The nomadic photographer and filmmaker Helmar Lerski was born in Alsace, raised in Switzerland, began his professional career in Milwaukee, moved to Germany, travelled to Erez Israel and ultimately retired in Switzerland. Aesthetically, Lerski sought to communicate timeless values through the manipulation of light and the physiognomy of the human face in extreme close-ups. His photo project ‘Jewish Heads’ started his search for a distinct Jewish identity. While advocating a Jewish homeland as a Zionist filmmaker, Lerski remained loyal to his artistic vision. This dichotomy between identifying Jewishness in the Diaspora and a national Jewish identity tied to the land of Israel, between biology and environment, eternal art and propaganda, makes Lerski’s work rich and still contemporary.
Prof Jan-Christopher Horak is the former Director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Munich Filmmuseum and Curator at the George Eastman Museum. He teaches at UCLA and is the multi-award-winning author of numerous books on film historical subjects.