Last week, a shining light went dark when we lost our dear friend Israeli-born photographer Nir Bareket (1939-2015). Knowing that we can no longer see the world through his lens, fills me with a deep sadness. Nir brought our attention to important societal issues like homelessness, the perplexity of the prison system, and the peril and beauty of urban life. The sensitivity he brought to these subjects and his keen ability to draw our eyes towards people and places that we look away from was powerful. He made us see. And in this seeing, we gained truth and wisdom.
After a stint in commercial photography on Madison Ave in the 1960s, and a return home to Jerusalem as chief photographer of the Israel Museum, Nir settled in Toronto in 1975. Decades of photographic achievement in the theatrical, commercial, industrial, and architectural world was combined with teaching photography. In 1994, Nir was commissioned by the March of the Living to photograph the annual trip of Canadian students marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau culminating with the celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) in Israel. This important portfolio is part of the OJA’s collection. Nir brilliantly captured this transformative experience, illuminating how the impact of the Holocaust becomes etched in the DNA of these young Jews as they approach adulthood.
When I joined the OJA in 2012 and saw this collection for the first time, I was immediately moved. I wanted to see more of Nir’s work. We met. We talked. We looked. We talked. And, we looked some more. Over the brief period that I got to know Nir, I admired his thoughtfulness and his soulful spirit. He was an encouraging colleague and a friend. He was a good listener and in our conversations, I could feel him listening. It was something in his eyes and in his stillness. I think this ability to listen closely is deeply connected to his talent as a photographer. This listening allowed him to see differently -- deeply. And, I am grateful that he shared what he saw with us, through his photographs. Over the past three years and up until his parting, we were making plans to work on a project together at the OJA that explored the Jewish businesses and people of Bathurst Street. I will miss my talks with Nir and as I drive up Bathurst Street, I am reminded to look, and to watch, and to see as he would have.
Director, Ontario Jewish Archives, May 21, 2015