The forger of thousands of official documents and a photographer of the world around him, Adolfo Kaminsky has lived a curious life. An exhibition at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme in Paris reveals his talent as an image-maker.
Adolfo Kaminsky is fascinated by the many faces of humanity, faces that stare back at you with a thoughtful, intriguing gaze, with a touch of grace, with a look that lets you glimpse into their soul. Take for example the bookseller photographed in Paris after the war: surrounded by his books and cats, as if one couldn’t have one without the other, he sells bargain dictionaries, Parisian yellow pages for 1948, and a Loire Valley guidebook. The focus on odd jobs is a constant feature in Kaminsky’s images. Here he portrays a knife-grinder, there a ticket-puncher, and there an organ player. He is mesmerized by all the small trades that shape the city. Perhaps they remind him of his own stint as a forger, a skill he mastered during World War II to dupe the German occupier and save Jews, and which he put in the service of revolutions in Latin America and the revolt against the dictatorships in Spain, Portugal, and Greece in the 1950s and 60s.
“The city in slumber”
It was in the aftermath of wartime devastation that Adolfo Kaminsky, born in 1925, threw himself into photography. “All my friends had left and, to overcome loneliness, I plunged body and soul into photography. Every night, I would climb onto Paris rooftops to catch the city in slumber,” he recalled. Using his Rolleiflex, he recorded private moments on film, creating precious tableaus: a woman leaning against a wall; a couple walking along a boulevard sheltered by an umbrella on a drizzly day; a bigmouthed flea-market vendor posing next to his beat-up car. But Paris was not the only subject of Kaminsky’s photographs. He also aimed his camera at the Marseille harbor, the mysterious city of Adrar in Algeria, and centuries-old trees in Lebanon. Wherever he went, however, he would try to find humanity, which puts him in the same rank as Sabine Weiss, Robert Doisneau, and Willy Ronis. The exhibition at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme puts these qualities in the spotlight.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
Adolfo Kaminsky: Forger and Photographer
May 23 to December 8, 2019
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du judaïsme, Hôtel de Saint-Aignan, 71 Rue du Temple, 75003 Paris