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February 18, 2022

Roller-Skating Street Ambassador Advertising the Mythical Zohar Photography Studio in Manhattan

This amazing daguerreotype photo may look as if it was taken in 19th century New York, but it is actually the work of California photographer Stephen Berkman, who is an expert in the extremely difficult pre-chemical photographic process of wet-collodion photography.

This is one of 30 photographs Berkman took that was included in art installation called “Predicting the Past—Zohar Studios: The Lost Years” that was exhibited in the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. Other equally bizarre images include a sepia-toned woman with bottle curls wearing formal Victorian dress sitting in a chair calmly knitting what appears to be a condom.

Los Angeles-based artist and Zohar “biographer” Berkman says that the works are “a tribute to the enigmatic 19th century New York City photographic establishment known as Zohar Studios, located in the predominantly Jewish Lower East Side.”

Berkman says that Shimmel Zohar was born in Lithuania in 1822, arrived in New York in 1857, and that his studio was located at 432 Pearl Street. Berkman claims that Zohar’s original glass plates were lost, but Berkman later came across Zohar’s detailed notes of his tableaux, and although that book was later lost, he remembered the contents and was able to recreate the Wandering Jewess, the Merkin Seller, the Co-joined Twins, the Condom Knitter, the Itinerant Phrenologist, the Man with the Down-trodden Banana, and many others.


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