Website launch marks the 70th anniversary of the physical unearthing of photographer Henryk Ross’s negatives from Poland’s Lodz Ghetto
TORONTO – The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), in partnership with Facing History and Ourselves and the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, has developed a digital archive of more than 4,000 rarely seen images from its Henryk Ross Collection of Lodz Ghetto Photographs. Created for educators, students, scholars and others interested in the history of the Lodz Ghetto, the website, www.AGOLodzGhetto.com, features searchable, digital renderings of Henryk Ross’s original nitrate-based negatives. The launch of the digital archive marks the 70th anniversary of Ross’s physical unearthing of the original negatives in 1945.
The website offers an extraordinarily rare glimpse of life inside the Lodz Ghetto during the Second World War through the daring lens of Ross (1910-1991), a Polish Jewish photojournalist. Situated in the heart of Poland, the city of Lodz was occupied by German forces in 1939 and became the country’s second largest ghetto for the Jewish population of Europe, after Warsaw. Incarcerated in 1940 and put to work as a bureaucratic photographer by the Jewish Administration’s Statistics Department, Ross unofficially—and at great personal risk—took thousands of images of daily life in the ghetto.
As the last remaining ghetto residents were being sent to their deaths at Auschwitz, Ross hid his negatives. “I buried my negatives in the ground,” he said in 1987, “in order that there should be some record of our tragedy…I was anticipating the total destruction of Polish Jewry. I wanted to leave a historical record of our martyrdom.” Ross and his wife, Stefania, were among a very small percentage of ghetto inhabitants to survive the war, and after the liberation of Lodz Ghetto in January 1945 he was able to excavate his negatives. Over half of his original 6,000 negatives survived, albeit with some damage, making his collection one of the largest visual records of its kind to survive the Holocaust.
The Henryk Ross Collection was generously gifted to the AGO by the Archive of Modern Conflict in 2007 and receives more public inquiries than any other body of work in the Gallery’s collection. The launch of www.AGOLodzGhetto.com extends Ross’s legacy by inviting people around the world to search and save images, and to help continue to build the legacy by tagging photographs and adding information. A special section for teachers and students offers four lesson plans for classroom use, in addition to resources that allow classes to address modern human rights issues and to promote social change in their communities.
“This digital archive will truly transform how the public interacts with our collection,” says Judith Koke, AGO Chief of Public Programming and Learning. “It provides a new level of access to these extraordinary works, which evoke a visual and emotional meditation on a harrowing moment in history. As an educational tool, the website offers an unparalleled opportunity to trace family histories, reflect on the events of the Second World War and ignite conversations about how many of its fundamental issues continue to reverberate today.
The unveiling of the archive is timed to coincide with Image as Catalyst: The Legacy of Henryk Ross, a talk taking place on Thursday, May 28, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in Jackman Hall at the AGO and presented in connection with Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross. Using the Ross photographs as a starting point, artists, educators and researchers will consider the role of image-making as an act of resistance, the importance of creating and sharing visual records and how the creative application of technological tools can spread awareness and effect social change. The panel will include Dan Bergeron, visual artist; Drew Boyd, Director of Operations for The Sentinel Project; and Judith Koke, Chief, Public Programming and Learning at Art Gallery of Ontario and will be moderated by Leora Schaefer, Toronto Office Director of Facing History and Ourselves. Tickets are available online at ago.ca.
The photographs are also currently on display at the AGO in Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross. Curated by Maia-Mari Sutnik, the AGO’s curator of special photography projects, the exhibition features the images and artifacts, including Ross’s own identity card, ghetto notices and footage from the 1961 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann, where Ross’s photographs were submitted as evidence. Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross runs to June 14, 2015.
The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive 244-page hardcover catalogue. Featuring essays by curators, critics, filmmakers and scholars including Maia-Mari Sutnik, Eric Beck Rubin, Bernice Eisenstein, Michael Mitchell and Robert Jan van Pelt, the catalogue is available at www.AGOLodzGhetto.com and in shopAGO.
Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario.
The AGO acknowledges the generous support of its Signature Partners: American Express, Signature Partner of the Conservation Program; Aimia, Signature Partner of the Photography Collection Program; and the RBC Emerging Artists Project, Signature Partner of AGO Artist Projects.
The Cyril & Dorothy, Joel & Jill Reitman Family Foundation
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With a collection of more than 80,000 works of art, the Art Gallery of Ontario is among the most distinguished art museums in North America. From the vast body of Group of Seven and signature Canadian works to the African art gallery, from the cutting-edge contemporary art to Peter Paul Rubens’ masterpiece The Massacre of The Innocents, the AGO offers an incredible art experience with each visit. In 2002 Ken Thomson’s generous gift of 2,000 remarkable works of Canadian and European art inspired Transformation AGO, an innovative architectural expansion by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry that in 2008 resulted in one of the most critically acclaimed architectural achievements in North America. Highlights include Galleria Italia, a gleaming showcase of wood and glass running the length of an entire city block, and the often-photographed spiral staircase, beckoning visitors to explore. The AGO has an active membership program offering great value, and the AGO’s Weston Family Learning Centre offers engaging art and creative programs for children, families, youth and adults. Visit ago.net to find out more about upcoming special exhibitions, to learn about eating and shopping at the AGO, to register for programs and to buy tickets or memberships.
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