Judit Csatlós

Ildi Hermann: All this is me

Ildi Hermann: All this is me

The cultural column of Index.hu has been publishing Ildi Hermann’s text and photo series entitled ”Missing Stories” , which is about Holocaust survivors of Hungarian descent living in New York. The pictures could be viewed last year in 2B Gallery and this year an exhibition from the works of art was organized in the Hungarian Cultural Center in New York. Ildi Hermann talks to the readers of Mazsihisz.hu about the antecedents and birth of the series that was a huge hit with the readers of Index.

”I first visited New York in 2011, but at that time I did not go to work there, just wanted to see the city. It was peculiar, but from the very first moment I a strange feeling captured me, I felt the kind of freedom in the air that I did not feel here at home. It may seem banal, but for me it was really astonishing to experience this level of liberation, although I had not had any expectations about the city. I had the feeling that anything can happen. At that time I only spent eight days there, we walked the streets from the morning till the evening, I wasn’t even bothered by the crowd and I incredibly enjoyed seeing people who were so different from each other.

At that time it did not even cross my mind that I would return here and make interviews, but for my later series I got the starting push there: related to the Hungarian flags that can be seen on the synagogue in Williamsburg I started thinking about on what basis the different Jewish communities could have been organized. Maybe where people originally come from also plays a role in the organization of Jewish communities? And if so, what could Hungary mean to the Hungarian Jewish community in New York? How do people look back at it?

Then I was still interested in this topic at home so as a photographer I applied to one of the workshops of Asylum Arts, an American organization that supports Jewish arts and culture worldwide and I managed to participate at the workshop in 2014 in New York. One year later the picture started to clear up about what series I wanted to make so in 2015 with the help of another application I managed to travel to work for three weeks. Originally I had planned to go back to Williamsburg to take photos, but religious Jews form such closed communities that in absence of a close acquaintance and on top of that as a woman it seemed impossible to get closer to them. For this reason I decided to change the concept a little and I would happily meet/talk to anyone who was Jewish of Hungarian descent living in New York and of course if they were willing to participate in the project. This way in the end I managed to get to know very different people who evaluate their Hungarian roots and their Jewish descent differently. They are not the members of a well-defined Jewish community, moreover they live in different parts of New York.

I made half of the portraits in 2015, then in two years I travelled again for three weeks and this way I managed to meet around 20 people who told me their life stories. The photo shoot always came after the discussion; by that time the atmosphere was more relaxed and they were not so embarrassed from taking photos as if they were complete strangers. I shot on film and I used only two three rolls for each portrait (which in case of the medium format technique means ten pictures per roll). The work was much more concentrated this way as I had been able to shoot an unlimited number of photos; I had to invent the photos in advance.

To my great joy the majority of people could come to this year’s exhibition opening in New York and when I saw them there together, suddenly everything came together. They were also touched and I was also moved; it was an unforgettable experience and it was already worth doing it for that. I may have redeemed some of the lack that I felt, because I did not ask my own grandmother, who was also a Holocaust survivor, I did not ask her about her life and by the time I had wanted to talk about it, she died. I really really regret it till this day. However, it is also true that if I had not had this feeling of lack because of that, maybe the series would not have been born. Who knows?

I did not think earlier either that Jewish existence could be described with a few well-formulated definitions, but when I got to know the lives of these people, I really realised how many things being Jewish could mean. Not only religion or descent, but so many other things, starting from the very tradition throughout the cultural environment to personal identity everything can be an entire worldview. There was a portrait subject who started the discussion by saying she was not Jewish, because only her father was Jewish and hours later she was explaining why she was actually Jewish. She sees the world from this baseline, this is her view of the world and her intellectual roots originate from the European Jewry, which means Jewry is part of his cultural and personal identity. At the same time I met Lubavitch Jews for whom Jewry means something completely different, it is not a worldview or at least not based on the perspective of the previous lady, but it is rather the totality of religion and the related strict rules. As a result of all these different kinds of discussions I discovered a scale on which I also placed myself somewhere, moreover, this scale is so wide that for the Lubavitch Jews I hardly even count as a Jew .

And where do I place myself? I am sure that I do not want to choose between being Hungarian and being Jewish, what is more, I do not even think I would need to choose from these two. However, labelling does not end at the point where I am a Hungarian Jew. Depending on the specific situation I can also add that I am a woman, a mother, a photographer, Eastern European and so on. When I made the photo series of my daughter I was primarily a mother. When I was taking photos of the Hungarian Jews in New York, I was a Jew. When I travel abroad, I am often firstly Hungarian since at those times my attention is sharpened to notice things with Hungarian references. All of this is me.”

Ildi Hermann was born in 1978 in Budapest. She graduated from the ELTE Teacher Training College majoring Hungarian language and cultural management, in 2012 she graduated with an MSc from the Moholy Nagy University of Arts with a major in photography. From 2006 for three years she was a scholarship fellow of the József Pécsi Photography Scholarship, in 2011 she won the Main Prize of the Dunaújváros Photobiennal, in 2012 she received the Special Prize of the jury in the photography competition founded in memory of Lucien and Rodolph Hervé. She has been participating in exhibitions both in Hungary and abroad for more than ten years.

Currently, she is planning to create portraits of Hungarian Holocaust survivors living abroad. If anyone wants to contact her regarding this topic, please send an email to ildihermann@yahoo.com.

Csatlós Judit

Mazsihisz, 2018/09. 

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