Vishniac, Roman 1897-1990

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VISHNIAC, Roman 1897-1990


Born August 19, 1897, in Pavlovsk, Russia; immigrated to the United States, 1940; naturalized U.S. citizen 1946; died January 27, 1990, in New York, NY; married; children: Maria Vishniac Kohn, one son. Education: Shankyavsky University, Ph.D., 1920; attended University of Berlin, 1920s.


Worked at various odd jobs and as a medical/scientific researcher, Berlin, Germany, 1920-35; Freelance photographer, beginning 1935; Yeshiva University, New York, NY, research associate, 1957-61, professor of biology, beginning 1961. National Science Foundation, project director and filmmaker for "Living Biology" film series; Pratt Institute, New York, NY, Chevron professor of creativity. Visiting professor of art, Rhode Island School of Magazine Photographers, 1956; also taught at City University of New York and Case Western Reserve University. Exhibitions: Individual exhibitions at galleries and museums, including the Musée du Louvre, Paris, France, 1939; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, 1963; Jewish Museum, New York, NY, 1971; Photographers' Gallery, London, England, 1973; and Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA, 1985. Photographs included in group exhibitions at galleries and museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, 1960; Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1973; and Australian National Gallery, Canberra, Australia, 1982. Military service: Served in Tsarist, Kerensky, and Soviet Armies, Russia, 1914-19.


Honor Award, American Society of Magazine Photographers, 1956.


Polish Jews: A Pictorial Record, text by Abraham Joshua Heschel, Schocken (New York, NY), 1942.

Mushrooms, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1957.

A Day of Pleasure, text by Isaac Bashevis Singer, [New York, NY], 1969.

Building Blocks of Life, Scribner (New York, NY), 1971.

Roman Vishniac, text by Eugene Kinkead, Grossman (New York, NY), 1974.

Roman Vishniac: The Vanished World of the Shtetl, [New York, NY], 1978, reprinted as The Life That Disappeared, [New York, NY], 1980.

Roman Vishniac: Einstein, [New York, NY], 1980.

A Vanished World, foreword by Ellie Wiesel, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1983.

To Give Them Light: The Legacy of Roman Vishniac, edited by Marion Wiesel, preface by Ellie Wiesel, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993.

Children of a Vanished World, edited by Mara Vishniac Kohn and Miriam Hartman Flacks, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1999.


Roman Vishniac is best known for his love of photography and science, which began when he received both a camera and a microscope when he was six years old. As a Contemporary Photographers contributor noted, "That trivial episode—long ago in 1904—was the first step to a destiny: science and photography have been interwoven throughout the whole of Vishniac's life. He is one of the great humanists of our time, a man in the tradition of the Italian Renaissance, when the figure of the scientist-artist was the key to the thought of the epoch that opened the door to the modern world."

Vishniac moved from scientific photography to photographing people in the 1930s. At that time he traveled 5,000 miles throughout Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Germany, and Poland, capturing on film the lives of the Jewish people in their villages and schools shortly before the Holocaust. Vishniac hid his camera beneath his clothing or in his suitcase in order to gain spontaneous images and also to protect it from the Nazis. According to a Contemporary Photographers contributor, Vishniac is quoted as claiming, "I returned again and again because I wanted to save the faces." Shortly after Vishniac's journey the Nazis destroyed the villages and put to death many of the people he had photographed.

Vishniac's A Vanished World is a collection of the photographs he took during his journey. A Smithsonian contributor wrote that, "Where the word is inadequate, the image can do the job. Vishniac's photographs have the elemental power of great art." Children of a Vanished World, edited by Vishniac's daughter, Mara Vishniac Kohn, and Miriam Hartman Flacks, is a collection of some of the photographs Vishniac took of Jewish children during his journey.



Contemporary Photographers, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Artforum International, summer, 1993, "Roman Vishniac," p. 106.

Christian Science Monitor, December 4, 1997, "History and Memory Appear More Alive in Black and White," p. B4.

New Republic, December 19, 1983, Leonard Michaels, review of A Vanished World, p. 38.

Peterson's Photographic, September, 1993, review of To Give Them Light: The Legacy of Roman Vishniac, p. 8.

Seattle Times, November 21, 1999, "Two Books in the Picture-Is-Worth-a-Thousand-Words," p. M12.

Smithsonian, January, 1984, review of A Vanished World, p. 130.

Time, December 12, 1983, review of A Vanished World, p. 102.

Times (London, England), October 24, 1998, "Photography: This Week," p. 4.

U.S. News & World Report, February 5, 1990, "The Saved Faces of Roman Vishniac," p. 11.*