Aleksandr Ivanov (European University at Saint Petersburg)
Valery Dymshits (European University at Saint Petersburg)


Course Description
The 20th century marked an intensive, even revolutionary development of Jewish visual culture, affecting all its spheres including photography, theatre, feature and documentary films. The photographic craft and filmmaking that combined technological advances with commercial prospects were considered quite respectable even fashionable among the Jews in the Russian Empire and later in the USSR as well as in the other countries of Eastern Europe and overseas. It is no exaggeration to say that involvement of the Jews in photographic and cinema business was in fully consistent with the modernization process that had been taking place in the Jewish society of Eastern Europe and photographs and films by a virtue of media nature and wide circulating had played an important role as a sort of intermediary between the Jews and their non-Jewish environment. Accordingly, it is not surprising that the Jews had occupied key positions in photography and cinema between World War I and II mainly in three countries: Russia/Soviet Union, Poland and the United States. These spheres of Jewish visual culture are little known to modern audiences.

Meanwhile, the study and interpretation of visual images that were later included in the golden fund of world photography and cinema and that had been created by Jewish photographers and filmmakers allows us to rise a number of important issues and problems standing far beyond the boundaries of Jewish topics.
Among these issues one can mention the following: mutual relations and influences between cinema, photography, fine art and literature, “what is ethnographic photography and film?”; photography and cinema as the tools of nation-building; manifestation of the national idea in photography and films; creation and employment of photographic and cinematic images for propagation of political ideas and ideologies, etc. Since many of the discussed films and photo-works are inspired by literary products (novels, poetry, art manifestes, political pamphlets, newspaper articles) significant part of the lecture course will be dedicated to

discussions of the ratio of visual images to their verbal primary sources.
World War II and the Catastrophe of the European Jewry have forced to rethink the importance of visual culture for the Jewish communities of Europe, Israel, and America. In this connection photography and cinema reflecting Jewish topics were comprehended as an autonomous field of production of visual images that have documentary, artistic, and commemorative value and that form an integral part of Jewish cultural heritage. A search for old photographs and newsreels, depicting images of the pre-war Jewish world, undertaken by various organizations and private collectors, as well as attempts to include the results of this search

within the context of the Jewish collective memory had been directed towards overcoming the sense of a break between past and present associated with tragic events of the Holocaust. Preservation, to a great extant, is a process of fixing, presentation, and interpretation of traces of the Jewish past according to modern methodological approaches and technological possibilities.

After-World War II activization and actualization of scholarly researches dedicated to Jewish visual culture and longstanding debates on the key concepts related to photographic and cinematic representations of the Jewish past will be also in focus of the current lecture course.
The course will allow students to get acquainted with contemporary understanding of what is Jewish visual culture with a strong accent on photography and cinema. The students will be able to improve their skills in analyzing visual documentary sources and reading visual images with the help of methodological approaches developed by visual anthropology and art history.

30% -- contribution to the first part of the course
30% -- contribution to the second part of the course
40% -- final paper


Isola di San Servolo
30133 Venice,

phone: +39 041 2719511
fax:+39 041 2719510

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