I found this photograph of Ida Chagall and her father in the book Art History of Photography by Volker Kahmen (1974). Kahmen identified the photo as Marc Chagall with his young daughter, circa 1925, photographed by P. Barchan. The source of the photo was Querschnitt (11, 1926). Querschnitt was a German art periodical, very prestigious in the 1920s.
The composition of this image intrigued me. Ida (the girl) appears to be relaxed and gazing calmly at the camera. Marc appears to be in a contrived pose, staring at something above the camera. Marc is well dressed, while Ida wears only ballet slippers. What was the photographer trying to convey to the viewer? Does the fact that the girl wears ballet slippers indicate that this photo may be part of a series, and there may be more photos with Ida dancing? I decided it would be worthwhile to try to find more photos by P. Barchan that might be of interest to Pigtails fans, and write an article about him. Unfortunately, I could find few more Barchan photos, and none that would be on topic for Pigtails. Therefore, this article will focus on the model instead of the photographer, but first a little information about Barchan will be offered.
Pawel Barchan was the professional name used by Pavel Abramovich Barckhan (1876–1942). He was born in Poland when it was part of the Russian Empire. In 1908 he moved to Berlin, and was a well-known member of the artistic community there. Barchan was a man of many talents: a writer, art critic, journalist, translator and photographer. He assisted the Russian Ballet in Berlin in the early 1920s. Did he give Ida her ballet slippers? In about 1912 Barchan opened a photography studio. He made portraits of celebrities including painter Marc Chagall, and Chagall made paintings of Barchan. In 1942, while living in France, Pawel Barchan was arrested, sent to Auschwitz, and killed. His property, including photographs, was seized and presumably destroyed.
Marc Chagall was born in Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire, in 1887. He became a painter and developed a unique style of vivid colors and semi-abstract imagery. Chagall is known primarily as the quintessential Jewish artist. One critic joked that everybody Chagall paints looks Jewish. He wrote in his autobiography that he wanted to document the disappearing traditions of Jewish life. Chagall’s art, however, transcends any one religion and celebrates humanity in general. Several of his religious paintings have Christian themes, and he designed the stained-glass windows for the Christian cathedrals at Reims and Metz.
Marc Chagall’s only child, his beloved daughter Ida, was born in 1916. Ida started modeling for her father as an infant, as shown in the painting Bathing a Baby. When Ida was about eight years old, she was painted in Ida at the Window. She was around nine or ten when photographed by Pawel Barchan. An anonymous photograph of Ida, about twelve, with her father was published in Literarisze Bleter no. 41 October 12, 1928.
In 1940 the Chagalls were living in France. In addition to being a Jew, Chagall had been officially designated as a “degenerate artist”, and he was not a native Frenchman. Ida encouraged her father to leave Europe soon. Marc Chagall and his wife were arrested in April 1941. In the following month, the American Vice-Consul in Marseilles was able to get them released and gave them forged visas so they could come to America. Before leaving Europe, Chagall packed his paintings and had them shipped to the USA. The paintings were impounded in Spain, and may have been destroyed had it not been for Ida, who had remained behind with her husband. She worked to get the paintings released, then she also fled to America.
Marc Chagall died in 1985 at age 97; Ida died in 1994 at age 78.
I think it’s likely society is going backward in this sense, however I would offer a small change in perspective: I don’t think it’s accurate to assume that everybody back then took this photo at face value, as an innocent portrait. Not only is ‘everybody’ far too broad a statement, but even if we assume you meant ‘nearly everybody’, it still seems unlikely to be true.
The difference then was not that nobody objected to such art, but that such objections generally failed to suppress the expression and sharing of it by those who appreciate it to those who might appreciate it.
Today there are more people in the world, so while it may well be that a larger number of people (as a proportion of the population) would object strongly to such a composition, indicating a backwards moral shift into prudery or prurient fascination, it must also be true that a very large number of people today would see it as readers of this blog are inclined to, and that the fundamental backwards slipping of the society is fundamentally authoritarian. It is in actively crushing differences in what individuals appreciate as art when sensible argument has consistently failed to demonstrate any harm in this variety.
We may be living in a society with a collective conscience more prone to misidentify threats than one hundred years ago, but there’s no doubt about the official stance of the authorities or the corporate policies of large media companies: There’s a crisis of censorship in today’s world.
Bravo! to those who have supported this site, and most especially bravo! to those who do so with no particular interest in the chosen aesthetic focus here.
I really appreciate your deep analysis. The simple fact that there are more human beings in the world mean that any particular group or another (including Pigtails supporters) have a chance to reach a critical mass to the point of being a political force. The clever use of technology has also amplified this force for good or ill. It is important to understand that just because no one speaks up about something, that does not mean there aren’t any objections. It is simply a matter of what hill you are willing to die on. -Ron
About the first picture:
Sometimes I think that society is going backward. Today, if a man posed with his nude daughter who was not a baby or a toddler, many people would find a lot wrong with it. But at that time, presumably everybody took it to be what it was: An innocent portrait of a beautiful young girl standing outdoors with her adoring father.