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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Book showcases photographer’s study of Russian Jewry

Published: March 12, 2010
Section: News

Russian Jewery: Prof. ChaeRan Freeze (NEJS) introduced guest speakers Harriet Murav and Eugene Avrutin at an event celebrating the photography if S. An-sky. The guest speakers, both of whom are professors at the University of Illinois discussed the stereotype of Russian “shtetls” and the important work S. An-Sky did in documenting them in the early 1900s.
PHOTO BY Ingrid Schulte/The Hoot

An event held Tuesday celebrated the work of S. An-sky, who was recently included in a 2009 book published by Brandeis University Press, “Photographing the Jewish Nation: Pictures from S. An-sky’s Ethnographic Expeditions.” The event included Brandeis professors, students and families to share in the photography of 20th century Jews.

“Photographing the Jewish Nation” features photographs taken and documents collected by An-sky and his nephew, Solomon Iudovin, in their two-year expeditions in Russia during the early 1900s. The book also contains an introduction and commentary by the six editors, including Harriet Murav and Eugene Avrutin who are both professors at the University of Illinois, specializing in Russian cultural studies, as well as their colleagues at the St. Petersburg Judaica Center of the European University at St. Petersburg, Russia.

Murav began the presentation by discussing the stereotype of the Russian “shtetls” as being filled with old men and women, a belief furthered by most historical sources. An-sky, however, took many pictures of everyday life there, including children, teens and families.

“These photographs are not just important as records of a life, but as a mark of what that life could become. An-sky was very futuristic,” Avrutin said.

Muray said An-sky had a progressive view for his time, and wanted the Russian Jews, as well as the rest of the world, to modernize.

An-sky conducted his research in several ways, especially ethnography (the anthropology of a specific culture), by listening to stories, jokes and proverbs and collecting sound recordings as well as photographing people and places.

“An-sky used these photographs and recast East European culture through the use of the visual aspects. We hope that the photographs show not just a timeless world but will revisit old questions in a radical way,” Murav said.