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The Uncanny Tale of Shimmel Zohar

The Atlantic | Monday, Sep 07, 2020

The Uncanny Tale of Shimmel Zohar


So I first heard about Shimmel Zohar from Gravity Goldberg—yeah, I know, but she insists it’s her real name (explaining that her father was a physicist)—who is the director of public programs and visitor experience at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, in San Francisco. She was calling to tell me about an upcoming show—the inaugural exhibition of a recently discovered trove of work by Shimmel Zohar, a Lithuanian immigrant photographer (and contemporary of Mathew Brady), who had done for the Jewish community of Manhattan’s Lower East Side what, generations later, August Sander would do for Weimar-era Berlin: create a complete photographic inventory of professions and types. Or maybe not. There was, she suggested, some slippage in the whole backstory, and they were trying to find someone who might be willing to look into the matter, perhaps even for an afterword to the show’s catalog, which was on the verge of publication. Might I, she wondered, be interested?

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