Dispersed contact. Photographs from the Ringelblum Archive: reinterpreted

The book edited by Anna Duńczyk-Szulc follows the exhibition ‘The Light of the Negative / Images from the Ringelblum Archive and Jerzy Lewczyński’s Archive / Reinterpreted’ presented at the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute between 26 April and 25 August 2019. The book presents for the first time in its entirety, in a new edition and from a new perspective, a collection of photographs discovered in 1946 in the eighth case of the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto.

The book opens with ‘Photo-papers’, an essay by Georges Didi-Huberman, lecturer at the  École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris,  one of the most renowned researchers of theory of images. The philosopher accepted an invitation to view the photographs from the Ringelblum Archive, and inspired by this extraordinary collection, he wrote down his reflections on its message and importance.

Agnieszka Reszka [Head of the JHI Archives] opens a grey cardboard box, inside which is a binder with metal rings. A binder in which some sixty photographic prints preserved in Warsaw in the Oneg Shabbat archive have been collected, together with index cards. This, in principle, is the reason of why I am here: to see those few pictures, to come and see. Or to try to see them, just try and see, as Samuel Beckett would have said. Already the previous evening Anna Duńczyk-Szulc shared her doubts as an archivist and historian with me. Is this collection of photographs truly a corpus? Are they not too scattered to derive something coherent from them? How to understand the material disparity of the prints, the differences of paper and technical conditions (although found in the first batch of metal boxes in 1946, the prints were not too damaged by humidity)? So who took these photographs? How were they collected?


Prof. Tadeusz Epsztein in his essay  ‘Photographs in the Ringelblum Archive’ replies to Georges Didi-Huberman’s question why the editors of the complete edition of the Ringelblum Archive chose not to dedicate a separate volume to the iconographic collection. The essay presents the following stages of research on photographs collected by Oneg Shabbat and of identifying the collection of 76 photographs preserved in the Archive and discovered in 1946.

Anna Duńczyk-Szulc, editor of the book, the person behind its very idea and the curator of the exhibition ‘The Light of the Negative / Images from the Ringelblum Archive and Jerzy Lewczyński’s Archive / Reinterpreted’  wonders in her essay ‘Reinterpreted’ whether the discovered photographs are a closed collection, and if the destroyed collection could have complemented it. She leads the reader through her reflections on interpretation of the preserved photographs and their role towards the entirety of documents from the Archive. She asks key questions: who took the photographs, what was their intention, technique and skill, and the way they looked at the ghetto?

For a photographer, and especially a photojournalist, arranging several images into a story is an important way of building a narrative. The collection’s cohesiveness can, therefore, confirm the presence of photographic stories, but is it possible to find connections between the individual images? I tried to reexamine each and every one, but also to look at them in the context of other images, perhaps deliberately accompanying them. To pay attention to the emerging constellations, each with its own context and aesthetic.

The second part of the book contains photographs preserved in the Ringelblum Archive. They were arranged into series, according to a key suggested by Georges Didi-Huberman – three historically and politically articulated paradigms: Government of the oppressors, Government of the oppressed, Life in spite of it all. The constellations of images which emerged offer, according to the philosopher, new possibilities for interpretation. Each photograph was precisely described and accompanied with quotes from Emanuel Ringelblum’s notes written in the ghetto, memoirs preserved in the Archive and Adam Czerniaków’s Diary.

The entire collection of  photographs preserved in the Ringelblum Archive is available at the DELET webportal.

The book is available at the Tłomackie Bookstore.

The book is a part of commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Emanuel Ringelblum’s death and received funding from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland.