The Lost Expressionist – Nick Yudell, A Photographer Discovered

June 3, 2022

The Lost Expressionist – Nick Yudell, A Photographer Discovered

Imagine opening a hidden cache of negatives shot before World War II by a young man from Morden, Manitoba who perished during that war. No one has seen these negatives since the youth closed the box that he made for his life’s work and enlisted in 1940 to defend freedom. Enclosed is a world captured by a young Jewish Canadian during the Dirty Thirties. He was Nick Yudell (1916-1943), an RAF pilot who perished during the North African campaign of World War II.

Born in Winnipeg in 1916, Nick Yudell was the youngest of the three children of Nettie Kluner and Alexander Yudluvitz (later Yudell), immigrants from Kiev and Russia. As a Jewish boy of 12, Alex was conscripted by the Czar’s army but escaped from eastern Russia before the Russo-Japanese war, Alex travelled first to Cuba and then New York where he reunited with his fiancé Nettie. They married in 1903, settling in Winnipeg in 1905.

After Nettie died in 1918, with older children at school Alex had to work. He brought Nick to Nettie’s sister Sonia and husband David Rabinovitch in Morden, with nine older children. Moving between Morden and Winnipeg, Nick pursued photography after he received a camera at 12. Attending St. John’s Collegiate in Winnipeg (1931 -1933), Nick’s images capture a sparkling prism of his life.

Nick Yudell’s dramatic photographs span the Jazz Age and the Great Depression. His stunning black and white images pursue a world of glamour and grit. He photographed individuals in their homes, stores in Morden, in Winnipeg’s North End, and on Manitoba farms. Nick created an authentic exchange with people who are fully present, without pretense. His striking portraits anticipate avant-garde art, using double exposures and film noir lighting.

Nick’s passions for photography and flight merged, and he enlisted in 1940. In 1942 he deployed with RAF Squadron 104 from England to North Africa, a pilot and warrants officer. On January 6, 1943, Nick, Squadron Leader Ivan Strutt, and four crew flew their Vickers Wellington II to Tunisia, attacking Rommel’s supply lines. German flak ignited their bomber. All perished.

Nick was one of some five hundred Jewish Canadian soldiers who died in World War II. Nearly 20,000 Canadian Jews—10 percent of the community–enlisted. In 1940, the RCMP reported, “The Jewish community … has subscribed generously… not because they consider it a ‘Jewish’ war, but because they understand the clear-cut policy of decency versus brute force…” Most stories about Jewish fighters have been lost.

Nick organized his negatives into an archive preserved by his cousin Milton Rabinovitch (1909-2001). Artist and author Celia Rabinovitch created The Lost Expressionist to recognize Nick’s artistic vision and the various communities he touched. Nick Yudell is a lost artist whose images have been brought to life.

Learn more about The Lost Expressionist