The first image you see in the exhibit Displaced Persons: Photographs by Clemens Kalischer is reminiscent of the famous photograph V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt, which shows a spontaneous kiss between a sailor and a nurse in Times Square as the crowd celebrates the end of World War II. Kalischers untitled image, on view at the Holocaust Museum Houston, shows a man and woman in an embrace, his face buried in the collar of her coat. But instead of the joy and elation of V-J Day, this image shows a deeply felt emotional relief. The couple, Jewish refugees, had made it to the United States. They were safe.
Kalischer spent two years photographing the refugees as they arrived in New York, in much the same way Kalischer himself had arrived just six years before. I saw fear and expectation in the faces of men, women and children, Kalischer said of the series at the time. I think it was the empathy which enabled me to move amongst the people and photograph them without disturbing them.
Other photos show people waiting in lines and wearing tags that identified which relief agency was working with them; an old couple on a boat looking at the shore, both their faces uncertain; and little girls, oblivious to the enormity of the situation, smiling and whispering to each other as they wait. In another shot, an older woman looks straight into Kalischers camera, her face impossibly gaunt. And there are images of crowds of people, mostly recent refugees themselves, who have come to the processing station to meet relatives and friends, anxiously pushing against the barricades keeping them from their loved ones.
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One of the last images you see in the exhibit is similar to the first; it shows a young man and woman hugging, but this time their smiling faces are clearly shown. She cups his face, he holds her close. The two images are the perfect bookends to the exhibit. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through April 17. 5401 Caroline. For information, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org. Free.
Mondays-Sundays. Starts: Nov. 4. Continues through April 17, 2010