What can we learn from our family photo albums?
A lot, according to eight prominent scholars and artists whose answers to the question are collected in this special issue of The Scholar & Feminist Online. Family photos tell intricate stories about home, family, traditions, friendship and other intimacies. Often, what's included in these stories is as interesting as what's left out.
In putting this issue together, Guest Editor Laura Levitt (author of Jews and Feminism: The Ambivalent Search for Home) struggled with what it meant to look at what she calls "our own our ordinary, primarily American Jewish family photographs in public" given that there were other important Jewish images contributors felt obliged to privilege. "How were we to talk about these ordinary images and common family stories when the Holocaust looms so large, casting shadows on these other stories?" Levitt asked. "How can we make these other legacies matter when such enormous communal trauma is still so raw?"
The questions themselves weave their way into a number of the pieces - short essays with images, images with few words and a soundtrack, a website, some traditional essays - each of which also asks what it means for one to see herself as a Jew in contemporary America.
"[T]here is something 'haunting' about working with these kinds of images, some trace of a past no longer known but longing to be known," writes Levitt in her introduction to the issue. The work of remembrance, she adds, is not "an easy venture" and what it yields is "never neat." As the reader/viewer moves from piece to piece, the journal issue itself becomes a cyber-scrapbook filled with "messy beauty."
Contributors include award-winning filmmakers Marlene Booth (Yidl in the Middle: Growing Up Jewish in Iowa) and Michelle Citron (Daughter Rite); Muriel Hasbun, Program Coordinator of Fine Art Photography at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C.; Marianne Hirsch, author of Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory and the edited collection The Familial Gaze; and Lorie Novak, an artist who has been using family snapshots in her work since the early 1980s.
We hope you enjoy "Changing Focus: Family Photography and American Jewish Identity." We welcome your feedback.
Janet Jakobsen and Deborah Siegel
Editors, S&F Online