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We know that memories are inextricably linked to photographs, but what happens when we lose access to our family photos and the histories associated with them? Like many Jewish Americans, searching for my family’s roots has led to myriad dead ends; I’ve found names, dates, and random facts related to a handful of ancestors, but nothing close to a complete narrative. Details of individuals have been lost as people die and their memories disappear with them. This is further complicated by the fact that I come from a diasporic culture where most official records from Russia and Eastern Europe cease to exist, and histories depend on oral traditions.

Elusive Memory: Lost Histories is a series of intimate photographs that deny viewers much of the
visual information photography normally reveals. The images allude to lost cultures, stories, and identities–especially in situations of forced migration (as was the case for my ancestors who fled
Ukraine during Russian pogroms). My photographs represent the universal experience of struggling
to recall details of the past–often with little clarity; they evoke lost family histories and speak to the ephemeral nature of memory.


Deborah Orloff

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