THE POSTHUMOUS LANDSCAPE: Jewish Sites of Memory in Poland Today

I made my first trip to Poland in 1992 for CBC’s The Fifth Estate. My next trips were also for documentary film work, in 2002 and 2007. On all these occasions I was struck by the richness and beauty of Jewish material culture in the land most often associated by Jews with the Holocaust. I returned a second time in 2007, in September, to begin making still photographs in the Jewish Cemetery in Lodz, the largest in Europe, and I have returned to Poland seven more times since.

Poland, for a thousand years, was the home of a diverse Jewish community that became the most populous and most important in Europe, and the world. I have travelled there to photograph the heritage remains of that society which include many historic cemeteries, ruined and restored synagogues, former Jewish neighbourhoods and ghettos, buildings and other cultural artifacts, as well as physical remnants of the community’s demise in the Holocaust.

Partly due to the efforts of Evelyn Tauben, guest curator for this exhibition and my colleague, the 2013 edition of Holocaust Education Week agreed to sponsor an exhibition of this work, and Dorion Liebgott, curator of the Reuben & Helene Dennis Museum at the Beth Tzedec Congregation, agreed to provide the venue for the show. The exhibition features twenty-six large scale colour prints that survey a variety of Jewish sites, some terrible but many surprisingly beautiful, all part of a civilization whose remnants are slowly being reclaimed by contemporary Poles and Jews the world over.

VESSELS OF SONG: Faces of New Jewish Music (Take II)

The revival of popular Yiddish music has to rank as the most distinctive development  in Jewish culture of the late 20th century. As I have written elsewhere on this site (see Yiddish Music in Pictures on the Writings page), I only became aware in 1998 of the breadth of this revived interest in Yiddish music, some twenty years after it began. What distinguished this revival was the determination of young musicians not to merely imitate what was played by earlier generations of klezmorim (from the Hebrew klei zemer, meaning “vessels of song”) but to create new music inspired by the distinctive modes and rhythms of 19th century Jewish Bessarabia as well as their transplanted early 20th century, jazzier, American counterparts. The revival gave birth to Jewish music festivals all around the globe, including KlezKanada in Montreal and Ashkenaz here in Toronto. Since 1998, I have filmed and photographed a wide cross section of the new klezmorim at these events, both the seminal figures in the revival as well as scores of young people who are the genre’s latest practitioners and its biggest fans.

BUILT TO LAST: Montreal’s Enduring Architecture

Montreal was Canada’s most important city for well over a century, and its architectural heritage, which dates back to the era of New France, remains unparalleled in Canada. I was born and educated in Montreal, and beginning in 1984, I travelled from my home in Toronto back to my native city almost every year to make images of its built environment. Over three decades I have captured a wide range of the city’s buildings: its distinctive residences, its heritage landmarks, many commercial and industrial structures, and numerous religious facades. I am presenting about two dozen of those images in this exhibition, part of the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival for 2015.

ARCHITECTURAL DEVOLUTION: Industrial Buildings in a Post-Industrial Age

Although the industrial building will exist as long as we make things, the imposing presence of late 19th century and early 20th century brick, concrete and steel factories that once shaped our great cities is gradually coming to an end. In this new exhibition, I have selected photographs from both recent and never-exhibited earlier work, to survey the fate of older industrial buildings, especially within the de-industrialized urban context. I have drawn on both digital and film-original large format images to create highly-detailed photographs which illustrate the conditions of buildings purpose-built for various enterprises, many of which have outlived their original functions.

 The exhibition includes images of concrete grain elevators in Trois Rivieres and Buffalo, brick factories in Berlin and Toronto, and gleaming storage tanks in Montreal. The fate of older industrial building is as varied as the structures themselves. Some sites I photographed no longer exist. While some multi-story factories can be transformed into commercial and residential spaces, many structures cannot be adapted and are allowed to deteriorate or are demolished. My depiction of these buildings is part of my ongoing work in documenting architectural history in Toronto, where I reside, and Montreal, the city of my birth.

Part of the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.

THE POSTHUMOUS LANDSCAPE: Jewish Historical Sites in Western Ukraine

Due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, these images of Jewish historical sites in the western part of the country have taken on added poignancy. Rabbi Adam Cutler, the recently appointed spiritual leader of the Adath Israel Congregation in Toronto, had been employed at the Beth Tzedec Congregation when these image were first shown there in 2017. It was under his initiative that this exhibition was remounted for almost a month at his new congregation around the Passover holiday in 2022.

In June 2016, for three weeks I explored the cities of Lviv and Chernivtsi and their surroundings, drawn to the area by its abundant Jewish material culture. Lviv, part of Poland before the war, and Chernivtsi, part of Romania, once had significant and large Jewish populations, as did the nearby towns. Today, western Ukraine’s much-reduced Jewish population of a few thousand faces an overwhelming task as it struggles to preserve community sites and historical artifacts, even with significant help from abroad.

Jewish heritage sites have enjoyed legal protection in Ukraine since the mid-nineties, but because of the history of destruction during both World War Two and the Soviet era, followed by two decades of neglect, many sites are in precarious condition. Though Jewish sites in western Ukraine do not appear to be in any danger because of the war with Russia, it is difficult to know how much damage has been incurred by sites in the rest of the country and what will become of those sites in the hoped-for aftermath of the conflict.