This acclaimed photographer discovers a lost branch of her family, drawing her into stories of displacement that we all hold in common.
Here and There is a personal chronicle that expands into a series of photographs on the displacing of humans in general.
When Jillian Edelstein discovered an unknown branch of her family were living in the Ukraine, the sense of inequality that was so familiar to her from having grown up in Apartheid South Africa was given another dimension. In particular, as the story emerged of her great aunt Minna, whose life was punctuated by three forced evacuations and who coincidentally had died the same year Jillian was born, the fate of Minna's brothers and their descendants, who had prospered as Whites in South Africa, developed ever greater contrast.
Later in the same year that she first saw Minna's photograph, Jillian was commissioned to photograph the South African Sangoma shamans, whose rituals employ the intermediary healing powers of their ancestors. A shaman told Jillian that her own ancestors were in conflict. Catalysing a growing determination to untangle her family's hidden history, Jillian began a journey that took her from her chosen home in London to the heartland of the Ukraine and then to her grandfather’s birthplace in Latvia.
Refracting images of displaced people through the lens of her family’s own mystery, Jillian reaches the refugee history we all have in common, whether we know its details or not.
Special thanks to Counterpoints Arts – a creative hub producing projects by and about refugees and migrants. See here: www.counterpointsarts.org.uk
I was born in South Africa, the same year that my great aunt Minna, my paternal grandfather’s sister, died in the Ukraine. The poignancy of this coincidence seems great to me now, because until 2002 I had no idea of Minna’s existence. I knew that my grandfather, Abraham, and his two brothers, Charles and Sascha, had fled their village in Latvia at the beginning of the last century, made their way across Europe and eventually boarded a ship to South Africa. I had even heard the story of how my grandfather sailed down the Volga disguised as a woman to avoid being caught and drafted into the Russian army. What I didn’t know was that their sister Minna, her husband Georg and their two small daughters, together with Minna’s parents (my great grandparents Isaak and Tomer) and her grandmother (my great, great grandmother, Zita) were planning to reach South Africa, too.
After being forced to leave Latvia, they travelled south, through what is now the Ukraine, and arrived in Feodosia on the Black Sea in November 1920, just as the Red Army occupied the town and closed the port. Having lost their chance to escape, they would remain in the Soviet Union for the rest of their lives. They quite literally missed the boat.
George Sacks, Communism and Russia
Thursday, 21 February 2019
Among the family relatives that has an impact on my life was my grandmother’s brother, George Sacks – an intellectual and a communist – and his wife Betty. George had left for England during the apartheid era. Communism was particularly despised by the South African authorities. They referred to it’s ideology as the ‘Rooi Gevaar’ – literally that translates as the ‘Red Threat’. The level of paranoid…
Wednesday, 26 September 2018
I last visited Ukraine in 2002 desperately seeking answers. I wanted to understand why one branch of my father's family had disappeared, never to be seen again. Not talked about, conveniently forgotten, lost to history. I wanted to rectify that, to reinsert them into the family map. Before I went that first time I had the contents of one email to go on - a forced expulsion from the Latvian family…
Tuesday, 10 April 2018
Next month I am flying to Ukraine. I will be driving from Kiev to Dnipropetrovsk to visit Victor, my Great Aunt Minna's grandson. I last made the journey ten years ago. Since then there have been many changes: Victor went, in his words, 'bust', lost the milk plant where, having given up his job as a state paid scientist, had been attempting to manufacture experimental kosher condensed milk - 'not…
Tuesday, 6 February 2018
I thought I would share this little diary note I made soon after I arrived back in the UK from Colombia in mid-July.
I am back in the familiar terrain of North London. The crows are making a din outside – now I associate that sound with the ‘corbeau’s of Rwanda and, I think, the macaws of Colombia and the last daredevil trip I made to the mangrove swamp on my last day there in spite of the Dengue…
It came out of left field
Monday, 20 November 2017
Just before leaving for my father’s consecration in Cape Town last month, my 22-year-old son forwarded me an email
he had received via the genealogy site where he had been building a family tree. Someone was looking for anyone connected to my maternal Grandfather, Jack Sovinsky. Someone was looking for me.
We live in Paarl, a beautiful town some 60 km north of Cape Town. It…
Emigration, Displacement and Struggle
Monday, 14 August 2017
I left South Africa thirty years ago in order to pursue my photographic career - and to leave the political landscape of South Africa that I abhorred. I had grown up with Apartheid.
I have used the camera in my life as many things - in my earlier career as a photographer on The Rand Daily Mail as a 'weapon' against the repressive regime, recording events that the public might otherwise have been…
El Camino De La Muerte
Thursday, 29 June 2017
First published on http://www.jillianedelstein.co.uk/ 2nd March 2016
In order to do this post I have to go back a bit. At this moment I am in India, having arrived here from China this morning. But for now I have to go back to Rwanda. Back to a sleepless night in Kigali soon after having returned there from Gisenyi close to the DRC border with Rwanda…
Tuesday, 13 June 2017
(Originally published on http://www.jillianedelstein.co.uk/, July 25 2014)
I missed the pilots shout of Emergencia that came across the intercom system. I don’t know why. I was told later that it sounded faintly hysterical – a pitch or two too high for comfort. I did hear the only English announcement – a garbled one at that – about oxygen masks. It was then…
Saturday, 20 May 2017
A few days ago I discovered that the Sangoma, the traditional healers who were living in the Valley,
and who partly inspired this project, have been kicked off their ancestral land.
I understand that a wealthy businessman bought the land in the Eastern Free State near the Lesotho border
and that the army and local police were instructed to move in to ensure that the Valley dwellers were…
Kicking off- Day 1
Tuesday, 9 May 2017
Jake Lee, whom I met at a Counterpoints seminar at Dartington, kindly and generously kicked off the pledging yesterday as it went live. I am indebted to him and to Aine O'Brien and Dijana Rakovic at Counterpoints who followed suit swiftly thereafter. Thanks also to my best colleagues Antonio Olmos, Stuart Freedman, Del Barrett of the RPS, and to my dear friend Judy Friedberg . You all rock, as they…
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