In the summer of 2001, I met Klara Kurman while making photographs in Shargorod, Ukraine for what would become my book, Far from Zion: Jews, Diaspora, Memory. Klara was 71 that summer, and had lived in Shargorod all her life, indeed had survived the Holocaust in the Shargorod ghetto. Sitting on her front steps, peeling garlic, she was among the last Jews still living in a town whose population had been three-quarters Jewish for two hundred years before the Second World War, and a quarter Jewish even at the end of the Soviet period. By the time I met Klara, most of Shargorod’s Jews had jumped at the chance to emigrate.
In the summer of 2017, I returned to Shargorod with my friend Asya Fruman, while making photographs for my project, Alive and Destroyed: A Meditation on the Holocaust in Time. We learned that Klara had been dead for some years––one person said five, another eight. When we found her house, it was obviously abandoned––closed up and the garden overgrown––but I could almost see Klara still on her front steps. With some trepidation I pulled open her front door, to find the interior completely decimated. Thieves had taken everything, down to the floorboards.
The sequence of photographs here braids together black and white pictures I made in 2001 and new color photographs from this year, in an effort to grasp the two sets in relation to each other. Loss, of course, emerges strongly from both the earlier and the later pictures, if in different forms: as loneliness in the black and white pictures, and as ruination in the color pictures. I don’t know what to do with my sense of loss compounding loss, of Klara’s own heaviness of spirit now sedimented in the dirt and emptiness that remains of her home. I don’t know what to say about my sense that Klara survived the genocide and lived to an old age, after which the consequences of the genocide savaged the evidence of her life. I don’t know what to do except to make a picture dialectic of (blind) premonition and (uncomprehending) aftermath.
Atlanta, September 2017