Visu­al Arts

Last Folio: A Pho­to­graph­ic Memory

Yuri Dojc and Katya Krausova
  • Review
By – August 24, 2015

When Slo­va­kian expats Yuri Dojc and Katya Krauso­va returned to their native coun­try to film Holo­caust sur­vivors, one inter­vie­wee led them to an aban­doned Jew­ish school­house. Step­ping inside, the film crew felt as if they had entered a dark enchant­ment: every­thing was exact­ly where it had been when the stu­dents were deport­ed to con­cen­tra­tion camps one day in 1942. The school books were there still, essays with cor­rec­tions, school reports, even the sug­ar in the cupboard.”

This expe­ri­ence was the inspi­ra­tion for Last Folio: A Pho­to­graph­ic Por­trait, a book of lush, exquis­ite­ly detailed pho­tographs by Dojc that doc­u­ment the rem­nants of Jew­ish life in Slo­va­kia, the first coun­try to adopt Nazi Germany’s anti-Semit­ic poli­cies. The haunt­ing images depict objects and build­ings in vary­ing states of decay: shat­tered grave­stones, stained-glass win­dows, doo­dles in a prayer book, a mikveh filled with trash and debris, an aban­doned syn­a­gogue with roam­ing goats. In Shed on the School Grounds,” a typ­i­cal school­room clock is mount­ed on a wall, its face break­ing off in shards — an image that is eeri­ly sym­bol­ic of the way time sud­den­ly stopped for the room’s occu­pants but con­tin­ued to take its toll on the things they left behind.

With such arrest­ing visu­als, it would be easy to over­look Last Folios text, but Krausova’s thought-pro­vok­ing nar­ra­tive deserves a close read­ing. If the ini­tial dis­cov­ery of the school­room seems like a grim ver­sion of a fairy tale, oth­er moments encap­su­late fairy-tale-like coin­ci­dences and joy. Out of the dozens of aban­doned books, Krauso­va hap­pens to pick up one that belonged to Dojc’s grand­fa­ther. At anoth­er point she inter­views a sur­vivor who describes the coura­geous man with whom she fell in love before they were sep­a­rat­ed in the war’s after­math. It is not until the very end of the con­ver­sa­tion that the two women real­ize this man was Krausova’s father. Come here, lit­tle Kraus­ka, let me look at you!” the sur­vivor exclaims. I could have been your moth­er, you know!”

More than half of the pho­tographs in Last Folio are sim­ply of books. Dojc’s focus is not so much on their con­tent as it is on their mate­r­i­al com­po­si­tion; the cam­era lens zooms in on fad­ed ink, dis­in­te­grat­ing fibers, and peel­ing spines. It is dif­fi­cult not to con­trast these tomes with Last Folio itself — pris­tine, glossy, and tac­tile­ly pleas­ing. But Dojc doesn’t treat the old and new books as dia­met­ri­cal­ly opposed. By ren­der­ing the aban­doned books as near­ly abstract forms, he inte­grates them into the artis­tic com­po­si­tion of Last Folio and gives them new life. His work gives hope that these rem­nants won’t in fact rep­re­sent the last chap­ter of the vibrant her­itage to which they belonged.

Relat­ed Content:

Bec­ca Kan­tor is the edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and its annu­al print lit­er­ary jour­nal, Paper Brigade. She received a BA in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and an MA in cre­ative writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of East Anglia. Bec­ca was award­ed a Ful­bright fel­low­ship to spend a year in Esto­nia writ­ing and study­ing the coun­try’s Jew­ish his­to­ry. She lives in Brooklyn.

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