A Forger's Art

Adolfo Kaminsky


Flea market, Clignancourt, 1955.

Adolfo Kaminsky, who lived in hiding for decades, was one of the most influential forgers of the twentieth century. During World War II, he fabricated passports and identity documents for the French Resistance; afterward, he worked for resistance movements in more than a dozen countries. The papers he made were small fictions that changed tens of thousands of lives.

But Kaminsky was also a street photographer who captured candid, anonymous portraits and uncannily quiet city scenes. In his images of mid-century Paris, anonymity becomes both subject and theme. Looking at his pictures, one thinks of all the faces Kaminsky witnessed but never knew—in the Drancy concentration camp, from which he narrowly escaped, or in the identity documents that passed through his fingers. A huddle of mannequins begins to look like so many unnamed women, rounded up, stripped. An empty bench speaks of transience. Together, the photos are a vision of the humanity that survives.

—Hannah Sassoon

Click here to read an essay on the artistic career of Adolfo Kaminsky.

Self-portrait, Fontainebleau Forest, 1948.

Woman waiting alone, Paris, 1946.

Violinist, 1945.

Bookstore, Paris, 1948.

Flea market, Clignancourt, 1955.

Flea market; mannequins and carousel horse, 1955.

Bench, Paris, 1948.

Lovers on a bench, Paris, 1948.

Hannah Sassoon is a writer living in New York.

Images courtesy Adolfo Kaminsky and the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme, 1945–55.