Ira Nowinski: The Photographer As Witness

nowinskiThe Stanford University Libraries, Department of Special Collections, is pleased to announce the exhibition Ira Nowinski: The Photographer As Witness. This exhibition highlights the Stanford University Libraries’ holdings of San Francisco-based photographer Nowinski, and his series of works focusing on Holocaust memorials and sites, and the lives of Jewish émigrés in San Francisco and abroad. Ira Nowinski: The Photographer As Witness will be on view at Stanford University’s Cecil H. Green Library, Peterson Gallery, second floor of the Bing Wing from August 15 through November 30, 2004. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Photographer Ira Nowinski has been a fixture on San Francisco’s artistic and cultural scene for over three decades. He earned a Master of Fine Art’s degree from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1973. Nowinski subsequently embarked on projects that reflected a passion for social justice and thatd the social and cultural ambience of the Beat Generation in San Francisco, and the San Francisco Opera, for which he served as the official photographer, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In 2001, the Stanford University Libraries acquired over 15,000 negatives, 1,200 study prints, and 600 archival prints of Nowinski’s photographs from the early 1980s through the early 1990s. The photographs fall into three series: photographs published in the book, In Fitting Memory: The Art and Politics of Holocaust MemorialsKaraite Jews in Egypt, Israel, and the San Francisco Bay Area; and Soviet Jews in San Francisco.

Nowinski’s Holocaust images document memorials and sites in Germany, Austria, and Poland. The photographs in the exhibition may be viewed in the context of recent studies of collective memory and lieux de mémoire. Many of the sites that Nowinski visited during the 1980s, in the course of working on the book In Fitting Memory, had yet to be “discovered” and integrated into the narrative of Holocaust memory. The bleak, mute, and largely unpopulated landscapes of camps and memorials underscore the horrors that once took place within their confines. The exhibition will also include Nowinski’s photographs of sculptor George Segal’s Holocaust memorial and the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

The lives of Jewish immigrants in San Francisco and abroad are also the focus of a series of works by Nowinski. There is a considerable body of scholarship on the traditions and history of the Karaites—a group that traces its origins to pre-rabbinic Judaism—but present-day Karaite communities are not well documented. Nowinski’s photographs of Karaites in Egypt, Israel, and the Bay Area represent an exceptional source for the study of Karaites in these places. Similarly, Nowinski’s photographs of Soviet Jews in San Francisco record a wide range of personalities, activities, and events. Images of Jewish holiday and life cycle celebrations, domestic scenes, workplace settings, Jewish community agencies, and political demonstrations will be included in the exhibition.

The photographs in the series titled Café Society, Nowinski’s first photo essay to be published as a book, will send the viewer to the neighborhood of North Beach, San Francisco, approximately thirty years ago. Prominent players of the Beat Generation—including Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and William Burroughs, can be seen in cafés, bars, parks, apartments, and bookstores, all representing the pinnacle of a bygone Bohemia on the West Coast.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Stanford University Libraries announces the publication of the exhibition catalogue Ira Nowinski: The Photographer As Witness. The catalogue includes over thirty reproductions, printed in duotone, of Nowinski’s photographs, introductory essays by Professor John Felstiner and Dr. Anita Friedman, and an essay by Zachary Baker, curator of the exhibition and Reinhard Family Curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections at the Stanford University Libraries. Designed by Becky Fischbach and printed by The Stinehour Press in Lunenberg, Vermont, the catalog will be available in October of 2004. To order copies please contact the Department of Special Collections, Green Library, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6004 or via e-mail at

HOURS: From August 15 through September 26, exhibit cases are illuminated in the gallery from Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm. The library will be closed on Sundays. For library hours, please call 650-723-0931.