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Illuminating Roman Vishniac: A Career in Biological Photography and Cinematography

Howard Radzyner, Norman Barker

Abstract


Despite the fame of Roman Vishniac’s photography of Jewish communities in pre-Holocaust Europe; what is relatively unknown today to the photography or science communities — despite the recognition it received at the time of its creation — is that Vishniac’s major efforts in photography were neither documentary nor artistic. Rather, the vast majority of his lifetime of photographic work focused on the biological world. Reviewed here is the phenomenal scope and quantity of biological photography and cinematography produced by Roman Vishniac over a five-decade period. From zoo animals to the tiniest of microorganisms, from time-lapse studies of vascular physiology to widely distributed biology classroom films, from spreads in LIFE magazine to advertisements for an insect sting analgesic; Vishniac’s ability to capture and create images — almost exclusively of living subjects — was sought after by scientific researchers, popular magazines, movie producers, news organizations and commercial entities. Vishniac’s body of scientific photography, both still and ciné, often produced by him from initial concept through writing and shooting — in an age before the technological advances in imaging that we all now enjoy — and despite its later eclipse by his own earlier images, was regarded as the finest and most imaginative of its time.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/jbc.v42i1.9201



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