Vincent Giordano (1952-2010)
by Samuel D. Gruber
Photographer and filmmaker Vincent Giordano died on December 11, 2010. Vincent was an accomplished photographer with an artist’s eye, and a mastery of craft (especially visible in his beautifully handmade palladium prints) and the sensibility of a trained ethnographer. He was a man of warmth, humor, and modesty, but also of talent, ambition and tenacity. These were all qualities he maintained, even when in great pain, until his very last hour.
In recent years Vincent brought these talents together in an intensive investigation of the small community of Romaniote Jews in New York, centered on the synagogue of Kehila Kedosha Janina synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side. Since 2002, soon after he began work in his documentary project Before the Flame Goes Out, he has been a friend and unexpected colleague. What began by my writing a simple cover letter for a grant became a continuing collaboration, with the International Survey of Jewish Monuments serving as a sponsor for Vincent’s work.
Over a period of about six years Vincent created a remarkable series of photos of the building, and many of the people who still call it their religious and cultural home and related community events. What began as a documentation of the synagogue building and its liturgical and historical artifacts evolved into a deeper and more meaningful investigation including photos, film and audio. Vincent found that it was not enough to look at a building without knowing the things inside or to know the objects without understanding their history and use. He believed that knowledge can only come through knowing the people who made these things, and who continue to use and cherish them today. Similarly, he felt he could not see full picture of this Romaniote community without its other half: the community of Ioannina, or what survives of it in post-Holocaust Greece. So the project which at first was quite modest kept growing. And in this process I was always impressed with Vincent’s adaptability, organization skills, diplomacy, patience, tenacity and overriding belief in the integrity and meaning of the task.
Vincent forged excellent ties with the Romaniote community. His photos, which often involved long set up times and exposures, drew many of the synagogue community into his work so that many aspects of Before the Flame Goes Out were collaborative efforts with the community itself. His patience was often rewarded by the stories told by those watching, many of who subsequently became portrait subjects, and he often donated prints of his work to these new friends and the community. Photography developed into oral history that became an important part of the work. Vincent also reached out to historians and other specialists (such as myself) to expand and refine his knowledge of his subject, so that photography and oral history now link with more traditional lines of historical inquiry.
For his work on Before the Flames Goes Out Vincent received grants from the Memorial Foundation of Jewish Culture and he was a Fullbright Scholar in Greece in 2007. His talent was recognized by many generous donors who supported Before the Flame Goes Out. These included The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation, The Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund, The Cahnman Foundation, The Rothschild Foundation, and The David and Goldie Blanksteen Fund.
Vincent received his B.A. from SUNY, Oswego where he majored in history and anthropology, tw0 disciplines he remained dedicated to in his subsequent career. He went on to study photography at C.W. Post College (Glendale, NY), the International Center of Photography, and with Arthur Leipzig. In the 1980s he worked for R/ Greenberg Associates as Head of the Animation Camera and Stills Department, during which time he won seven Clio awards for television advertising campaigns. And the GT Group in New York as head of the still photography department.
For the past 25 years Vincent worked as photographer, filmmaker and technical consultant for scores of book, film and other photo-related projects. In more recent years he took on projects for himself, and developed impressive portfolios of memorable and artistic work, most of which seemed to dwell with modes of memory. A skilled portraitist, he brought that careful steady observant eye to his photos of architecture and landscape. As a New York photographer two of the most meaningful to Vincent were Hidden New York (Rutgers University Press, 2006), for which he was a contributing photographer and remembrance, a book of portraits from September 11, 2001.
Vincent was so often behind the camera there are few photos of him. I include this one snapshot, when I caught him by surprise at Kehila Kedosha Janina back in 2005. The picture captures for me his mix of toughness and playfulness. He combined a no-nonsense attitude of getting the shot, with humor and constant enthusiasm for his subject.
Vincent will be missed by his many friends and colleagues, and especially by his loving wife Hilda and his step-children Elizabeth and Thomas, and grandchildren, Matthew, Analisa and Rachel. A memorial gathering takes place today in New york at the Museum of Biblical Art where Vincent’s work was exhibited in 2008. A celebration of his life and art will also be scheduled in 2011. I will shortly post a gallery of some of Vincent's photos. You can also see images on the website http://www.romaniotelegacy.org/
Here are four photos which show a mix of his work with 8 x 10 negatives, and two shots from Greece done "on the fly" with a 35mm camera. These are low-res digital copies. The originals are especially gorgeous.