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The Singer of Shanghai – a play about the Jewish diaspora (with introduction)

[Scroll down for the complete script and an audio recording of the play as performed by the playwrights.]

Introducing The Singer of Shanghai

kari-anne innes & kevin ostoyich

What is historical theatre?

At its heart, historical theatre allows students to create and perform works that convey historical meaning to an audience. The goal is to break the traditional boundaries of the teacher-student echo chamber and encourage students to communicate with the past and educate the public of the present and future directly. Historical theatre encourages students to employ empathy, artistry and intellect to connect with and convey the humanity of the past. Historical theatre helps students to see history not merely as an academic exercise, but a living relationship between past and present. Historical theatre is not a genre, but a pedagogy that merges two disciplines to create a distinct product — whether it be a script or the performance thereof — that can be experienced and/or performed by others in an ongoing conversation of educational discovery and human understanding.

The genesis of The Singer of Shanghai

The Singer of Shanghai is the third play to result from our historical theatre programme. The previous plays, Knocking on the Doors of History: The Shanghai Jews (2016) and Shanghai Carousel: What Tomorrow Will Be (2019), were both written and performed at Valparaiso University.[1] The Singer of Shanghai arose from a series of interviews Kevin Ostoyich conducted with Harry J. Abraham as well as field research Ostoyich conducted in Frickhofen and Altenkirchen, Germany.[2] Ostoyich supplied students with the interviews with Abraham as well as those of other former Shanghai refugees. The group also read various articles that Ostoyich had written about Shanghai Jewish refugees, most importantly his article about Harry J. Abraham, ‘From Kristallnacht and Back: Searching for Meaning in the History of the Shanghai Jews‘ and his article that incorporates Ida Abraham’s experiences, ‘Mothers: Remembering Three Women on the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht’.[3] Ostoyich challenged the students to use the oral testimony and other materials to write a play about a sewing machine that accompanied the Abraham family on their long journey from Germany to China and ultimately to the USA. The format, structure and themes of the play were to be determined collectively by the students and professors. Each member of the group was to contribute research and writing to a script that would narrate the history of the Abraham family and convey the meaning of the sewing machine.

A note on historical accuracy

The Singer of Shanghai closely follows the history of the Abraham family and much of the ‘interview’ dialogue in the play comes directly from conversations with Harry. Nevertheless, there are several places in the script where the playwrights incorporated elements from other oral testimonies of former Shanghai Jewish refugees (all of which based on Ostoyich’s interviews). Therefore, the play is best considered a historical composite. The use of old parachute fabric in making clothes in Shanghai comes from the testimony of Inga Berkey — a former Shanghai Jewish refugee who is also a friend of Harry’s. The description of children playing with marbles and cigarette packs comes from the testimonies of Helga Silberberg and Gary Sternberg. The playwrights drew inspiration from the interaction of refugee children with American GIs immediately after the Second World War from several oral testimonies (including Harry’s). They drew most heavily from the testimony of Bert Reiner for this scene. It was thus appropriate that Bert Reiner played the American GI in the radio-theatre version of the play. The lyrics of the song You Look Just Like a GI, My Friend, which is sung in the background and inspired dialogue, originate from the Shanghai Jewish refugee community. Ostoyich found the German lyrics in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, translated them and provided his translation along with translated songs from Shanghai for use in the play. The group incorporated the song into the play because the lyrics echo the common refrain in the oral testimonies about how much the refugees (especially the children) were fascinated by the sudden influx of so many American GIs into the city. Whereas the interviews with Harry provided text for much of the play’s interview dialogue, the playwrights wrote original dialogue for the flashback sequences. Such instances allowed them to work creatively within the boundaries of the historical space. In such instances, students explored the connection between themselves and the history to write dialogue appropriate to the historical context and that expresses their own observations and reflections. This framework of performing stories of the other to inspire dialogue between the subject (the actor) and the object of study (individual stories of humanity) is inspired by the performance theories of Dwight Conquergood. Conquergood drafted a ‘moral map’ to guide performers toward a balance of committing to the embodiment of the other while remaining detached enough to respect that it is not their story.[4] Thus, students identify with the subject’s circumstances, words and feelings while acknowledging differences, therefore enabling them to approach history empathetically yet objectively. Each student’s understanding and experience of history becomes as personalised as the stories themselves. The student’s experience of history is affected – moved in mind and feeling. In turn, through performance, the student affects the audience, deepening the shared experience of history, an experience that is at once based on historical accuracy yet particularised to each individual’s understanding and reflections.

A brief introduction to the history of the Shanghai Jews

Facing increasing discrimination from the Nazis, many Jews started to look for a refuge. In the wake of the pogrom that swept through Germany and Austria on the night of 9/10 November 1938 (known as the Reichsprogramnacht, Kristallnacht, or ‘Night of Broken Glass’), many Jews (such as Albrecht Abraham in Altenkirchen and Sigfrid Rosenthal in Frickhofen) were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Often, it then fell to women (such as Ida Abraham) to try to extract their husbands, fathers, brothers and/or sons from the camps and lead their families to safety. Immediately after Kristallnacht, it was still possible to secure release if assurances of emigration were given immediately. Nevertheless, the Jews found that doors to the West were often closed due to a combination of quota policies, bureaucratic obstacles and outright anti-Semitism. One peculiar destination became attractive because no entry visa was required: Shanghai, China. The British pried Shanghai open to the West following the Opium Wars in the 19th century. The city was split into different sections administered by Western colonial powers. The International Settlement was governed by the Shanghai Municipal Council (predominantly under British and American control), and the French Concession was under French control. During the 1930s, the Japanese invaded China. In 1937, the Japanese established control in north-eastern Shanghai. Thus, as Jewish refugees fled to Shanghai, they entered a city that was partitioned into various sections subject to varied administrative regimes. In December 1941, concurrent to attacking Pearl Harbor, the Japanese forcibly subjugated the International Settlement and started to intern British and American citizens as enemy combatants. This left European refugees vulnerable. Many of the Sephardic Jews who had roots in the city since the 19th century and who had helped the refugees with housing, kitchens and so on could no longer assist them because the Sephardic Jews, themselves, either fled the city or were forced into internment camps due to their being British citizenship. In February 1943, the Japanese occupiers proclaimed that all stateless persons who had entered the city after 1 January 1937 had to move into a ‘Designated Area’ in the depressed Hongkew district by 18 May 1943. Approximately half of the 16,000 to 20,000 refugees already lived in the Designated Area; others had to move (losing many possessions in the process). The Designated Area has often been called the ‘Shanghai Ghetto’. This should not be confused with the ghettos of Europe during the Holocaust (such as those in Warsaw, Łódź, etc). Though allied to the Germans during the Second World War, it was not Japanese policy to kill Jews. This did not, however, mean the Designated Area was pleasant. Refugees tend to remember the time in the Designated Area until the end of the war as a time of hunger, poverty and disease. Their movement was severely restricted, and they needed to apply for passes to leave the Designated Area. The application process was often humiliating, and passes were never assured. Shortly after the Americans dropped atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the Japanese left Shanghai. As the Japanese left, American soldiers entered, met with jubilation and relief on the part of the refugees. Nevertheless, such euphoria was soon tempered by the tragic news of what had happened to the Jews in Europe during the war. Lists of those murdered in what would become known as the Holocaust or Shoah started to be posted in Shanghai. The refugees then started to realise how important Shanghai had been in shielding them from the fate of friends and relatives who succumbed to the Nazis. The history of the Shanghai refugees was long barely known. The refugees went on with their lives, and most chose not to speak of their past. In his interviews, Ostoyich has often heard that no one seemed very interested in their story. Recently, scholars and documentary filmmakers have discovered the history of the Shanghai refugees. They have found that, despite tremendous obstacles, the refugees were able to build a surprisingly vibrant community with art, theatre cabaret, music, cinemas, schools, etc in their ‘harbor from the Holocaust.’[5] We hope this play not only helps to introduce the history of the Shanghai refugees to a wider public, but also honours the artistic expression of those refugees. Most importantly, the playwrights have taken their cue from Harry J. Abraham in centring the story on the pogrom of 9/10 November 1938. The importance of Shanghai can only be understood in the context of the pogrom and the collective silence and inaction of people and countries to respond to the discrimination and violence that was being unleashed on the Jews.   [1] For more a more detailed description of historical theatre, see Kari-Anne Innes, Kevin Ostoyich, and Rebecca Ostoyich, ‘Turning “Limitations” into Opportunities: Online and Unbound’, in Undergraduate Research in Online, Virtual, and Hybrid Courses: Proactive Practices for Distant Students, ed. Jennifer G. Coleman, Nancy H. Hensel, and Campbell, William E. (New York: Stylus Publishing, 2022); Kari-Anne Innes and Kevin Ostoyich, ‘Characterizing Interdisciplinarity in Historical Theatre: Exploring Character with the History Student’, Theatre/Practice: The Online Journal of the Practice/Production Symposium of the Mid America Theatre Conference 10 (2021). (Published online, 8 April 2021: http://www.theatrepractice.us/current.html). [2] Ostoyich learned a great deal from Hubert Hecker in Frickhofen and Werner Ziedler in Altenkirchen. [3] Kevin Ostoyich, ‘From Kristallnacht and Back: Searching for Meaning in the History of the Shanghai Jews’ (History Faculty Publication, Valparaiso, 2017); Kevin Ostoyich, ‘Mothers: Remembering Three Women on the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht’, American Institute for Contemporary German Studies of Johns Hopkins University, accessed 4 January 2023, https://www.aicgs.org/2018/11/mothers-remembering-three-women-on-the-80th-anniversary-of-kristallnacht/. [4] Dwight Conquergood, ‘Performing as a Moral Act: Ethical Dimensions of the Ethnography of Performance’, in Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography, Praxis, ed. Patrick E. Johnson (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013), 65–80. [5] Tang Yating, ‘Reconstructing the Vanished Musical Life of the Shanghai Diaspora: A Report’, Ethnomusicology Forum 13, no. 1 (2004): 101–18, https://doi.org/10.1080/1741191042000215291. We draw here from the PBS documentary titled Harbor from the Holocaust, Director: Violet Du Fang, Writer: Lynne Squilla, 2020.
Conquergood, Dwight. ‘Performing as a Moral Act: Ethical Dimensions of the Ethnography of Performance’. In Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography, Praxis, edited by Patrick E. Johnson, 65–80. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013. Innes, Kari-Anne, and Kevin Ostoyich. ‘Characterizing Interdisciplinarity in Historical Theatre: Exploring Character with the History Student’. Theatre/Practice: The Online Journal of the Practice/Production Symposium of the Mid America Theatre Conference 10 (2021). Innes, Kari-Anne, Kevin Ostoyich, and Rebecca Ostoyich. ‘Turning ‘Limitations’ into Opportunities: Online and Unbound’. In Undergraduate Research in Online, Virtual, and Hybrid Courses: Proactive Practices for Distant Students, edited by Jennifer G. Coleman, Nancy H. Hensel, and Campbell, William E. New York: Stylus Publishing, 2022. Ostoyich, Kevin. ‘From Kristallnacht and Back: Searching for Meaning in the History of the Shanghai Jews’. History Faculty Publication. Valparaiso, 2017. ———. ‘Mothers: Remembering Three Women on the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht’. American Institute for Contempoary German Studies of Johns Hopkins University. Accessed 4 January 2023. https://www.aicgs.org/2018/11/mothers-remembering-three-women-on-the-80th-anniversary-of-kristallnacht/. Yating, Tang. ‘Reconstructing the Vanished Musical Life of the Shanghai Diaspora: A Report’. Ethnomusicology Forum 13, no. 1 (2004): 101–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/1741191042000215291.

The Singer of Shanghai, as performed by the playwrights

The Singer of Shanghai (complete script)

Ida Abraham's Nazi-issued passport from 1939 (Photo by Rebecca Ostoyich and courtesy of Harry J. Abraham and family)

Harry J. Abraham's Nazi-issued passport from 1939 (Photo by Rebecca Ostoyich and courtesy of Harry J. Abraham and family)

Harry J. Abraham posing beside his mother's sewing machine ca. 2017 (Photo courtesy Harry J. Abraham and family)

Harry J. Abraham's identification issued by the US consulate in Shanghai in 1947 for travel to the USA (Photo by Rebecca Ostoyich)

Figure 5: A memorial in the Frickhofen Jewish cemetery to the Jews murdered by the Nazis (Photo by Kevin Ostoyich)

A plaque on the Frickhofen town hall memorialising the 33 murdered Jews of the town and their suffering at the hands of the Nazis (Photo by Kevin Ostoyich)

Harry J. Abraham with his parents Ida and Albrecht in Shanghai (Photo courtesy Harry J. Abraham and family)

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Nomadic Camera: revisiting a workshop on photography and displacement at gd:c

sophie eisenried

Figure 1: Erich Stenger, Die Geschichte der Kleinbildkamera bis zur Leica, (Wetzlar: Umschau Verlag, 1949), 16.[1]

  From 13 June to 15 June 2023, a hybrid international workshop bearing the title Nomadic Camera. Photography, Displacement and Dis:connectivities took place at the Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect in cooperation with the Brandenburg Centre for Media Studies (ZeM) Potsdam. Nomadic Camera was dedicated to processes of migration, exile and flight and their visualisation, perception and dissemination through photography. The workshop explored the technical, medial and aesthetic relationship between photography and contemporary migration, historical exile and flight as a central discursive setting in which specific forms of mobility are negotiated from the mid-19th century to the present. The interdisciplinary workshop was organised by Burcu Dogramaci (Munich), Jens Jäger (Cologne), Winfried Gerling (Potsdam) and Birgit Mersmann (Bonn). The workshop kicked off with the gd:c annual lecture given by T. J. Demos (Santa Cruz) on the topic of Weaponized Environments. From the Migrant Image to the Media of Causes.

Annual lecture, 13 June 2023

In his lecture, T. J. Demos talked about the dynamics and aesthetics of migratory images and probed the representational regimes of refugees. He described the mobility of images of migration and problematised the migrant as a representational subject. He noted that images of migration became mobile screens onto which all kinds of content can be projected by liberal and right-wing media alike. Demos concluded that such projection is driving the rise of epistemic inaccuracies in images and their lack of documentary potential, which themselves are due to visually simplifying image regimes and resulting political interests. He described this development as a photography of faces, whereby subjects are reduced to their physiognomy. As a result, migrants have been dramaturgically and racially limited to their stories (of flight), and no critical reporting takes place. Demos then proposed a shift from a photography of faces to a photography of causes, asking what aesthetics and image regimes were necessary to legitimise this shift. For him, the answer lies in linking the concept of figure with that of ground, not considering environments as neutral contexts but rather asking how images and subjects are connected. He proposed forensic research as well as politically comprehensive analyses to paint a clear picture of political and economic antagonisms and to show networks of power by challenging racialised images in media.

Figure 2: Annette Vowinckel introducing Noemi Quagliati (photo by the author).

14 June 2023

Nomadic Camera began with processes of migration and flight after 2015 and their representation, perception and dissemination through photography. The participants examined the relationship between photography and contemporary migration in technology, media and aesthetics as well as historical exile and flight as central discursive settings. Reflections on creating places and belonging, ruptures between life and work in the past and present, experiences of loss and challenges of beginning were prominent topics. As a concept, nomadic camera focuses on:  
  • how dislocations relate to the technical development of photography as a mobile medium;
  • how camera technologies presuppose and influence the visual formulation of experiences of exile, migration and flight;
  • what changes in the aesthetics and style, methods and practices of photography imply for temporary mobility, geographical displacement and resettlement.
  The first panel was dedicated to the topic of techniques and technologies. Beyond discussing the camera as an artificial object, the participants also considered how perspectives of shooting and their results have changed concepts of photography. Svea Bräunert (Potsdam) connected techniques and technologies of nomadic cameras to the fact that the 21st century is hardly imaginable without accounting for the digital. For her, ‘the digital’ refers to migrants’ (as she referred to them) use of smartphones to plan their escape routes and stay in touch with their social networks as well as to the virtual fortification of borders through surveillance, biometrics and other technologies. She described migrant aesthetics as a ‘moving stream’, in which movement is central in determining the connection between the digital and migration. She concluded that films can no longer be clearly distinguished from photographs. While films have slowed, now containing abstract-looking still images, photography has become a stream always consisting of multiple images. As well as exemplifying what Nathan Jurgenson described as ‘social photos’,[2] the latter also defines smartphone photography, where one image is synthesised from many shots and motion is routinely added. Florian Krautkrämer (Lucerne) took a different tack, asking what dangers and responsibilities participatory techniques of filmmaking entail in the context of flight and migration. He pointed out that the participatory often makes use of the pain, fear and worries of others. The question of who films what for whom arose. Referring to, Wu Wenuang's China Village Self-Governance Film Project, which captures the public and political life of Chinese villages through the lens of their inhabitants, Krautkrämer emphasised that it is important to distinguish between the handed-over and the given camera. The handed-over camera reduces people with specific goals to human tripods. With the given camera, on the other hand, not everything is predetermined; the nature of the camera is important to the outcome. Although no political conflicts can be solved by the given camera, the filmed person can receive a hearing and attention. Thus, Florian Krautkrämer claims that the given camera is more politically open. The second panel was dedicated to bodies, agents and performativity. The discussion focused on the importance of the context of images/photographs and drew attention to the performative character of photography and a theorisation of the term agency. Burcu Dogramaci asked how the concept of the performative relates to migrant photography. Lara Bourdin (Montreal) addressed that question by talking about Notícias de América, a performance by Paulo Nazareth. The Afro-indigenous Brazilian artist pictured himself alone and together with anonymous people holding a cardboard sign. One of the signs, for example, bore the inscription: ‘I am not migrating to the USA’. The surrounding elements, however, suggested otherwise. With his simple clothes and dirty feet, Nazareth recalled the stereotypical figure of the *Latin American migrant* that circulates in Western documentary photography.[3] By developing an imaginary migration story, a re-enactment of real migration stories of people and bodies took place, whereby the performance is a direct, political intervention that exposes forms and racialising processes of photojournalism. Evelyn Runge (Cologne) took a step back from the performative and asked about agency. She examined the ethics and agency of digital images and photojournalistic experiences with the help of the actor-network-theory.[4] She found that ethics and agency are strongly intertwined and asked whether the nomadic digital represents the new ‘normal’. She attested to the participatory nature of the digital image through mechanisms such as reposting on social media and describes this process as nomadic. Afterwards, T. J. Demos asked whether the term nomadic is not inflationary and whether the nomadic is falsely equated with precarity and migration more generally.

Figure 3: The workshop participants enjoyed an evening viewing at the Arena Cinema in Munich (photo by the author)


15 June 2023

At the beginning of the third panel, devoted to media narrations and narratives, Birgit Mersmann pointed out that photo stories contribute to the narrative of migration and that, with the advent of new media and the resulting storytelling possibilities, narratives of migration have undergone a techno-social change. She probed the connections between media historiography, the nomadic camera and new narratives photography is producing. She noted that means of displacing and interrupting narratives can be analysed and distinguished in photographs. Anna Messner (Düsseldorf) added that there is a contradiction between what is seen/displayed and the actual event, referring to how objects can oscillate between visibility and invisibility — appearing, disappearing then reappearing — depending on the context in which media like photo albums are viewed. Subsequently, Ainslie Murray (Sydney) discussed narrative interruptions in her own art project called Registry of Itinerant Architectures — a dynamic online registry of wild, mobile, temporary and inventive forms of architecture associated with contemporary nomadic life. She talked about how her project began, about her walk through the wilderness in central Australia on the Larapinta trail from May to October 2022 during the Covid-19 pandemic. She referred to her preparations, initially hiking in a group and then deciding to continue her journey alone. The fears and worries that repeatedly interrupted her journey were captured through artistic/photographic methods in her art project. But besides creating images of interruptions, the images show improvised scenes of place-making and offer insights into the intense physical and psychological dimensions of mobility, characterised by risk, repetition, interruptions and failure where the landscape played an important role, as in the search for shade. The fourth panel dealt with circulation, archive and memory. Jens Jäger asked what and how we think about the term circulation and what forms of knowledge production play a role. He suggested the archive as a place where knowledge is stored and ascribes it to a tradition of reliving biography. Memory is the constant movement of experience. The archive also shapes ideas about and memories of migration and is therefore significant to nomadic cameras. Helene Roth (Munich) reflected on the archive by discussing her analyses in the ERC project Relocating Modernism: Global Metropolises, Modern Art and Exile (METROMOD). In recent years, the team has developed an interactive digital archive of emigrant artists in the six METROMOD cities of Bombay, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, London, New York and Shanghai. The archive not only contains archive entries, but also locates home and work addresses on city maps. The archive also provides important research-based insights. Roth investigated photographers who emigrated to New York in the 1930s and 40s, asking who inscribed themselves in the city's history and how. How are the emigrant photographers (in)visible on the city map? In what contact zones, networks and specific neighbourhoods did they work and live in New York? How were transcultural networks between the METROMOD cities created by migration movements? Roth described the challenges of handling of fragmentary information, which in turn is connected to media like photography. However, the digital archive lends itself to visualising fragmentary and nomadic knowledge through, for example, maps. Afterwards, Zeynep Gürsel (New Brunswick) mentioned that every archive contains certain temporalities. She looked at the effects of the ghostly presence of photographs in an archive of the Ottoman Empire, from which those photographed and captured had left the country without a chance to return. Zeynep Gürsel traces the circulation of 393 individuals and photographs to examine mobility, nationality, archives and the construction of individual and collective memories. She found that each image contains two temporalities: that of the Armenian past and the future of the homeland to-be. Elizabeth Edwards (Leicester) contextualised thoughts on memories with a historiographical intervention on the archive. She used Zygmunt Bauman’s term liquid times, which refers to the uncertainties in contemporary society, in which mass migration and the fluid definition of ‘home’ are essential features.[5] She asked how photographs produce strong histories, as she named them, and suggested that this is only possible because of their fluidity, in that their power structures and political and social agency change depending on what one inscribes on the image. However, images are used/understood as witnesses as well as legitimators of existences around which we, as humans, construct our realities, make new connections and thus create a tapestry of history and reality. The final discussion, beyond those sadly not mentioned here, was devoted to defining the term nomadic camera and, more broadly, what the nomadic might be. It quickly became clear that there is no one exclusive definition of nomadism, let alone the nomadic camera. It is much more important, as numerous discussions and lectures have confirmed, to refer to the political in the nomadic, recalling Demos’s lecture about the danger of romanticising the nomadic as boundless travel and thereby overlooking the fact that the less privileged are excluded from this freedom.[6] Hence, it is necessary to recognise and analyse technologies, agents, narratives and archives of nomadic cameras, without forgetting that nomadic does not inevitably mean freedom and that freedom remains a fantasy for many.   [1] Erich Stenger, Die Geschichte der Kleinbildkamera bis zur Leica (Frankfurt am Main: Wetzlar, Leitz, 1949). [2] Nathan Jurgenson, The Social Photo: On Photography and Social (London/New York: Verso, 2019). [3] I refrain from further explaining or exemplifying the stereotype of the *Latin American Migrant* in order to avoid reproducing racist representations. [4] Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). [5] Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000). [6] T.J. Demos, The Migrant Image The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013).
Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000. Demos, T.J. The Migrant Image The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. Jurgenson, Nathan. The Social Photo: On Photography and Social. London/ New York: Verso, 2019. Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Stenger, Erich. Die Geschichte der Kleinbildkamera bis zur Leica. Frankfurt am Main: Wetzlar, Leitz, 1949.  
citation information:
Eisenried, Sophie, 'Nomadic Camera: revisiting a workshop on photography and displacement at gd:c', global dis:connect, 19 September 2023, 2023, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/09/19/nomadic-camera-revisiting-a-workshop-on-photography-and-displacement-at-gdc/.
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Mohamed: portrait of a Sahrawi exile

rahel losier
[Rahel Losier participated in our first annual summer school in August 2022. Her artistic approach to scholarship and scholarly approach to art in thinking about global dis:connection is precisely our raison d'être at global dis:connect. For more of Rahel's comics, check out her personal blog. - Ed note.]
citation information:
Losier, Rahel. ‘Mohamed: Portrait of a Sahrawi Exile’. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 13 December 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/12/13/mohamed-portrait-of-a-sahrawi-exile/.
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Nomadic camera: photography, exile and dis:connectivity

burcu dogramaci
  In 1939, 16-year-old Hans Günter Flieg took a final photo in his hometown of Chemnitz, before he and his family emigrated to Brazil due to anti-Semitic persecution. Upon his arrival in São Paulo, he took the first photo of his exile home. Both pictures appear next to each other on a film strip. Here I focus on these photographs and bring together two concepts that are new to photography and exile research: the nomadic camera and dis:connectivity.

Image: Hans Günter Flieg, Last photograph taken in Chemnitz and first photograph in São Paulo, 1939, credit: Hans Gunter Flieg / Instituto Moreira Salles Collection.

  Flieg photographed with an Agfa roll film (Isopan F) suitable for 35mm cameras. He worked with Leica equipment that his parents had purchased in anticipation of his planned emigration to Brazil.[1] Flieg had been taking a photography course with Grete Kaplus at the Berlin Jewish Museum since March 1939. This enabled his family to justify the purchase of cameras for professional reasons and to prepare their son for a career as a photographer and a livelihood abroad.[2] The film strip shows two black-and-white shots: on the left is a view from the window of a street with buildings in the Gründerzeit style. Multi-storey apartment buildings stand on a residential street densely planted with a row of trees. The view of the camera — aimed from one of the upper floors of a building — leads past a residential building; on the left is a broad part with a cloudy sky. Flieg was taking pictures from his parents’ flat, which was located in the Kaßberg district of Chemnitz. Since the turn of the twentieth century, with the industrial boom in the city, the area was considered an upscale and exquisitely built residential district.[3] Flieg’s photo was taken in August 1939. The next photo on the right is dated December 1939 and shows a bright vase of white orchids. Here, too, one of the subjects, the vase, is cropped on the right, standing on a table. Four months separate the two adjacent shots. This film strip is often shown when Flieg’s photographic work is published.[4] Flieg also spoke about this picture in an interview uploaded to the page of the digital exile museum Künste im Exil (Arts in Exile) of the Deutsches Exilarchiv (German Exile Archive) 1933—1945, which itself is a project of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library).[5] The fascination with this negative strip is due to the two photos and the narrow strip between them, which condense an emigration (hi)story. The narrow strip and the four months of time suspended in it both conceal and expose a difficult route that led from Chemnitz to Munich, over the Brenner Pass to Italy and from there by sea to São Paulo. Several thousand kilometres condense just as much on the narrow strip between two photographs as time accumulates on an in-between space. Based on this (arguably enlarged) contact print of the film strip, I offer reflections in two directions. One is about the concept of the nomadic camera. The other is about the adaptation of the term dis:connectivity to photography and exile. With nomadic camera, I refer to the camera and photography as the central medium to visualise cross-border changes of place. Included in the term nomadic are forms of forced or voluntary relocation, i.e. migration, flight, displacement, exile. Etymologically, nomadic derives from the Latin nomas/Greek nomás. Nomás alludes to non-sedentary forms of existence that historically developed in the Old World dry belt — from West Africa, across the Arabian Peninsula to East Asia — of those who spend their lives wandering, adapting to living conditions with scarce resources spread over a wide area.[6] This archaic nomadism of migratory ethnic groups, which persists, has its revenant and related figures in post-industrial societies — in commuters, labour migrants, political refugees, in employees of globally oriented companies, students, global travellers, in artists who are globally present as visiting scholars and exhibitors.[7] With these diverse connotations of nomadism in mind, I would like to refer to Caren Kaplan, who recognises ‘continuities and discontinuities between terms such as “travel”, “displacement” and “location” as well as between the particularized practices and identities of “exile”, “tourist” and “nomad”. All displacements are not the same’.[8] But precisely the often-one-dimensional reception and connotations of these different transitive forms of existence — migration as alienation, travel as experience, nomadism and vagabonding as (artistic) freedom — problematise perceptions of them as sharply delineated possibilities of existence. The point is to focus instead on the intersections that emerge from them and how they catalyse new thoughts and perceptions. Nomads, migrants and travellers are united by change and movement, the potentially temporary instability of their existence, their experience of new spaces, societies and languages. Sometimes, as the history of emigration in the 1930s and 1940s shows, the transitions between tourism and exile were fluid. Examples include transalpine border crossings disguised as ski tours and exhibition and reading tour by artists and writers becoming exile because political circumstances no longer permitted their return.[9] As a concept, the nomadic camera connotes a non-settled and nomadic ‘meta-figure’ or ‘general metaphor’[10] and denotes a transitory state that proceeds from the technical apparatus, the camera, to include the act of photographing, the camera operator(s), the resulting photographs and their circulation as well as the objects photographed. With the accent on the camera, the research interest centres on the complex interconnections of photography, mobility and technology. It extends to touch on the photographic form and aesthetics. Photography can find different languages for forced and voluntary displacements, so the question of a specific pictorial aesthetic, the formal and compositional parameters of the photography of exile, migration and flight, arises. Already in the early days of photography since its introduction in 1839, photographers travelled even with heavy-plate and large-format cameras. Throughout its existence, photography has served as a means of visualising displacements. In 1852, the French writer Victor Hugo went into exile on the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, where he composed autobiographical texts as well as drawings and photographs that pictorially recorded his escape.  Hugo’s portraits in the island’s natural environment, taken in cooperation with his son Charles and the journalist Auguste Vaquerie, are perhaps the earliest exile photographs.[11] From Hugo’s exile, widely branching lines extend to current migration, flight and displacement. The 150 years of photographic migration history — or migrant photographic history — is closely connected with technical innovations that can only be traced coarsely here. Camera techniques like the plate camera and the daguerrotype or calotype favoured mainly professional photographers, as these techniques and transporting the large cameras were expensive and time-consuming. The introduction of the Kodak box camera in the late nineteenth century fuelled the market for amateur photography, which burgeoned globally with the miniature 35-mm cameras of the 1920s.[12] Hans Günter Flieg's film strips, the Agfa Isopan F film and the Leica miniature camera indicate photography’s unprecedented mobility in the 1920s and 1930s. Photography with film rolls was a democratic medium of images whose affordability and user-friendly technology made it broadly accessible. In addition, shops sprang up all over the world as service facilities where film had to be deposited for processing, with the negatives and prints to be collected later. Outsourcing the development process promoted the global use of photography by amateurs. Not only was the technology portable, but the photographic prints — the result of the technical process — were also available on the road. Since the massive introduction of miniature cameras in the 1920s at the latest, photography became the technical and artistic medium of migration, exile and flight. Handheld cameras accompanied their owners along their migrations, leaving their homeland either voluntarily and, after 1933, often forcibly. Photographs taken on passages into exile tell of the outward routes and modes of transport.[13] Thus, images created in emigration or reflecting migration phenomena themselves have inherently nomadic qualities. For me, photography is part of a history of migration and mobility. Flieg’s negative strip highlights this in an unusual way, as the movement of the photographer, his camera and the film manifests itself through the photographs in Chemnitz on the left, the narrow strip in the middle and the shot in São Paulo on the right. The localisation in a specific environment as the starting point of the flight is clearly recognisable on the left in the Chemnitz cityscape. São Paulo as the terminus of the escape, meanwhile, is marked by the vase with the white orchids — in Brazil there are about 3,000 species from the Orchidaceae family.[14] The passage itself, as already explained, remains hidden in the dark strip. The negative strip also offers access to, or an adaptation of, the concept of dis:connectivity in the context of global flight movements and their mediatisation in photography. Dis:connectivity overcomes a binary approach and has already been applied in, for example, sociological media theory, to capture digital (dis)connectivity, media consumption and media abstinence.[15] Dis:connectivity is a new approach to global history, which we global dis:connect have already used productively and which focuses neither on interconnectedness nor on deglobalisation exclusively. Rather, as Roland Wenzlhuemer writes, it is about a ‘tension between processes of entanglement and disentanglement’,[16] which means that global connections always contain interruptions, detours and voids, be they transport routes, communication channels, escape routes or capital flows. For exile research, the concept of dis:connectivity can illuminate both the actors (persons) and actants (objects). That is precisely the purpose behind examining Flieg’s photographs, which are connected to each other as successive images on a negative strip. Yet, there is an interstice, a gap between them. Theoretically, two images on 35-mm film could be separated by only a few moments, as it was possible to take up to 36 images in succession with the Leica camera. Flieg, however, took the photographs and put the camera aside, not using it while in transit. Therefore, no photograph exists of this passage into exile, at least not on this film and not with this camera. It can be assumed that he did not want to draw attention to himself, at least towards the beginning of his journey, which led to Italy over the Brenner Pass. On the ship — I sadly don’t know the exact route — no photographs were taken with the Leica either. Absence, the blank space marked in black on the strip, thus stands for a journey that was not visually documented. Absence, as Ulrike Lehmann writes, refers to a former presence and what has now disappeared: ‘The absent presupposes the present. ’[17] But the space in-between also evidences the dis:connective relationship between home and abroad, between the origin and the terminus of the journey that was to separate Flieg almost permanently from the city of Chemnitz and from Germany. He only returned on the occasion of his first solo exhibition in Germany at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz in 2008, almost 70 years after he had emigrated.[18] The film strip can also be understood as a timeline in which the direction runs from left to right, corresponding to the numbering of the images from 10 (Chemnitz) to 11 (São Paulo). Timelines are culturally bound. Where Latin script predominates, they run from left to right (i.e. as one reads), and where Arabic prevails, they are ordered from right to left (again according to the direction of reading). In everyday life, time is perceived as a trajectory that always runs irreversibly in one direction towards a final state.[19] This negative strip, however, also allows for another interpretation, namely time as something that runs from exilein two directions separated by the dividing space. There is a time before exile and a time of exile or post-exile. These times are not characterised by succession, but by the difference and divergence of experiences and of cultural and linguistic spaces. Time and space — the latter as a variable often used for flight, exile and migration — form an important connection. One could equally speak of dis:connective times and dis:connective spaces. Incidentally, Hans Günter Flieg found the film strip with the two photos from Chemnitz and São Paulo among his early photos only many decades later, when he was preparing a retrospective of his works for the Museu da Imagem de do Som in São Paulo in 1981. Through this find, he was able to recall the time of his emigration with temporal distance, thus creating connectivity.     [1] Michael Nungesser, ‘Chemnitz Liegt Bei São Paulo. Der Fotograf Hans Günter Flieg’, ed. Ingrid Mössinger and Katharina Metz, 2008. [2] Agi Straus, Interview mit der Malerin Agi Straus, São Paulo, 15 April 2013, https://kuenste-im-exil.de/KIE/Content/DE/Objekte/flieg-interview.html?cms_x=4&catalog=1; Nungesser, ‘Chemnitz Liegt Bei São Paulo. Der Fotograf Hans Günter Flieg’. [3] Tilo Richter, ed., Der Kassberg. Ein Chemnitzer Lese- Und Bilderbuch (Leipzig: Passage-Verlag, 1996). [4] Ingrid Mössinger and Katharina Metz, eds., in Hans Günter Flieg: Dokumentarfotografie Aus Brasilien (1940-1970) (Bielefeld: Kerber Verlag, 2008), 48–49; Sylvia Asmus, in ......Mehr Vorwärts Als Rückwärts Schauen... (Berlin: Hentrich & Hentrich, 2013). [5] Hans Günter Flieg, Interview des Deutschen Exilarchivs 1933 - 1945 mit Hans Günter Flieg : São Paulo, 18.04.2013 / Interview und Bild: Sylvia Asmus und Jochanan Shelliem, 18 April 2013, https://d-nb.info/1059580241. [6] Alfred Hendricks, ‘Menschen unterwegs. Mobilität als Erfolgsstrategie’, in Unterwegs. Nomaden früher und heute, ed. Alfred Hendricks (Gütersloh: Linnemann, 2003), 8–11. [7] Birgit Haehnel, in Regelwerk und Umgestaltung. Nomadistische Denkweisen in der Kunstwahrnehmung nach 1945 (Berlin: Reimer, 2007), 29; T. J. Demos, in The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis (Verona: Electa, 2017), 18–26. [8] Caren Kaplan, Questions of Travel. Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Durham/London: Duke University Press, 1996). [9] Thomas Oellermann, ‘Wenzel Jaksch Und Die Seliger-Gemeinde’, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 27 November 2021, https://www.fes.de/themenportal-geschichte-kultur-medien-netz/artikelseite/wenzel-jaksch. [10] Peter Gross, ‘Der Nomade’, in Diven, Hacker, Spekulanten. Sozialfiguren der Gegenwart, ed. Stephan Moebius and Markus Schroer (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2010), 316–25. [11] Denis Canguilhem, ‘En Collaboration Avec Le Soleil. Victor Hugo, Photographies de l’exil (Cat. Exp.), Textes de F. Heilbrun, Q. Bajac, P. Néagu, N. Savy, S. Rouleau, F. Rodari, Paris, Paris-Musées/Réunion Des Musées Nationaux, 1998’, n.d., https://journals.openedition.org/etudesphotographiques//200. [12] Todd Gustavson, Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital (New York: Sterling Publishing, 2009); Erich Stenger, Die Geschichte Der Kleinbildkamera Bis Zur Leica (Frankfurt am Main, 1949). [13] Burcu Dogramaci, in Fotografieren Und Forschen: Wissenschaftliche Expeditionen Mit Der Kamera Im Türkischen Exil Nach 1933, 1. (Marburg: ‎ Jonas Verlag, 2013). [14] ‘Orchideen S.O.S.’, 20 December 2021, https://brasilienportal.ch/wissen/brasilien-report/kurz-reportagen/orchideen-sos/. [15] Pepita Hesselberth, ‘Discourses on Disconnectivity and the Right to Disconnect’, no. vol. 20, 5 (8 June 2017). [16] Roland Wenzlhuemer, ‘Dis:Konnektivität Und Krise’, 12 November 2020, https://www.blog.cas.uni-muenchen.de/topics/global-worlds/dis-konnektivitaet-und-krise. [17] Ulrike Lehmann, ‘Ästhetik Der Absenz. Ihre Rituale Des Verbergens Und Der Verweigerung. Eine Kunstgeschichtliche Betrachtung’, in Ästhetik Der Absenz. Bilder Zwischen Anwesenheit Und Abwesenheit, ed. Ulrike Lehmann and Peter Weibel (München/Berlin: Klinckhardt & Biermann, 1994), 42–74. [18] Hans Günter Flieg, in Hans Günter Flieg: Dokumentarfotografie Aus Brasilien (1940-1970), ed. Ingrid Mössinger (Bielefeld: Kerber Verlag, 2008), 8. [19] Erhard Keppler, Zeitliches. Vom Umgang mit der Zeit seit der Antike. Eine Kulturgeschichte des Zeitbegriffs (Katlenburg-Lindau: Copernicus, 2007).  
Asmus, Sylvia, and Marlen Eckl, editors, ‘... mehr vorwärts als rückwärts schauen ... ’. Das deutschsprachige Exil in Brasilien 1933-1945 / ‘... olhando mais para frente do que para trás  ... ’. O exílio de língua alemã no Brasil 1933-1945 (Berlin: Hentrich & Hentrich, 2013) Demos, T.J. ‘Charting a Course. Exile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees. A Genealogy of Art and Migration’, in The Restless Earth, exh. cat. Fondazione La Triennale di Milano. Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milan (Verona: Mondadori Electa, 2017), 18-26. Dogramaci, Burcu, Fotografieren und Forschen. Wissenschaftliche Expeditionen mit der Kamera im türkischen Exil nach 1933 (Marburg: Jonas, 2013), 29 and 81 En collaboration avec le soleil. Victor Hugo. Photographies de l’exil, exh. cat. Musée d’Orsay et Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris, 1998 Flieg, Hans Günter. “Interview on 18 April 2013, video, https://kuenste-im-exil.de/KIE/Content/DE/Objekte/flieg-interview.html?cms_x=4&catalog=1, accessed 3.4.2022. Gross, Peter, ‘Der Nomade’, in Diven, Hacker, Spekulanten. Sozialfiguren der Gegenwart, edited by Stephan Moebius and Markus Schroer (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2010), 316-325. Gustavson, Todd, Camera. A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital (New York: Sterling Publishing, 2009). Haehnel, Birgit, Regelwerk und Umgestaltung. Nomadistische Denkweisen in der Kunstwahrnehmung nach 1945 (Berlin: Reimer, 2006) Hans Günter Flieg. Dokumentarfotografie aus Brasilien, edited by Ingrid Mössinger and Katharina Metz, exh. cat. Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, Chemnitz (Bielefeld: Kerber, 2008). Hendricks, Alfred, ‘Menschen unterwegs. Mobilität als Erfolgsstrategie’, in idem, editor, Unterwegs. Nomaden früher und heute (Gütersloh: Siegbert Linnemann, 2003), 8-11. Hesselberth, Pepita, ‘Discourses on Disconnectivity and the Right to Disconnect’, in New Media & Society, vol. 20, no. 5, 2018, 1994–2010. Kaplan, Caren, Questions of Travel. Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Durham/London: Duke University Press, 1996) Keppler, Erhard, Zeitliches. Vom Umgang mit der Zeit seit der Antike. Eine Kulturgeschichte des Zeitbegriffs (Katlenburg-Lindau: Projekte-Verlag Cornelius, 2007). Lehmann, Ulrike, ‘Ästhetik der Absenz. Ihre Rituale des Verbergens und der Verweigerung. Eine kunstgeschichtliche Betrachtung’, in Ästhetik der Absenz. Bilder zwischen Anwesenheit und Abwesenheit, edited by Ulrike Lehmann and Peter Weibel (Munich/Berlin: Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1994), 42-74. Nungesser, Michael. “Chemnitz liegt bei São Paulo. Der Fotograf Hans Günter Flieg, in: Hans Günter Flieg. Dokumentarfotografie aus Brasilien, hg. v. Ingrid Mössinger und Katharina Metz, Ausst.-Kat. Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, Chemnitz 2008, S. 10-14 Oellermann, Thomas, ‘Wenzel Jaksch und die Seliger-Gemeinde’, 27.11.2021, https://www.fes.de/themenportal-geschichte-kultur-medien-netz/artikelseite/wenzel-jaksch, accessed 3.4.2022. Richter, Tilo, editor, Der Kaßberg. Ein Chemnitzer Lese- und Bilderbuch (Leipzig: Passage-Verlag, 1996). Stenger, Erich, Die Geschichte der Kleinbildkamera bis zur Leica (Frankfurt/Main: Umschau 1949). Wenzlhuemer, Roland. ‘Dis:konnektivität und Krise’,  CAS LMU Blog, 12 November 2020, https://www.blog.cas.uni-muenchen.de/topics/global-worlds/dis-konnektivitaet-und-krise, accessed 4 April 2022.  
citation information
Dogramaci, Burcu. ‘Nomadic Camera: Photography, Exile and Dis:Connectivity’. Institute Website. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 8 February 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/08/02/nomadic-camera-photography-exile-and-disconnectivity/?lang=en.
This post has also appeared in issue 1.1 of our in-house journal, static.
Dogramaci, Burcu. ‘Nomadic Camera: Photography, Exile and Dis:Connectivity’. Static. Thoughts and Research from Global Dis:Connect, 2022.
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