Robert Sturman said he never felt the need to observe Jewish rituals. Born in Los Angeles to Jewish parents, the 33-year-old photographer-painter said, "I would do anything to stand up for the Jews ... but religion is a whole 'nother story."
Although he still doesn't practice Judaism, a stop in Auschwitz-Birkenau in July 2002 intensified his Jewish identity. In his gallery book, "Reflections for the Soul" Sturman crafted four pieces of artwork that symbolize Jewish destruction and then triumph in war-torn Europe. Inspired by the pen drawings of prisoner artists, Mieczyslaw Koscielniak and Wladyslaw Siwek, Sturman sought to capture the haunted nature of the death camp.
Two days after Auschwitz, Sturman took photographs in Kazimierz, a small Jewish town in Krakow, Poland. He came upon a poster framed by flowers advertising a film about the remaining Jews in Poland. As he was shooting, Sturman was accosted by an undercover police officer who began ridiculing Jewish practices. For Sturman, who never experienced anti-Semitism first hand, the encounter made what he had seen in Auschwitz-Birkenau all the more real. Titled "Memory and Healing: Krakow, Poland," the piece sends a message of life in contrast to his darker shots at the death camp.
There is fluidity to all of Sturman's pieces, as if one is viewing the artwork submerged in water. He first captures his images using Instamatic film, and then carves into the surface of the film while the emulsion is still wet. Though his work looks more like an impressionistic painting, the brilliant colors and contrasts are not painted in, but testify to his skill in achieving the perfect lighting for his shots. While the artistic process is intricate, Sturman said that the art is in the subject and the message -- not the techniques.
Now that his Jewish identity has been reinforced, Sturman has an overwhelming desire to do a series in the Holy Land.
"I want to celebrate the culture ... eat falafel and drink Coca-Cola with Hebrew writing on it," he said.
Robert Sturman's gallery book is available through his Web site. His next solo exhibition is in May 2004 at the Riskpress Gallery, 8533 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. www.robertsturmanstudio.com .