Born in Paris in 1959, Brenner attended the Sorbonne, where he received a B.A. in French Literature and Social Anthropology in 1981. He later studied at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and earned an M.A. in Social Anthropology awarded by the Sorbonne.
In 1978, at the age of 19, Brenner embarked on his first photography project, an exploration of Mea Shearim, an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. The project, which portrays how these Jews from Eastern Europe recreated diaspora in Israel, became Brenner’s first book, Jérusalem: Instants d'Éternité, published in Paris in 1984.
In 1981, Brenner undertook a chronicle of Jewish communities around the world, exploring what it means to live and survive with a portable identity: how Jews adopted the traditions and manners of their home countries and yet remained part of the Jewish people. From Rome to New York, India to Yemen, Morocco to Ethiopia, Sarajevo to Samarkand, he spent 25 years in over 40 countries recording the diaspora of the Jews and creating a probing pursuit of the multiplicity of dissonant identities. Along the way, he published five books and directed three films (Marranos, Madres de Desaparecidos, Tykocin). He also began to show his work in museums and galleries around the world. He has been represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York since 1990.
Brenner’s opus, Diaspora: Homelands in Exile, was published as a two-volume set of photographs and texts by Harper Collins in 2003. It won a National Jewish Book Award for Visual Arts in 2004 and appeared in four foreign editions. Diaspora was also a major exhibition, which opened in New York at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2003 and traveled to nine other cities in the United States, Europe, and Mexico. In reviewing the book, The New Yorker wrote, “Brenner's work—elegiac, celebratory, irreverent—transcends portraiture, representing instead a prolonged, open-ended inquiry into the nature of identity and heritage.”
In 2007, Brenner initiated, organized and was the artistic director of a major new project, This Place, which explores Israel and the West Bank as place and metaphor through the eyes of twelve major photographers who ask essential questions about culture, society and the inner life of individuals – beyond the political narrative and free of a dual perspective of “for” and “against.” This collaborative effort seeks to provide a penetrating portrayal of this highly contested place as a living organism and creates, not a single monolithic vision, but rather a diverse and fragmented portrait, alive to all its rifts and paradoxes. In addition to Brenner, the artists participating in the project were Wendy Ewald, Martin Kollar, Josef Koudelka, Jungjin Lee, Gilles Peress, Fazal Sheikh, Stephen Shore, Rosalind Solomon, Thomas Struth, Jeff Wall, and Nick Waplington. Brenner’s own contribution is entitled an Archeology of Fear and Desire.
This Place resulted in a major touring exhibition, a digital platform, a collective book, ten individual monographs and an exhibition tailored for university campuses.
An Archeology of Fear and Desire, Mack Books, 2014.
DIASPORA: Homelands in Exile. New York: Harper Collins, 2003.
Exile at Home. With a poem by Yehuda Amichai. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998.
Jews/America/A Representation. With an essay by Simon Schama. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996.
Marranes. With an essay by Y.H. Yerushalmi. Paris: Editions de la Différence, 1992.
Israel. With texts by A.B. Yehoshua. New York: Harper and Row; London: Collins Harville, 1988.
Jerusalem, Instants d'Eternité. Paris: Denoël, 1984.
2016-2017 Fellow at Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin
2003 National Jewish Book Award
1992 Laureate of the French Academy, Villa Medici, Rome
1981 Prix Niépce
2015 Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
2014-2016 This Place, Prague Museum of Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Norton Museum of Art (Florida), Brooklyn Museum of Art
2004 United Nations, New York
2003 Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York
1996 Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
1994 Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, Arles
1993 Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
1993 Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne
1992 International Center of Photography, New York
1991 Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam
1990 Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, Arles
1983 Consejo Mexicano de Photographias, Bellas Artes, Mexico City
1982 Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône, France