images and collective memory

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The New York Times has an article about how our collective memories on Eastern European Jewish life were shaped by a book called ‘A Vanished World,’ by Roman Vishniac. In the back of it, there are two pictures, below.

“Jewish Man Looking Through Iron Door, Warsaw, Circa 1935–38” and "Boy Playing, Lodz, Circa 1935–38

The caption reads: “The father is hiding from the Endecy (members of the National Democratic Party). His son signals him that they are approaching. Warsaw, 1938.” Supplemental text indicates that a lynch mob was coming. Upon closer inspection, it seems that Vishniac did a great deal of falsification after the war: about the number of pictures he took, about the fact he used a hidden camera (one can see his reflection in the eyes of some of his subjects), and that some of his pictures were staged. The worst, however, was that he altered captions, like these, to heighten dramatic scenes well after the war.

An israeli policeman protecting a Jewish-American student caught in a riot on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

It reminds me of the Tuvia Grossman controversy, wherein an incorrect caption fused in the world’s memory a scene of an Israeli policeman beating Palestinians. Usually a good example to pair with Howard Becker’s Telling About Society.

Recently, Sociological Images has a nice discussion about how the ‘Florida Family Policy Council’ circulated an image of a lesbian couple who wanted to adopt a child, to alert their members of a recent judge’s ruling. Stereotypes abound. Guess which one was the couple seeking the adoption, and which was the image that was circulated. For what it’s worth, the group says that image on the right was of another couple also seeking adoption and that they’re sorry for the mix up.

Two Couples

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