Photography > Our Tainted Blood (2005)

Our Tainted Blood (2005)

When I was ten months old, I spoke my first word. The story goes that I was in a little tub in which my parents used to bathe me. Sitting in the bath, I looked up, pointed to the ceiling and said orr, the Hebrew word for light. My mother always had a camera with her and this time was no exception. This story, for me, cements three things in my life: My fascination with light, with the camera and with Jewish identity.

Documenting Jewish life is something that has been passed down through my family. My grandmother photographed Palestine in the early 20th century and at 92, spends her time making book-like photo albums for each member of our family. My mother keeps the photographs from her youth in the newly developed state of Israel and pulls them out to remind me of a different generation. My father raised me on stories of a childhood in the Bronx and Jewish chicken farmers in New Jersey. All these forms of documentary, both fictional and non-fictional, shaped my perspective of a Jewish world, one in which there lay a confused, but strong sense of identity.

When it comes to recognizing an ethnic identity, there is a constant crossing between what is perceived by outsiders of that identity, and what is understood by those inside it. There is fact and fiction in equal measure in identity. The fiction stems out of myths, legends and stereotypes, while fact pertains to rituals, histories and traditions. Yet, many times, in the case of identity, these facts and fictions are intertwined to a point where they become difficult to distinguish. The results of this can be both positive and negative.

Perception of one’s self can be influenced by the perception of outsiders. These influences can range from the purely aesthetic to the ideological. For instance, what is seen as a religious ritual to an insider, can be misinterpreted by an outsider. These misinterpretations may then lead to different views, ones that are completely contrary to the original rite. Which, in turn, creates the stereotypes and myths. This then begs the question of what indeed comes first? Is the ritual what creates the stereotype or does the stereotype influence the ritual?

When I started this body of work, my intention was to demonstrate the diversity among the Jewish people and how stereotypes damage the identities of many insiders to the Jewish culture. I had a solid idea of each and every photograph I took. Yet, as time went on, each photo evolved into something I never could have expected. The work became less about the perception of the outside world and became more about my own perception of a created identity. It is about my relationship to my parents as well as the relationship of the Jew to the rest of the world.

These images are open for multiple interpretations. Similar to identity itself, each photo is to be perceived differently, both positively and negatively, by each person who views them.