Clemens Kalischer (1921-2018)


Clemens Kalischer, [Male arrives from Europe at New York pier, greeted by woman], 1948 (2011.31.2)

In 1947 and 1948, still in his 20s, Mr. Kalischer managed to embed himself with refugees uprooted by World War II as they arrived in New York by ship from Bremerhaven. He was able to do so because he had been one of them only six years before.
Camera in hand, he would later prowl the streets of Harlem and the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the coal mines of western Pennsylvania, the Alpine villages of northern Italy and finally the Berkshires in Massachusetts, where he eventually settled, all in his quest not for “the moment that stands apart from the ordinary,” as the critic Miles J. Unger put it, but for “the moment that reveals it with crystalline clarity.
In New York after the war, working as a laborer at Macy’s and “totally depressed and without any hope” as he described himself, a fellow worker recommended that he go to a photo exhibit. It proved so compelling to Mr. Kalischer that he enrolled in classes at the Photo League cooperative.
What distinguished Mr. Kalischer’s photographs, Mr. Unger wrote, was “his open-armed embrace of the varied human condition.” Mr. Kalischer’s mantra for beginning photographers was, “Stay as invisible as possible.”
Invisibility in Mr. Kalischer’s case, Mr. Unger wrote, involved “a recognition that photography of the kind he practices demands that the photographer remains invisible so that the subject can be revealed with maximum clarity.”
“In losing himself,” Mr. Unger added, “Kalischer gains the world.” New York Times, June 15, 2018

Names unknown: male DP arrives from Europe at New York pier, greeted by woman. Taken in Spring, 1948.

The New York piers were a scene of great drama as a flood of immigrants arrived after World War II. We published this in the New York Times Magazine.

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