Einstein at Neomodern

On display today (and for a little while) is a photograph of Albert Einstein taken at Princeton in 1941 by Roman Vishniac.

According to ICP: "Hoping to establish himself as a portrait photographer by creating a series of images of famous Russian and German Jewish expatriates, Vishniac contacted Albert Einstein and asked to take his portrait in late 1941, shortly after he arrived with his family in the United States. The Nobel Laureate sat for a series of photographs in his office at the Institute for Advanced Study while smoking a pipe, writing at his desk, having his portrait painted, and working on equations on the blackboard."

My father was a big fan of both Einstein and Vishniac so it made sense that we had a portfolio of their collaborations when the 80 year old Vishniac printed some in the 1970s. My father also collected other cool images, some iconic, of Einstein: by Hagemeyer (1931), Jacobi (1938), Halsman (1947), Karsh (1948), Orkin (1953), and others. But nothing felt as intimate as the Vishniacs, seeing Einstein at work. When I was in high school I hung one these Vishniacs above my bed, I think hoping something would rub off.

Vishniac, "A Son Goes to Chedar" (Father taking his son to school), 1937 — also currently on display at Neomodern.

Roman Vishniac was best known, however, for his intimate photographs of the Jewish ghettos in Poland just up to their decimation in WWII, and it was from this body of work that bonded Vishniac and my father. Vishniac died in 1990, but they had become acquainted in the last decade in the photographer's life, and I grew up around his prints, and their associated stories.