Diaspora: Homelands in Exile

Diaspora: Homelands in Exile

by Frederic Brenner

Since 1978, French photographer Frédéric Brenner has been chronicling the Jewish Diaspora by producing visual social histories of Jewish communities. Diaspora is a photographic record of his 25-year search for the Jewish population in 40 countries over five continents. Volume I, 344 pages, is a collection of 262 of Brenner's more than 80,000


Since 1978, French photographer Frédéric Brenner has been chronicling the Jewish Diaspora by producing visual social histories of Jewish communities. Diaspora is a photographic record of his 25-year search for the Jewish population in 40 countries over five continents. Volume I, 344 pages, is a collection of 262 of Brenner's more than 80,000 photographs, the most extensive and diverse visual record of Jewish life ever created. A four page color insert includes two full-color photographs. Volume II is 164 pages of evocative essays by leading intellectuals on the meaning and significance to each of them of 60 of Brenner's photographs, reproduced here in smaller format. Diaspora is a landmark project that captures the scope and dynamism of one of the world's oldest, most diverse communities, and challenges stereotypes held by Jews and non-Jews alike.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Diaspora: Homelands in Exile is the encyclopedic record of Brenner's desire to find and photograph Jews all over the world, a project that lasted 25 years and took him to 40 countries. Many of the portraits -- like the one of a group of Roman souvenir vendors posed in St. Peter's Square, another of a Baghdadi man seated in a bicycle rickshaw in Calcutta -- are theatrically staged and shot. And everything about Brenner's subjects -- their faces and expressions, details of dress and gesture, occupation and class -- invite all of us, Jew and non-Jew alike, to ponder essential questions of where we come from and who we are, of how much we owe to our DNA and how much to the culture around us. — Francine Prose
The New Yorker
Since the late nineteen-seventies, Brenner has traveled the world photographing Jewish families and communities: Hasidim in Jerusalem, seeking to re-create the village life of their forebears in Eastern Europe; Marranos in Portugal, observing their rituals in secret, as they have since the Inquisition; the women rabbis and cantors of New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary; and, in a more secular vein, Tajikistani barbers, Hollywood moguls, and Calcutta merchants. This handsome two-volume set presents Brenner’s images along with commentary from such writers as Jacques Derrida, Julius Lester, Stanley Cavell, and Carlos Fuentes. Often the pictures provoke contradictory responses, as when a group of Roman Jews are shown standing proudly amid the ruins of a classical amphitheatre. Brenner’s work—elegiac, celebratory, irreverent—transcends portraiture, representing instead a prolonged, open-ended inquiry into the nature of identity and heritage.
Publishers Weekly
If a group of eastern European Jews re-create their shtetl when they settle in Israel, then which place is home and which is exile? And while a secular Soviet general calls himself a Jew, and so does a man whose ancestors came to India almost 2,000 years ago, what, if anything, do they have in common? These are the kinds of questions provoked by Brenner's stunning collection of photographs, taken over the course of 25 years, chronicling Jewish lives, often in declining communities, in every corner of the world, from Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan to Ethiopia and Las Vegas. For anyone, Jewish or otherwise, who generally thinks of Jews in terms of Israel and the United States, the book will be a revelation. The images are full of surprises and ironies: contemporary Marranos in Portugal continue to celebrate Passover secretly, as they did during the Inquisition; a young Yemeni immigrant to Israel wears traditional sidelocks like his counterparts from eastern Europe; the men who sell Christian souvenirs in the piazza at St. Peter's in Rome are all Jewish. Brenner's images of women are particularly striking: six American breast cancer survivors are photographed shirtless; mothers of the desaparecidos in Argentina (of whom a disproportionate number were Jews) exhibit anguish and dignity; and a beautifully constructed photo presents a circular grouping of Holocaust survivors paired with their lesbian daughters. Brenner, who is French and has an advanced degree in anthropology, is well equipped to ponder (as he does in brief texts accompanying the photos in Vol. 2) the enigma of identity, its shifting nature in tension with a thread of continuity through time and space. Also accompanying his text are commentaries and personal reflections from writers and thinkers as diverse as Andre Aciman, Jacques Derrida and Julius Lester. Responding to a group portrait of men in a teahouse in Azerbaijan, Aciman sums up a paradox of the diaspora: "Why do they blend in so easily? Isn't it improbable how Jewish all Jews look." Of a group of Jewish barbers with their Muslim customers in Tajikistan, Brenner writes, "I wanted to show how these dhimmi Jews in Muslim lands successively embraced the Russian conquest and the Bolshevik revolution--which they believed would bring them emancipation but which instead confined them to professions such as shoe-mender and barber." The $100 price may seem steep, but this extraordinary volume is well worth it for the richness and variety of images, which will delight and sometimes perplex readers. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Born in Paris in 1959, photographer Brenner spent nearly 25 years traveling on five continents to document the Jews in Diaspora. Earlier books include Jews/America/A Representation (1996) and Exile at Home (1998), but these two new volumes are truly a publishing event. The first contains 262 black-and-white (and two color) photographs on glossy pages that show a real eye for layout and are beautifully bound. Many of the photographs are posed in striking ways, the product of an almost absurd modernist sense. Brenner quickly shows that there is no single Jewish look and that Jewish identity remains strong even among seemingly assimilated peoples, from the secret Marranos of Portugal to the Jewish factory workers of Birobidzhan, Russia. The second volume provides incisive commentary by such luminaries as Jacques Derrida, Carlos Fuentes, and George Steiner, who discuss particular photos (60 of which are reproduced here). The publication of this new work coincides with a worldwide traveling exhibit of Brenner's photographs that appears at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York through January 11, 2004. The hefty price is intimidating, but every library with a strong photography, ethnography, and/or Judaica section should own this. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/03.]-Paul Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Boxed Set
Product dimensions:
12.50(w) x 11.90(h) x 2.41(d)

Meet the Author

Frederic Brenner, born in Paris in 1959, has a master's degree in social anthropology from the Ecoles des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. From Rome to New York, India to Yemen, Morocco to Ethiopia, Sarajevo to Jerusalem, he has spent twenty-five years chronicling the Jewish diaspora. He has had solo exhibitions at the International Center of Photography, New York; the Rencontres Internationales de las Photographie, Arles; and the Musée De L'Elysée, Lausanne. Winner of the 1992 Prix de Rome, among other awards, Brenner has directed an original film, The Last Marranos, and has published several books, including Jerusalem: instants d'étérnite (1984), Israel (1988), Marranes (1992), Jews/America/Representation (1996), and Exile at Home (1998).

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