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The Zalman Kaplan Collection
of Pre-War Photos of Szczuczyn

Please contact me if you have any photos to submit.

Zalman Kaplan
Szczuczyn Photographer

Zalman Kaplan became a photographer less than 40 years after the introduction of the art in 1839 (by Daguerre in France) and just a few short years after the invention of the glass negative which allowed both retouching and the printing of multiple prints on paper.

Zalman Kaplan


Kaplan was a master of posing and lighting. His camera room had two glass sides and a glass roof. Most portraits were made by natural light in Europe and the U.S. until after WWI. Kaplan initially used a large view camera and plates about 6 x 8 inches. Prints were made on albumen paper, the emulsion suspended in an eggwhite mixture. Later, he changed to rich, browntoned carte postale paper from Germany. Contact printing was also the rule. The retouched negative was sandwiched with a piece of photographic paper the same size as the negative and exposed to the sun. Compared to other photographs of the era -- both in Europe and the U.S. -- Kaplan Portraits are in the superior quality category. His posing was, for its day, more relaxed than most -- in spite of the one to three second exposures. The outdoor poses are very casual and ahead of their time. The surviving Kaplan pictures -- even those almost 100 years old -- are unfaded due to extra steps taken to fix and brown or goldtone the prints. Faces, even in large groups, were painstakingly retouched on the negative so each person looked his or her best. It is easy to see that Kaplan (and his subjects) had a deep sense of history for each image that was recorded.

Zalman Kaplan


In towns throughout Europe -- and the U.S. -- the photographer's studio was frequented by all economic groups. Some came to simply record themselves looking their best or to have a portrait to give to loved ones. Some came to commemorate an event like a marriage, a visit from an out-of-town relative, or a family member going away. Or, groups of good friends just came to be photographed together for fun. Amateur photography was rare so studios were very busy. Daily visits to see the new pictures in the Kaplan showcases became a tradition in Szczuczyn. With the military as an early client, Kaplan often photographed on location both outdoors and inside. He completed large assignments of photographing area monuments and buildings for the Czar's army and was presented a gold watch by the commander for the superior job. Kaplan also sold photographic postcards of his town to tourists and army personnel. He also documented and sold group photographs of classes for church, secular, and Jewish schools. His group portraits of Jewish organizations and committees photographed solely by window light inside buildings are remarkable even by today's standards.

Of the tens of thousands of Kaplan photographs made between the 1890's and 1941, three main groups have survived. First, there are family portraits, school, and club photographs that remain with Polish families in Szczuczyn. Many of those, however, were destroyed in World War II -- as were those in the possession of the city government. The entire Kaplan negative archive was destroyed during the Holocaust. Next are the photographs taken for Jews leaving Szczuczyn before World War II for the U.S., Palestine, Canada, Mexico, many South and Central American countries, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. Today, with that generation all but gone those pictures are the only way we can see how they looked and how they lived. Included in this group are the photographs brought to Canada by the Kaplan sons and those later mailed to them by their family in Szczuczyn.

A third group that is now being discovered are the Kaplan photographic postcards mailed by World War I German soldiers to their families and a few in early Polish history books.

Title of Exhibit and Book: "Lives Remembered - A Shtetl Through a Photographer's Eye"
Location of First Exhibit: The Museum of Jewish Heritage, Battery Park, New York City
First run: March 12, 2002 - August 2, 2002

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