I wish I could bring everyone on a behind-the-scenes Chasing Portraits adventure. I love learning and discovering more about my great-grandfather, particularly those moments where I see a piece of his art for the first time, because these are always jaw-dropping, heart beating faster, lump in my throat, moments for me that I think everyone would love to experience. But I can’t bring everyone along, and so I try to share those moments in blog posts, social media shares, and in-person conversations.
Last week I met with Shula, my third cousin [my great-grandmother and her great-grandmother were sisters], to see a Rynecki painting and wood carving. The visit was filmed for the documentary, and I’m certain you’ll eventually see pieces of the interview in the film, but that won’t be for awhile. And so the question becomes, how do I share the day with you now? Usually I just try to write a bit about it and share some quick snapshots, but my visit on Saturday was extra special because it was documented by photojournalist Chuck Fishman. Chuck took a lot of photographs. I’m sharing some of them – moments that capture the excitement of connecting with long lost family and Rynecki art.
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I’d seen a photograph of the Rynecki painting in Shula’s home many years ago, but never the wood carving. Actually, I didn’t even know she had a wood carving until I called and asked if I could come and see the painting. It was while we were chatting on the phone that she said something about a sculpture. “Don’t tell me anything about it,” I said. I wanted it to be a total and complete surprise. And it was. The picture at the far left is just moments after Shula has pointed out that the piece hangs on the wall in her kitchen. I have a love-hate relationship with my expression in this photograph. I am speechless and momentarily stunned – which isn’t particularly flattering, but that’s also why I love it. I want you to see that exact moment when I’ve seen the piece for the first time. The middle two photographs show me getting to know the carving. I love being able to study my great-grandfather’s art in such a personal way. The last photo in this series of 4 images isn’t so flattering either, but I love Chuck’s composition because while I’m standing in the kitchen with Shula holding the carving, on the hallway wall you can see the Rynecki painting. Surrounded by Rynecki art – I love it!
After looking at the wood carving we were treated to a delightful Saturday morning New York Jewish brunch. We had bagels, lox, and cream cheese, white fish, and more! And then it was time for Shula and I to chat. We sat in the corner of this great big red couch in her living room and spoke for close to two hours! Together we began to piece together stories, family genealogy, and lost history. We were both so animated and we shared some amazing A-HA moments as well as some good laughs.
These photos sort of make me laugh because you’re seeing so many layers of documentation going on. First there’s the Rynecki painting on the floor. And then there’s me taking a photograph of the painting. And then there’s Slawomir Grunberg filming me taking a photograph of the painting. And then there is, of course, the fact that Chuck is photographing Slawomir who is filming me taking a photograph. We’re documentary filmmakers… we don’t mess around!
After the interview and my photographing the art, Chuck took these photographs of the Rynecki art. I love the details in this painting of these tailors cutting and sewing pieces. Moshe’s father, Abraham, was a tailor. Actually, as I understand it, he ran a clothing factory where he produced uniforms. Anyway, while Moshe was a great observer in general, my guess is that growing up he learned a great deal about the world of sewing and the making of clothes. Which is why when I asked Shula what she thought was represented in the wood carving and she told me, “a tailor,” I nodded my head in complete understanding. I had at first assumed it was a man in some sort of prayer, but I absolutely think Shula’s right. Do you see how the man his sitting, his right arm stretched outwards as if he’s pulling a thread taut?
Thank you, Chuck, for a fabulous collection of photographs, and for helping me to tell and share the story in images!