About the Photographer
Russian-American, b. 1897 Pavlosk, Russia, d. 1990 New York, NY
Roman Vishniac was born near St. Petersburg in Pavlosk, Russia in August, 1897. He was raised in Moscow until mounting anti-Semitism sent him to Berlin in 1920 where he researched endocrinology and worked as a photojournalist. Berlin is among Vishniac's early pictures, made while working as a photojournalist two years after his arrival in the city. The photograph was printed four decades later, after Vishniac had immigrated to the United States and begun to establish himself in the fields of biology and education. Vishniac was a man of many talents, earning degrees in biology, medicine, philosophy, and art history (his Ph.D. thesis was on oriental art history).
Beginning in 1933 under the Joint Distribution Committee and continuing until 1939, Vishniac documented daily life in the shtetls of Central and Western Europe. These pictures of Jewish communities were originally used to raise funds to support the increasingly marginalized peoples they depict, but they have come to stand for a way of life that was nearly extinguished. Of the 16,000 photographs he made during this project, all but 2,000 were confiscated and presumably destroyed. During the mid-1930s Vishniac was imprisoned 11 times and forced to do hard labor in concentration camps, including an internment in France's Camp Gurs. He eventually escaped and immigrated to New York in 1941.
In addition to his 1930s photographs of Jewish communities, Vishniac is also known as a pioneer in time-lapse cinematography, light-interruption photography, and color photomicroscopy of living organisms. His microphotography work was published not only in scientific venues, but also in popular magazines including Life. At Yeshiva University, he was appointed research associate in 1957, and in 1961 became professor of biological education at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Vishniac died on January 22, 1990 in New York City.