Portraits of Myself (Extract)

Extract from a story in Issue 18, December 22, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. An original photographic approach to capturing one family's history is an impressive achievement "I Am My Family, photographic Memories and Fictions" is ostensibly the family photo album of Chilean-Canadian photographer and educator Rafael Goldchain. What purports to be the oldest photograph in this collection portrays Naftuli Goldszajn, a farming ancestor from Krasnik, Poland, ostensibly taken in the late 1800s. The most recent photograph depicts Doña Tosia Reddinger, a first cousin of Goldchain's grandfather, apparently taken in Brazil in the early 2000s. In addition to these two photographs, the reader will find another 52 fine duotone black and white portraits of other family members. But this is a family album with a twist. Every picture in this book is of the photographer himself, taken at his or other Toronto studios between 1999 and 2007. He posed as every member of his family, male and female, working from original photographs, made-up and garbed exactly as each one had been snapped originally. Goldchain is no eccentric amateur: He is the professor and program coordinator of the Applied Photography program at the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Oakville, Ontario. His works have been exhibited in The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The spark for this project was his young son's search for his identity and his family roots and connections, both in Poland and the Americas. To help him, Goldchain felt the responsibility "of shaping a familial past out of scattered fragments," as he puts it in his book. Goldchain researched the history of his family by trawling through letters, interviews and conversations, collecting anecdotes and general information. But his main inspiration and source material was his collection of old portrait photographs. From these, the artist borrowed the images which he recreated quite literally in person, sometimes merely imitating them, sometimes even inventing them. The book offers a wealth of information about the family in two different ways. The main and more obvious one is through technically perfect studio black and white photographs, most of them almost humorous, some more realistic, accomplished with the help of digital manipulation, theatrical lighting, makeup and costumes. While an impressive self-portrait as the author's maternal grandfather comes across as vivid and natural, other photographs look more artificial, like wax figures, thanks to obvious and exaggerated make-up. An example of this is the self-portrait as the photographer's maternal grandmother, Doña Balbina Baumfeld Szpiegel de Rubinstein, imitating a photograph taken in the late 1930s. Extract from a story in Issue 18, December 22, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.