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Plachy, Sylvia


PLACHY, SYLVIA (1943– ), U.S. photographer. Born in Budapest, Hungary, Plachy immigrated to the United States with her parents in 1958 after waiting more than a year in Vienna for visas. Her father was a Catholic, the offspring of her aristocratic but impoverished grandmother's affair with a guard in the Hapsburg court. Her mother was Jewish and many relatives were murdered during the Holocaust. In the United States, the Plachy family settled in Queens, n.y. Plachy started photographing in 1964 and over the next 40 years recorded the visual character of New York City along with its diverse occupants. She was a photographer for the New York weekly The Village Voice for 30 years, and for eight years she had a black and white photograph published there, near the contents page, usually without a caption. The longest-running series was called Sylvia Plachy's Unguided Tour, which later became a book (Aperture, 1990). Her words and images, along with pictures from her family album, combine for poignant effect in Self Portrait with Cows Going Home (Aperture, 2004), an autobiography of sorts, and an ode to both the exile's life and the land of her birth. Another book, Red Light, was a collaboration with the writer James Ridgeway about the sex industry. Her monthly column of writing and photographs in Metropolis Magazine was published as a book, Signs & Relics (1999). On successive trips back to Hungary and while traveling through other countries in the Eastern Bloc, sometimes on assignment, Plachy's camera captured traces of her real and imagined childhood with tenderness and yearning. She was also there in later decades to record the monuments as they fell; the empty frames in bureaucrats' offices that formerly held pictures of dictators and two Berlin teenagers pretending to be executed against a remnant of the Berlin wall. Plachy's mother had kept her own Jewishness a secret during the postwar years in Hungary. But Sylvia Plachy's Jewishness comes back to haunt her in images of her son, the actor Adrien Brody, who won an Oscar for his starring role in Roman *Polanski's Holocaust drama The Pianist (2002), based on the life of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jewish musician who survived the war by hiding in Warsaw. Plachy's work is in most major museum collections and she has had one-woman shows around the world.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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