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New Books in History
We should be skeptical of what is sometimes called "Jew counting" and all it implies. Yet it cannot be denied that Jews played a pivotal and (dare we say) disproportionate role in moving the West from a pre-modern to a modern condition. Take the media. Most people know that Jews, though hardly alone, built much of the film industry. Fewer people will know, however, that Jews--again, though hardly alone--were central to the birth of photojournalism. Robert Capa, arguably the most famous photojournalist of the last century, was, for example, born Endre Friedmann.
In his fine book Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust (Rutgers University Press, 2010), historian David Shneer explores the ways in which Jews were instrumental in the creation of Soviet photojournalism and the ways in which their Jewishness--acknowledged or unacknowledged, accepted or completely rejected--affected the way they did their jobs and how they experienced what they saw and shot. The book is about identity as much as it is about photography (though it is about that as well). These pioneers of photojournalism were Jews whether they liked it or not. It said so on their passports. Yet they struggled with what that meant and how it should (or shouldn't) influence their art. David does an excellent job in explaining how they negotiated Jewishness through revolution, socialism, Stalinism, world war, and the destruction of Eastern European Jewry itself.
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