There is something unsettling about Richard Tuschman’s series “Once Upon a Time in Kazimierz,” on view at Klompching Gallery in New York City from March 2 to April 9, which imagines life in 1930s Kazimierz, a Jewish neighborhood in Krakow, Poland. Tuschman calls the series a visual novella, an apt description for the subtle narrative the images suggest. The story seems to center around a taylor and his wife who live and work side by side but often seem isolated from each other, possibly the result of an absent child. Set in dark, crumbling rooms and shadowy cobblestone streets, the images combine photographs of small-scale dioramas that Tuschman builds by hand with images he takes of costumed actors, placing a life-sized set of fictional characters in a dollhouse-sized fictional world. The technique gives the series a displaced, dream-like quality that fits its melancholy plot.
References to painting are scattered throughout the series, starting with the rich colors that cover the walls of the rooms and shift tone between shots. The title of one, “The Potato Eaters” links it to Van Gogh’s equally gloomy painting of the same name, which also depicts a family meal in a dark room. “Mystery and Melancholy of a Street” also lifts its name from a painting, referencing Giorgio de Chirico’s 1914 work but replacing the silhouette of a girl with the boy in a cap who appears throughout Tuschman’s series. (His earlier series “Hopper Meditation” took a similar approach, recreating Edward Hopper’s enigmatic, light-drenched paintings as photographs.)
Tuschman credits inspiration for the series to visits to Krakow, where his wife grew up, which left him wondering what life was like for her ancestors and his own Eastern European relatives. While the images don’t directly reference the Holocaust, the fate of Jewish families in Poland haunts the series. The gallery writes that “the darkness in the photographs is underpinned by an awareness that the fates of the characters are likely doomed by history.” Combining a curiosity about the lives of his family with an exploration of the visual language of the past, “Once Upon a Time in Kazimierz” is part biography, part fairly tale. Tuschman writes, “It is an attempt to visually weave together strands of both cultural history and family history, while paying homage to painters I love.”
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