Reframing the 1950s:
Poland and America through Photojournalist Lisa Larsen’s Lens
Keywords:Lisa Larsen, Poland, United States, Nazi Germany, cultural Cold War, photography, photo essay, Life Magazine, photojournalism, Jewish émigrés, 1950s, women’s history, women photographers
The article examines Lisa Larsen’s pioneering work as a photojournalist for Life Magazine in Poland, 1956-1957, contextualised by her experience as a Jewish exile from Germany in the 1930s. Reading her unpublished writings about Poland against the backdrop of her visual work reveals a woman who appreciated the ambiguity of photography and sought to shape the meaning of her work in a way that challenged the prevailing Cold War epistemologies of midcentury America, often espoused by Life and the Time/Life empire itself. As a woman, she was initially assigned entertainment and fashion work, but her drive to cover politics led her to US presidential campaigns, the Middle East, and the Bandung Conference of 1955. Despite her position as a woman in the world of men at a time when opportunities for professional success among women remained limited, no single full-length academic work on Larsen exists. Larsen left many extraordinary photos that document her extensive travels and experiences. In my article, I draw on her unpublished writings, as well as some published material and her photographs, to argue that through her writing about and photographic work in Poland, Larsen engaged in a subtle critique of the social relations in the United States.
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