Patronymic Salvage: Paintings, Photographs, and Daughters in Search of their Fathers
Sheila Jelen, Comparative Literature and Jewish Studies at University of Maryland.
Abstract: Through an analysis of two image books featuring East European Jewish life in the years before the Holocaust with an eye toward "salvage poetics," or the poetics that arise out of post-Holocaust popular ethnographic constructions of pre-Holocaust images, in this lecture we consider how ethnic image books and family albums have become interchangeable in post-Holocaust America. Mayer Kirshenblatt's They Called Me Mayer July (2007) and Alter Kacyzne's Poyln (1999) were both edited by the daughters of the artists whose work is featured therein. Even while identifying their fathers in and around the images in the two books, each daughter acknowledges the inevitable anonymity that pertains to subjects captured just before a cataclysmic event and observed by strangers after it; not every person in every image can be named, as they can in a family album. But within the genre of post-Holocaust image books used to focalize the American-Jewish sense of community and history, these albums occupy a familiar, ethnic, place.