The effect of personal history in an artist’s oeuvre, the role of metaphor, the extent to which an artist can decipher or explain her own work – these are all questions that come to mind when viewing Yudith Schreiber’s photographs in “Blind Impress,” currently on exhibit at The Jewish Theological Seminary.
Through a series of images, some of the coast and the sea, others of found, discarded and often unidentifiable flotsam, Schreiber explores these issues and what it means to remember or attempt to salvage memory of tragic and unsolved trauma. Schreiber’s long interest in photographs related to water is linked, as she says, to her “personal history, which is part of Israel’s national history.” In 1968, the submarine Dakar, with its entire crew, including Schreiber’s older brother, Sergeant First Class Amnon Ron, was lost and went missing for 31 years. Despite recovery of the vessel in 1999, the cause of the submarine’s loss and destruction remains shrouded in mystery.
The mystery of water, what it hides, how it shapes the objects it touches, is all part of the visual experience of Schreiber’s works. In one photograph, “White Whale,” a large white form lurks beneath the water’s surface. Is it a whale, a fetus, an amoeba or just a reflection in the water? Schreiber herself suggests, “For me, the picture of the white whale, a light spot in black water, might be a fish, a submarine or a sea monster.” In these Rorschach images, the viewer decides. Discarded objects, which once had a specific function, exist in the same no-man’s land of the submerged submarine. Viewers gaze at the photos searching for a code, a connection, something by which to explain the randomness of the objects but no answers can be found in these remnants of dark, hidden places. Below the sea, unreachable and unfathomable, the lost submarine remains at the heart of the artist’s subconscious, as she attempts to reach the unreachable past.
As Schreiber says, “The bodies of water that I photograph are part of a deep, soul-searching dialogue with the great body of water…Objects, which were discarded or neglected after they finished performing their primary role, begin a completely new life, far from their original purpose…I collected these objects instinctively. I simply was drawn to them – to their form, to their appearance. So I took them home, photographed them on my concrete floor, and saved them.”
“Yudith Schreiber: Blind Impress” is on view through December 19 at JTS. 3080 Broadway (122nd Street), New York City. Admission is free.
Gloria Kestenbaum is a corporate communications consultant and freelance writer.