Recently I explored the loss of identity with Doris, a series about dementia and who we are once we can no longer remember ourselves. Working on Doris allowed me to reconnect with my family, trust my instinct, and build up a distinct style. However, Doris is not about my grandmother, it is about all grandmothers, grandfathers, and essentially about ourselves. What will it mean when age takes away the experiences that we have spent all our lives defining ourselves by?
Doris & The emigrant immigrant
by Jayme Gershen (United States)
I am a documentary photographer currently traveling around Europe in order to work on my project The Emigrant Immigrant, a series that explores immigrant identity today. Because of my interest in understanding self and how one is perceived based on point of view, I have been able to adapt to a variety of situations in order to observe and document the daily lives of different migrants. I will ultimately juxtapose stories that explore diverse reasons for migration, economic status, and age, raising question about what the word “immigrant” really means in a constantly more globalized world.
Portfolio from the Visual storytelling workshop with Ed Kashi, March 2014.
Written review by
Independent curator and teacher of History of photography
In photography as well as in literature, it's a real art to manage to express oneself briefly and with economy of means. Brevity, containment, is a tough challenge and consequently it can be a difficult and complex process including for artists and writers who already are experienced. Your idea of presenting one portfolio made of two short stories is very interesting and, at the same time, it is an ambitious challenge for the difficulties it contains.
To start, I would say that viewing your portfolio, I instinctively come to the question of if those two stories of Doris and The Emigrant Immigrant can work together really as a couple, as independent as those stories can be. When I first saw your series Doris, I thought of “The lady with the dog" by Anton Chekhov. I thought how difficult this is to tell a story with so little words or in your case, few images.
Even if there are very evocative photographs, the global feeling transmitted by your project is that there are important contents that are not being transmitted, that do not manage to fit in the 10 images you present. It feels like an understatement for us. Doris's face is so expressive, she is so strong and vulnerable at the same time. But even more, the question of senile dementia is such a huge and complex theme!
Memory loss is gradual and because you try to achieve brevity and synthetics, it does not allow an extensive neither accumulative development, one has to search for other paths, as you actually do. However, instead of articulate this theme intertwining images with an anecdotical look (nº 3, nº 4 , nº 9) or with magnified expressions (nº 6, nº 7, nº 8), I believe we could get inside the story and this women's personality from details, fragments and intimate moments. In this sense, the images I find more intense, those who push us towards her and made us guess on who is and who was this women are nº 1 and nº 5.
I would also suggest that you keep on with your exploration - or your editing process if you cannot photograph her anymore - following the line of n°2 image, which is the less narrative of all. Her body tells many things and this image can evoke a lot of sensations without limiting them too much. You could integrate to your editing the image you show in the video you present on your website where we can see - here as a few examples - her hands (minute 1:20), her nape (3:49), her smile between cushions (3: 56).
A little bit ahead, the image where she appears sleeping (1:35) could also guide us on this road to the distance that surrounds her. I would also add the minute 2:57, where she is lost in her thoughts or the other image that make us see the contact with you photographing her (minuto 3:19).
Summarizing: as far as editing and sequence are concerned, I would suggest you find a more fluid rhythm and cadence, trying to avoid that the result is a sum of specific moments more or less anecdotical. The key would be in looking for images that are not so much a result of a concrete action, but images in which the duration can be felt.
On another side, if we abide the conceptual side, what you describe in your personal statement is very interesting even if I am not sure that the editing you present allows you to reach this narrative strength you mention when you refer to memory loss as an experience that defines us as persons. It's a very important aspect and to be willing to deal with it briefly requires a fine distinction and an important control of one's expression. Without a doubt you can achieve this working on the editing and the link that can be generated between images, but also with text if necessary, and according to the final shape you want to give to this project.
If what comes to your mind is an intimate and personal book, I recommend you see the book by Iñaki Domingo (http://www.dalpine.com/es/libro/mi-madre) or In Frida's bath (En el baño de Frida) by Graciela Iturbide, for being also a brief but very intense book (http://www.gracielaiturbide.org/category/el-ban%CC%83o-de-frida/).
About your project The Emigrant Immigrant, there is more scope for action because you chose the strategy of mixing two images. It is a good idea, it gives it a certain cinematographic ambiance, even if I wonder if a multimedia document could be a better option.
In general, similar photographic works about this question always seem to me a bit poor in content because it is assumed that trivial and daily situations (in the bath, waiting for the metro, going up the stairs, working) could be seen as fundamental issues about life's conditions through which the person who emigrates goes through. ¿How to integrate in those images her difficulties, her dreams, the obstacles she finds when she wants to be integrated in a foreign city or her frustrations for being far away from her needing family?
The visual narrative published in the medias always go together with a text. I believe the problem rise when word has no place to be and when the visual narrative is presented without any. In your case, maybe in order to understand well the challenges you want for yourself, it would be best to better define the kind of final supports you are thinking of for your projects and that you give it time to think about it.
¡Good luck with everything you undertake!