Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

Foto Germanas – Work in progress

Mar 10, 2017 - Sarah Mei Herman

In November 2015, I first came to Kaunas, Lithuania, upon invitation by Kaunas Gallery as an artist in residence to work on a project about my Jewish family history. A few days ago I returned to Kaunas where I’m currently continuing my research and project.

It all started with this box of old family photographs that my father gave me, of which many are made in photo studio Germanas. Apart from these photographs and a few things that my father told me, I knew very little.

Together with his youngest brother Jehuda, my grandfather Mordechai used to have a photo studio in Lithuania (first in Rokiškis and later in Kaunas) where they made family portraits. The studio was called Foto Germanas, which is the Lithuanian for Herman, the family name I carry.

I can’t stop looking at these portraits. They have such a still and serene beauty and, at the same time, there is such a profound sadness in them knowing that these photographs were made before the horrors of the holocaust, which many of my family members did not survive.

As part of this project I also visited Israël last September, where I visited 90-year-old Tonia Levin, who is the daughter of Solomon, the oldest brother of my grandfather. She is my last family member who survived the holocaust. I photographed and filmed her and recorded her memories.


Not long ago I discovered a photograph on the internet, made in my grandfather’s photo studio, which turned out to be part of the archive of the Rokiškis Region Museum. Thanks to them, I got hold of many photographs made by my grandfather and his brother. Of course, most of these people portrayed are unknown to me, yet some of these photo’s are haunting me. It is the stillness in the faces that fascinate me. It makes me wonder what my grandfather might have said to the people when he was photographing them. My grandfather died when I was five years old, long before we could have spoken about this part of his life in Lithuania and, before I knew that I would become a photographer as well.


In the beginning of this project I manically tried to get all the answers about my family history. I’m still spending days of searching archives and listings trying to find even the smallest answer, but I realize that I will never be able to find the complete truth and certain things will always remain hidden. Probably it is the unknown that drives me.