessler worked independently for the next two years, documenting life at rodeos throughout the west, from British Columbia to Manitoba and into the northwest corner of the United States. Aspiring for objectivity, she realized it was not attainable.
“I wanted to know more about the cowboys, what went on behind the chutes and on the road and what motivated them to take on the challenges they did unsupported by a team or steady income,” Tessler said.
The exhibit takes the viewer not only to the action, the cowboys riding – and falling – but also to the personal and the life surrounding the event: the preparations, the traditions, the camaraderie and the love. The photos evoke an emblematic sense of a particular era in Western Canadian life.
Grouped into three chapters – “Before the Rodeo,” “The Rodeo” and “After the Rodeo” – each photograph is accompanied by stories, observations and explanations from Tessler that encapsulate the feeling that existed the moment each image was taken.
These images are what photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who is referred to in the exhibit, called “the decisive moment.” Or, as scholar John Suler, also quoted in the exhibit, described as “the moment when the visual and psychological elements of people in a real-life scene spontaneously and briefly come together in perfect resonance to express the essence of that situation.”
Rodeo was the first large, thematic body of work that Tessler did. Every project she undertook, she said, began when she “noticed themes coming out on my contact sheets and felt there was something I wanted to pursue. Each took about three years.”
Tessler’s Crackin’ Out was followed by her next major work, Israeli Suite, which was photographed over several visits to Israel. There was no similarity between these bodies of work and her last large project was different still – Jewish life in the West Kootenays.
As for the Jewish connections to the rodeo exhibit, Tessler observed, “I didn’t meet another Jew the entire time and did not encounter or make use of any specific Jewish values while doing the work. Many cowboys knew I was Jewish, and one asked what I was doing photographing a bull-riding school instead of watching Shoah on TV every night. I did enjoy the uniqueness of being an urban, Jewish woman with a family ‘goin’ down the road,’ putting myself on the line to record another way of life.”
Genge’s documentary Crackin’ Out: The Ronnie Tessler Rodeo Collection is part of the exhibit. It expands on the legacy of Tessler’s photography by exploring a multitude of perspectives on rodeo from such people as a stock contractor, a curator, a child of rodeo, a cowboy, an artist and a professor, as well as the archives intern who processed the collection.
“One photograph does not illustrate one idea. By speaking with eight different people, my aim was to bring their collection of voices together to elucidate an ever-shifting narrative of an image,” Genge said. “This film offers a brief glance at some of the distinct and disparate angles that create a multifaceted and, at times, conflicted understanding of Western Canadian rodeo.
“I endeavoured with this film to present aspects of rodeo frequently left untold, specifically its importance to Indigenous people, women and LGBTQ+ communities. It should be noted that, much like Tessler’s inherent presence in capturing these photographs, my subjectivity in curating them is unavoidable,” she added. “I am an unreliable witness who, six months ago, had never set foot at a rodeo, so my bias as an outsider is present throughout.”
The exhibit, which can be found at jewishmuseum.ca/exhibit/crackin-out, also features an hour-long video of its April 21 launch, which includes discussions with Tessler and Genge.
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
This photo, called “Generations,” was taken by Tim Gidal in Tel Aviv in 1935. (courtesy Zack Gallery)
The current show at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery, Invisible Curtain: The 1932 Polish Photographs of Nachum Tim Gidal, was organized in partnership with the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival, which runs Feb. 20-25. Gidal (better known as Tim Gidal or Tim N. Gidal) was a renown photojournalist of the last century and the exhibit’s images come from the new book Memories of Jewish Poland: The 1932 Photographs of Nachum Tim Gidal. (For a review, click here.)
The driving force behind the book’s publication was Yosef Wosk, who wrote its preface. Wosk approached Zack Gallery director Hope Forstenzer and Jewish Book Festival director Dana Camil Hewitt about a year ago, Forstenzer told the Independent. “He suggested we have a Tim Gidal show at the gallery to coincide with the festival and his newly published book,” she said.
Both Wosk and Forstenzer curated the exhibit. “Together, we chose about 50 images for the show, as many as the gallery could fit. It couldn’t include all the images in the book, of course,” said Forstenzer.
The history of the photographs is best described by the photographer himself in the book’s introduction. In 1932, Gidal, then 23, traveled with two friends to Poland from his hometown of Munich, Germany. It was his first trip abroad. “My knowledge of the political, economic and social conditions of the Jews in Poland didn’t seem to square with my feelings about their spiritual life,” he wrote. “So I decided to go and see for myself.”
Gidal, who passed away in 1996, took numerous photographs of people and places, as he went from shtetl to shtetl on his three-week “little odyssey.” He wrote: “I encountered spiritual and material heights and depths: material well-being and abject poverty, rejuvenation and dissolution. Some were rich, but many more were very poor. It was a hopeless poverty, endured with an incredible humility. I met men of faith and hypocrites … atheists, socialists and communists, Zionists and Bundists, Orthodox and assimilationists. We also experienced the all-pervading Jewish humor.”
Everything the young photographer experienced was reflected in his images, including those now on display at the Zack. We see children laughing and women looking far older than their real years. We see ancient eyes and tired, worn hands. We see educated men reading in front of a synagogue, and broken windows and peeling walls the next street over. And we know something Gidal didn’t know at the time, which makes this book and the show all the more poignant: not many years later, most of these people would be murdered in the Holocaust, and they and their entire way of life would be lost. But, in Gidal’s photos, his subjects remain alive. According to Wosk, “Each photograph is a monument, a letter in light.”
Gidal’s 1932 Polish photo essay comprises only a small portion of the master’s body of work. His photography journey spanned almost seven decades and encompassed most major players and momentous events of the 20th century.
One of the pioneers in the field of modern photography, Gidal made his debut in 1929 with his first published photo report. He was a proponent of the style of the “picture story” and he captured most of his subjects unaware, instead of staging elaborate scenes. Very few of his subjects posed for his photos, and every image tells a story.
Four years after his trip to Poland, Gidal moved to Palestine. During the Second World War, he served as a staff reporter for a British army magazine. A wanderer and a chronicler of life, he traveled a lot and lived in the United States for awhile. He taught and illustrated books. He exhibited widely.
A portion of the Zack exhibition is dedicated to Gidal’s artistic photography after 1932. The pictures demonstrate his technical progress, as well as his breadth of interests and subjects. There is a lyrical photo, “Generations,” taken in Tel Aviv in 1935 and another – a dramatic portrait of the youngest survivors of Buchenwald, taken in 1945 upon their arrival in Palestine. There is a photo of Mahatma Gandhi at the All-India Congress in Bombay in 1940 and the fascinating picture called “Handshake,” taken in Florence in 1934, which shows two men shaking hands in front of a wall covered with multiple posters of Mussolini.
Half a century before Photoshop was invented, Gidal experimented with his images, compiling them in different combinations and creating something unique, like his triptych of Winston Churchill of 1948 or the Rhomboid photomontage of 1975.
As a photo reporter, Gidal used his camera to record the 20th century in all its glorious and painful contradictions, and his early 1932 Polish photographs serve as a symbol of his multifaceted canon.
Invisible Curtain opened on Jan. 5 and the exhibit will continue until Feb. 25. To see the show’s digital equivalent, visit online.flippingbook.com/view/891736. To book an appointment to see it at the gallery, email Forstenzer at [email protected]. To attend the virtual book launch on Feb. 11, 7 p.m., and to see the full book festival lineup, visit jccgv.com/jewish-book-festival.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
The book Memories of Jewish Poland: The 1932 Photographs of Nachum Tim Gidal lets the photos do most of the talking. And they speak strongly and with passion of a lively, bustling and diverse community, the vast majority of whom were killed in the Holocaust.
“Of the 3.3 million Jewish residents of Poland before World War II, only 380,000 were still alive by 1945,” notes the book’s curator, local scholar, writer and philanthropist Yosef Wosk, in the preface. Wosk will help launch the release of Memories of Jewish Poland on Feb. 11, in a “prologue” event of the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival, which opens Feb. 20. He also helped organize Invisible Curtain, the current exhibit of Gidal’s work that is being co-presented by the festival with the Zack Gallery.
Wosk was friends with Gidal, who he met in Jerusalem, where Gidal lived. Born in Munich in 1909, Gidal had made aliyah in 1936, but then lived in various places before returning to Jerusalem in 1970; he passed away in 1996. It was not only Gidal’s dying wish that the 1932 Polish photos be published in book form, but that they be allowed to “speak for themselves.” And that request has been honoured. In addition to Wosk’s brief preface, the book opens with some notes written by Gidal for a 1984 exhibit and includes an introduction to Gidal’s work by photography historian, researcher, author and curator Nissan N. Perez, founder of the Israel Museum’s photography department. At the end, there is a list of the plates included in the book and a brief biography of Gidal. A map of Poland, indicating the locations in which the photos were taken, bookends the commentary and photographs.
“This book illustrates the largest number of photographs from Gidal’s Polish photo essay ever assembled. It is not, however, a catalogue raisonné: more than 20 images are not included,” writes Wosk. The reproductions included in the volume are taken from prints in Wosk’s collection and that of the Israel Museum. Wosk thanks Diane Evans, “master teacher, photographer, bookseller and friend in photography,” for serving “as a patient, experienced and disciplined midwife in giving birth to this book.”
Gidal – born Ignaz Nachum Gidalawitsch – was motivated to travel to Poland “by his desire to know more about his family’s background,” writes Perez. The photographs Gidal took were “actually a rather small chapter of his oeuvre at the beginning of his outstanding career, an exercise in perfecting his vision.”
“He gains the interest of the viewer not by staging elaborate scenes, but by capturing expressions and gestures that can only be described as both intimate and straightforward,” explains Perez. “As he said in one of the many meetings conducted toward the exhibition in 1995, ‘My photographs, I like to think, are variations on the everlasting tragicomedy of human life.’”
The images in Memories of Jewish Poland are prime examples of Gidal’s ability to capture images of life as it is happening, in all its unromantic but beautiful distinction.
“In the heterogenous assembly of the Polish galut (diaspora), I myself became immersed in the flow of Jewish life from the past to the future,” wrote Gidal for the 1984 exhibit. “When we left Poland after three weeks, I had passed through an invisible curtain, which had separated East and West. Now the curtain had opened, and I was made to feel the unifying presence of Jewry.”
A selection of Gidal’s 1932 Polish photos is currently on display at the Zack Gallery (for the full story, click here). The Memories of Jewish Poland book will be launched at a virtual Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival prologue event Feb. 11, 7 p.m. For tickets to the prologue and other Jewish Book Festival events, visit jccgv.com/jewish-book-festival.
(“Skewed Priorities,” photo by Bob Prosser)
COVID-19 has upended all of our lives in multiple ways. More people work from home. Self-isolation has become customary. Masks are everywhere. The anxiety and fear of infection have spread as widely as the virus itself. To reflect these and other changes, the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery invited Jewish community members – not professional artists but lay people – to share their experiences, thoughts and emotions in both visual and oral formats. The results can be found in the gallery’s current show, What We See: Stories & Moments from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The exhibit, which opened Sept. 10, consists of 15 entries. Each entry, submitted by one person, includes a few photos depicting that person’s new reality and a short essay, in which the participant wrote what has touched them most profoundly. As the deadline for the submissions was early July, everything in the show is about the first few months of the pandemic, before we all got more used to it and the new rules of social interaction became the norm.
Participant Sandra Collet presents her impressions through a poem on the meaning of the current crisis: “… A time of loneliness / A time of LIFE … A time of sadness / A time of hope.” Its last line, “Together apart,” encapsulates one of the most significant changes wrought by the pandemic.
Bob Prosser has written about his “ordinary experiences” and contemplates the days ahead: “… my wife sewed masks, we’re growing herbs and vegetables, we have learned to bake bread.… I’m hopeful but pessimistic about the post-COVID future.” One of the most memorable photographs of the whole show is his: the stockpile of toilet paper in his house.
For Derry Lubell, the hardest aspect of social distancing is her inability to be with her family, to interact with her grandchildren. Her short essay is almost a lament. She writes, “… one afternoon, I went to their house and stood on the sidewalk. They all came out onto their front porch.… I took these shots of our separation.”
Micah Groberman encountered a different challenge. Before the pandemic, his business was focused on tourism and, like most every other business connected to tourism, it fizzled out due to the global travel and gathering bans. He writes, “… before COVID, I would walk my sons – Evan, 8, and Jonas, 5 – to school and then begin my workday, but suddenly, I became my boys’ teacher.” He admits that he is not too good at math, so he decided to teach his sons about what he knew, instead: photography and nature. His older son’s photographs of wild birds, taken under Groberman’s tutelage and included in the show, prove the father’s talent for teaching. The images are outstanding.
Paul Steinbok’s photos capture simple, everyday images. In his essay, he expresses sympathy and compassion for those who have suffered from COVID. His own feelings have become more acute, more attuned to the life surrounding him. “This year,” he writes, “I have observed more closely and photographed the ever-changing colours and textures of spring. In addition, I have photographed some situations that have resulted from the COVID restrictions, such as messages of hope, COVID-style birthday parties and exercise classes.”
Tybie Lipetz, the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, writes about the disappointments young children have faced, the school closures and birthday party cancellations. “Life was turned upside down for the kids,” she notes.
Despite the drawbacks and dangers of COVID, many entries emphasize the authors’ hope and joy. For example, Fran Goldberg, who belongs to the especially vulnerable age group of 70-plus, has found positivity from her family and her dog. She and her children stay in touch by phone daily. “Instead of talking about what I couldn’t do, we started to focus on what I could,” she writes. “For one thing, I could Zoom with my family.… I have a dog.… She is 13 years old and, on our walks, she still takes the time to ‘smell the roses.’ She and my family have taught me to slow down and appreciate the beauty I see around me.”
Kathy Bilinsky also recognizes the beauty around her, however unexpected, and has captured it with her camera. In her essay, she mentions walking around Granville Island, which she did countless times before the pandemic, and notes how, at the pandemic’s onset, everything looked different, abandoned: “… no vendors, no shoppers, no tourists. It felt surreal…. So many doors that we can’t enter, nor do we want to.”
In her photos of the closed doors of Granville Island, the familiar noisy streets are almost unrecognizable. Who had ever seen those doors in broad daylight without a crowd in front of them?
Another of Bilinsky’s photographs is a bouquet on the asphalt, a gift from her children on Mother’s Day: “… flowers received ‘socially distanced,’ awkwardly tossed on the parking lot floor.… We all just stood and stared at them.”
The 15 participants in this unique show offer stories and moments ranging from eerie to prosaic, from heartwarming to poignant, all contributing to this combined slice of memory of the first few months of the pandemic in Vancouver.
What We See: Stories & Moments from the COVID-19 Pandemic runs until Nov. 10. You can visit the Zack Gallery by appointment or view the show’s digital book at jccgv.com/art-and-culture/gallery.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
SD Holman, artistic and executive director of the Queer Arts Festival, which takes place July 16-26. (photo from QAF)
“Since the very beginning, I said not doing the festival was not an option … because my belief is that they [the arts] are really, really important – I would say essential.”
Sharing their appreciation for the vital work being done by those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, SD Holman, artistic and executive director of the Queer Arts Festival, said, “art is really keeping people alive, in different ways than the amazing health workers that are taking care of folks right now. Even people who say they don’t like art – if you read a book, if you watch Netflix, you take part in the art world.”
This year’s Queer Arts Festival, which takes place July 16-26, will happen mostly online. This is, of course, not what was initially planned.
By mid-May, Holman said, “we had to have a plan. And, right now, we’re still working on how the delivery is going to look because it’s not all digital. One of the things that was really important to us, to me, is that, not all people have computers, not all people have a stable wi-fi access, people can’t go to the libraries [now] if they don’t have computer, so how do people access it? If they’re not privileged enough to have this little box in front of them, how do we deliver a festival?”
One of the things being considered is billboard art. As well, there is the possibility of using parks as venues.
The planning of such a festival normally starts a year in advance, not the couple of months that COVID has allowed for a reimagined version. Some elements – such as the visual arts show – have been adapted for the new circumstances, while some will have to be postponed, as they do not lend themselves to online viewing, because they are interactive on some level, or the artists can’t make it to Vancouver.
When asked about the process for choosing festival artists, Holman said, “I talk a lot to people, I try and keep abreast of what’s going on. I always want to support local artists and also bring in folks from away, so that there are great conversations that happen of what’s going on in the world, as well as what’s happening here.”
The festival programmer does research and people can also apply to be part of the festival. As well, Holman said, “There’ll be people that talk to me about wanting to do something, and that usually percolates for two or three years before anything ever happens.”
Holman has been with the festival since its beginnings as a volunteer collective in 1998. “Two-spirit artist Robbie Hong, black artist Jeffrey Gibson were the main founders of Pride in Art [Society],” they explained. “I was an artist and then I became involved in the collective in 2005, when Robbie was wanting to step away … and I called in Dr. Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa because she had approached me about something and I said, ‘Come and join me on this.’ And we spearheaded making it professional, making it a festival…. It was a community visual art show up until that point…. As an artist myself, I wanted to pay artists – too often artists are expected to do stuff for free, and that’s impossible.”
According to the festival website, PiA became a not-for-profit in 2006, mounted its first festival in 2008 and rebranded to become the Queer Arts Festival in 2010, obtaining charitable status in 2012.
“Rachel has finally managed to extricate herself,” said Holman, “because we also both have our own arts practices and it’s very hard to run this organization and also have an arts practice; it might have fallen a bit by the wayside, but Rachel is a concert pianist. [She’s] no longer staff with us, [but] she’s still doing some contract work with us and passing over her organizational knowledge.”
While Holman is a photo-based artist, the festival remains their focus. It is the belief that “art changes people and people change the world” that motivates them, “because it’s important work” – “when a country is taken over, the first people they suppress are the artists.… You take over the media and you get rid of the artists because people can be completely destroyed – the first thing they start doing [to recover] is making art, whether it’s in a mud puddle, making a mud pie, they start, that is, expression; that’s what brings them back.
“Art reaches you on a visceral level,” Holman continued. “There’s this thing called confirmation bias, so we take in more what we already agree with, but art can get you in a way that can transform our ways of thinking.”
For Holman, being queer and Jewish are parts of their larger identity. Holman has self-described, for example, as “a queer pagan Jew” and “a Jewish, butch, bearded dyke.”
“I come from L.A.,” they told the Independent. “I was born and raised in L.A., and I have had several Jewish friends be, ‘Oh, you’re too much for Vancouver.’ And I’ve been here for a long time … [but] people are, ‘Why aren’t you in New York, why aren’t you in L.A.? Why aren’t you where you can be more?’ I always get this feeling here … that people are always trying to be, ‘Shh, could you just be a little bit quieter, could you just be not quite so much?’ There’s this too-muchness about Jews. And there’s kind of this too-muchness about queers, too. There’s this assimilation. My family assimilated – I got, from my bubbie and my great-aunt, I would get Christmas cards. We’re Jewish! But we assimilated because that was what was safe for us. And so there’s all this assimilation and erasure that happens with queers and Jews, because, also, many of us can pass; we can pass as straight, we can pass as not Jewish.”
Despite skepticism about the possibility of Jews being fully accepted – the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville a couple of years ago featured chants of “Jews will not replace us,” for example – Holman is completely out there in her Jewishness and queerness, in a seemingly fearless way.
“Oh no, I’m afraid of everything, that’s why I do it,” they said. “Although, that’s not true anymore. Since my wife died [in 2009], I don’t fear anything because the worst thing has already happened to me. But I used to be, I was quite fearful.… [However] I’ve never been able to be in the closet about anything really. And, I guess, for me, that’s kind of Jewishness, [being] more emotive and not afraid to debate, not always trying to please people. For me, it comes from my Jewish heritage.”
Despite the many accolades for their art and for their work with the Queer Arts Festival, including the 2014 YWCA Women of Distinction Award in Arts and Culture, Holman said, “I have been a failure all my life.” Among their reasons for that description, Holman said they are dyslexic. They added, “I’m butch, so that’s a failure as a woman; feminists were called failures as women.” But, they said, they are working with that in their art and, on the positive side, being a failure “frees you up to make your own rules, so make your own rules.”
The theme of this year’s Queer Arts Festival is “Wicked.” The press release quotes Oscar Wilde: “Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others.”
“It’s always really multi-layered the theme and then people take different stuff out of it,” said Holman. “So, there’s also the book Wicked … because Wicked is about it’s not easy being green, it’s not easy being different. It’s not easy being a Jew, it’s not easy being queer. It’s not easy being butch, it’s not easy being an activist. It’s all actually about activism, the book Wicked.”
In addition, there is, as Holman writes in the press release, the question, “What do we lose – who do we lose – if we accept induction into the dominant order, and reframe ourselves as a ‘moral minority’?”
“It’s a bit of a double pun,” they explained to the Independent. “The ‘Moral Majority’ years ago, who were trying to say [what’s acceptable in society], the right-wing, and there’s the ‘model minority,’” the Asian community, whose perceived greater-than-average success and stereotypical politeness are used to downplay the existence of racism. “It totally ties in with what I was talking about ‘too-muchness’ and excess and how we, as queers, work towards justice and inclusion.”
While becoming “more acceptable,” Holman said, “it’s still, ‘please don’t scare the horses.’… So, it’s OK if you want to be gay and lesbian and you want to get married and you want to have kids and you want to buy a house and be part of the whole heteronormative [framework] … be part of society’s morals, but could you leave the drag queens and the leather dykes at home?… Even with gender stuff. We know now that it’s a real spectrum and people are getting [more accepted], trans are really out in the world [for example] and it’s OK if you want to be a ‘real woman’ or a ‘real man,’ whatever that is, but people in between are still, ‘Come on, could you choose a side?’
“There’s this whole [feeling like], we’ve given you these things, we’ve given you marriage rights, you can have children, you can affirm your gender, you can do those things, but could you now just be nicer to us? And, I think, we have to be careful of that – being sanctioned by the state of what’s OK [because] then people get left behind, and that’s what we’re seeing right now … the more privilege you gain, you have to be really careful of that,” of remembering that not everyone is being treated well.
The QAF opens on July 16. “And we’re going to have a binge/party at the end, on the 26th, and there’ll be prizes,” said Holman. “We’re going to play the whole entire festival. I think it’s going to be 12 hours or something – we’re inviting people to get into their best dress jammies.
“Everything is going to be pay-what-you-can, by donation…. Pay as much as you can, please, because we want to support the artists.”
Among those artists are Jewish community members Avram Finkelstein, from New York, who helps open the festival (see jewishindependent.ca/political-art-of-living) and locally based Noam Gagnon, whose work This Crazy Show (July 25-26) is described as “a reflection on the quest for love, through revisiting the worlds of childhood, both real and imagined.” In it, he “choreographs and performs, pushing himself to his physical limit to explore and expose ‘the art of artifice’ in a culture obsessed with pretending authenticity. This Crazy Show explores just how precarious and ambiguous identity can be, through the evolution of the body and the self, as both are continuously morphing, unfixed and boldly celebrated.”
For more information on the festival, visit queerartsfestival.com.
Lianne Cohen prepares to take a “PORCHtrait” of the Gorski family. (photo from Kehila Society)
As a fundraiser for Kehila Society of Richmond and/or Pathways Clubhouse, professional photographers Lianne Cohen, Jocelyne Hallé and Adele Lewin are volunteering their time (in a safe way) to photograph your family in front of your home. Dress up, stay in your PJs, hold a sign, whatever you feel like – be creative, have fun! These photos are intended to be a positive memory, to serve as a reminder of all the time you got to spend with your families in quarantine. The photographs are by a suggested minimum donation of $54 to kehilasociety.org/content/make-donation-kehila-society-richmond or pathwaysclubhouse.com/donate. A full tax receipt will be provided, along with your photographs. Bookings are available until June 7. To register, email [email protected] or call 604-241-9270.
Part of Dina Goldstein’s 11-photograph series Snapshots from the Garden of Eden is “Princess in the Tower” (2017). (image © Dina Goldstein)
On Feb. 20, Vancouver-based artist Dina Goldstein’s Snapshots from the Garden of Eden opened at the Museum of Jewish Montreal (imjm.ca). The exhibit will be on display until May 17.
A collection of 11 large-scale black-and-white photographs, Snapshots re-imagines modernized versions of characters and passages from Jewish fairytales, folk stories and legends collected in the book Leaves from the Garden of Eden by award-winning folklorist Howard Schwartz. Drawn from Jewish oral and written traditions across the centuries, the stories span the Jewish world – from Italy to Afghanistan – bringing to life the diversity and vibrancy of this overlooked area of Jewish storytelling and heritage.
Renowned for her reinterpretations of cultural symbols, Goldstein’s Snapshots reframes Jewish lore both famed and forgotten through the eyes of the 21st century. “The resonance of Goldstein’s work stems from her ability to weave intricate visual narratives,” said curator Alyssa Stokvis-Hauer, “where the history of Jewish folklore is catapulted into the modern era with a cast of characters and film noir-esque scenes that are provocative, imaginative and layered with meaning.”
Playing with visual and narrative archetypes, Goldstein creates new connections and relevance by merging the traditional and whimsical with contemporary themes of technology, desire, justice and identity, exploring and reinvigorating the history and role of Jewish folk narratives in broader cultural memory.
Commissioned in 2017 by the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco for an exhibition on Schwartz’s Leaves from the Garden of Eden, Goldstein’s photographic series has already been exhibited across Europe and North America. (For more on Goldstein, see jewishindependent.ca/modern-ancient-jewish-tales and jewishindependent.ca/challenging-viewers-beliefs. Her website is dinagoldstein.com.)
Picture of His Life follows Amos Nachoum to the Canadian Arctic, where he hopes to fulfil his dream of photographing polar bears underwater. (photo from Hey Jude Productions)
The ocean, in its vastness, suits Amos Nachoum perfectly. It’s big enough for him to hide. Not from the great white sharks, orcas, manta rays and other large sea creatures he has obsessively sought out and photographed for four decades. But from his traumatic memories of the Yom Kippur War, and from his father’s impossible expectations.
“Amos has made a decision to put the war behind him, to put violence behind him, and to use the camera to tell a different story, a beautiful story, about men and nature,” Israeli documentary filmmaker Yonatan Nir said in a phone interview while his family frolicked nearby in the kibbutz pool. “I think, in a way, he’s reframing his life with his camera.”
Nachoum’s complicated saga is rendered with gravity and grace in Nir and Dani Menkin’s Picture of His Life, which screens in the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival March 3, 8:45 p.m., at Fifth Avenue Cinemas.
Picture of His Life is structured around Nachoum’s summer 2015 expedition to the Canadian Arctic, more than 3,000 miles from his Pacific Grove, Calif., home, to try and fulfil his ultimate dream of photographing polar bears underwater. (Hence, the second meaning of the film’s title.)
The epic documentary’s executive producer is Nancy Spielberg, a nice bit of irony given that her brother made a flick called Jaws many years ago that spawned a widespread, irrational fear of sharks.
Nir and Menkin originally wanted to make a documentary about Nachoum diving in Tonga a decade ago, but that undertaking proved too expensive. Instead, they made Dolphin Boy, a redemptive portrait of a traumatized young Arab healed by swimming with dolphins in the Red Sea, which earned worldwide acclaim.
As it turned out, the extra years were essential, and not just to raise the funds for four Jews (Nachoum, the directors, and veteran underwater cinematographer Adam Ravetch) and six Inuit to trek to and film at remote Baker Lake. The filmmakers’ taciturn and enigmatic subject had to reach a point where he was willing to confide his deeply hidden feelings and memories.
“He really didn’t talk until we got to the Arctic,” Menkin recalled on the phone from his car in Los Angeles, “and that’s when he started to open up.” Nir added, “Amos needed time to open up and to be able, finally, to let us deep into his soul and to tell it for the first time.”
After the Arctic trip, Nachoum gave surprisingly candid interviews to the Israeli press about both his postwar trauma and his father, who had fought in the War of Independence. His way of dealing with his past continued – and continues – to expand.
There’s no question that the process of making Picture of His Life contributed to Nachoum’s evolution. Nir and Menkin visited his father in the hospital near the end of his life, capturing a raw, powerful moment. They subsequently showed the footage to Nachoum with the understanding that they would include it in the film only if he gave his consent.
Nachoum was touched by the scene and agreed to its inclusion. He even enacted an onscreen form of reciprocation to complete the circle.
“We were able to create this closure between the father and the son, but only through the film,” Nir said. “It never really happened face to face.”
The personal story in Picture of His Life is wrenching, but the environmental component is pretty potent, too. “I see myself as a soldier for Mother Nature,” Nachoum declares in the film, but his desperate, late-career pursuit of the polar bear goes even deeper.
“At the end of the day, Amos was looking for his family,” Menkin said. “His family is the universe. It’s Mother Nature. He found his family and lives with it in harmony, and that’s what he wants us to do.”
Michael Fox is a writer and film critic living in San Francisco.
Lorne Greenberg’s solo show, Cuba, comprises photographic compositions, such as this one. (photos by Lorne Greenberg)
The origins of Lorne Greenberg’s solo photography exhibition Cuba can be traced back more than 35 years. “I had my MFA in photography from the University of Arizona in 1983,” he told the Independent. “In 1984, I began photographing Mexican street art.”
At first, he photographed on the American side of the border, but later visited Mexico several times, taking pictures of streets and buildings in many Mexican border towns. “I have an affinity for Latin American art,” he said. “I also read many Latin American writers.”
After a few years, though, Greenberg turned his artistic eye to other interests and new subjects. He only started refocusing on Mexico five years ago.
“In 2014, I began to photograph in Mexico again,” he said. “This time, I was interested in streets, buildings and yards, objects as artifacts of culture. I see it as the archeology of Man, a study of Man in his environment through the observance of objects and artifacts. There is no sky in my Mexican photos, but walls and doors and windows. Colours, shapes and lines, and where things are in relation to each other.”
He wanted to dig deeper in that direction, but, having been in Mexico multiple times, he turned to Cuba. “I had never been to Cuba before. I wanted to see it,” he said. “I heard that [Barack] Obama was going there, and I decided that I’d better go before Americanization.”
In spring 2016, Greenberg flew to Cuba for the first time. “Just me, my camera and my backpack. I came a few days after Obama left. I was there for about 10 days and visited three cities: Havana, Santa Clara and Trinidad.”
He wandered the streets and photographed doors and walls and windows, but with a new mode of expression. “I started seeing people,” he said. “Before, there were hardly any people in my photos. Now, I wanted to photograph them as part of the streetscape.”
He continued his Cuban exploration in 2018, on his second trip to the country. This time, he stayed exclusively in Havana. “When I was there, I ate, slept, photographed and listened to jazz,” he recalled. “It’s a vibrant place, with music a prevalent part of life.”
Again, he roamed the streets, without a plan, photographing houses and people. “Nothing is staged in my photos; nobody posed,” he said. “I just waited until I had a perfect image, and then I took it. I wasn’t trying to make a statement, didn’t have any preconceived idea. I just wanted to find what is there, discover the relationship between people and places, the coherence of individuals and their building backdrops. If some people didn’t want to be photographed, they would say it, and I didn’t take their pictures, but that happened only three times.”
In selecting the images to include in his solo show, from the hundreds he took in Cuba, he said, “I didn’t want to show just 10 or 15 large pictures. A single large image has a privileged status, and I wanted to create an experience of Cuba, to show people what I saw.”
Therefore, he compiled his photographs into compositions, which made it possible to increase the number of different images on display. Each composition is more than a collection of individual photos – it is a work of art on its own.
“There are 102 different pictures in the show, combined into eight compositions,” Greenberg said. “At first, I considered each composition as a tic-tac-toe grid, but it didn’t work. It was too orderly, too tight, didn’t give the sense of Cuba. Then I thought about the sculptures of Alexander Calder. I changed the layout of my compositions, opened them up, created a flow. They are not individual photographs anymore. They are installations, and they incorporate the gallery space as part of the experience. Each composition has a certain colour scheme, and its lines and shapes create a whole, simultaneously dynamic and static, random and structured.”
The arrangement of the compositions was as creative an endeavour as was taking photographs. “It was fun moving pictures around, seeing different possibilities. I could have done it for much longer, if I didn’t have a deadline for the show,” he joked.
Greenberg’s Cuban compositions reflect the political reality of the country. The lively colours of the buildings preen under the heat and light of the sun, while simultaneously exposing the peeling paint, dirty or moldy walls, and the rusty metal of fences and shutters, which hint at the poverty that exists in the country.
“I see beauty, aesthetics and humanity,” said Greenberg. “Poverty is more in the ethical dimension, and everything for me is in the aesthetic world.”
The show Cuba opened on Oct. 24 at the Zack Gallery and continues until Nov. 24. The opening reception was held on Oct 30. For more information on Greenberg’s work, visit lornegreenbergphotography.ca.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].