This work portrays the dispersal of a single family, originally from Klaipeda County in western Lithuania, throughout the world. With medium format color film, I am telling this story of diaspora with landscapes, portraits and still life details. Taken together, the photographs represent my search to understand and represent both my identity and the journey taken by this family over the past 120 years. With photographs, interviews, archival material, and text written by cultural anthropologist, Roy Richard Grinker, this very intimate, yet ultimately universal work, will reflect many of the key aspects of diaspora as experienced by many families of differing origins and histories: the complex relationship between immigrants and their homelands, religious change, and multiculturalism.
Where one grows up is like a lottery. As a young student surrounded by other kids from the same cookie cutter suburb on Long Island, I wondered how cultural, national and local identity shapes who we are, and if our environment compelled us to become— to be — a certain way.
In 2002, I had the opportunity to travel from Moscow to Lithuania and spend a few days in the villages where my ancestors once lived. Afterwards, I began to retrace in earnest the origins and subsequent movements of my family. I began to imagine the "what ifs," both as a photographer (a kind of outsider) and as a Grinker. What if my great-grandfather had stayed there? What if he had found his way to Ukraine, or South Africa or Palestine? Who would I be now?
Text by Anthropologist, Roy Richard Grinker, Lori's collaborator on Dear Grinkers.
Grinkiskis, Skuodas district, Lithuania
Hula Valley, Israel
Village of Ylakiai, Skuodas district, Lithuania
Outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine
Hula Valley, Israel
Hula Valley, Israel
KwaZulu-Natal MPL, Anthony Grinker and his wife Hildah Grinker, Pietermartizburg, South Africa
Daniel Grinker (front center), East London, South Africa
Adam Grinker, Ramat HaSharon, Israel
Richard Duke , Mark Simpson, Lindy Grinker Simpson, New Delhi, India
Jenny Grinker-Masurkow and her father, Berlin, Germnay
Noa Grinker, Batzra, Israel
N4 National Route, near Kruger National Park, South Africa
the little freedom church
This short documentary film about Saint James AME Zion Church, located in Beacon, NY, was made for the Black Heritage Network (BHN).
In 1796 the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was formed in New York City. Today the A.M.E. Zion arise from 3,000 churches stretched across five continents with more than 1.5 million members in the U.S.A.
six days from forty
Not, Dear Marc.
This is not a letter.
It’s more of a conversation.
A conversation I want to have.
And others. Welcome to this conversation.
I found my journal. The one where I wrote down our last conversations. Then I went through your books—there were phrases highlighted. Books with your name written in the front. Some had your name embossed. One was spelled Mark. The whole Marc/Mark thing was the trigger for this. In a way.
I had misspelled your name. I began to forget.
Now I want to continue to work with words.
Words as visual elements.
Words as sound.
Words as video
Words as video. My life today. Documents. The archive.
Photographs of your things. Video of my life. Then they came together.
I began to address both the punctum and the studium by using this archive. This archive of things, my things, your things, Audrey and Charlie’s things. But all the stuff that represents you. It’s an archive of feelings, emotions. And the larger discourse that the archive represents: queer identity, bi-sexuality, AIDS, illness, empathy, love. This is how it all came together.
Making Up Dreams was an experimental documentary-type film. My first. It had images that spoke to the essence of my life. My life with and without you. Your presence at the cemetery or in a box or a book, and on a hi8 film where Charlie and I interviewed you a month before you died.
Your presence was felt here as I sat at my dining room table and watched the light come in, and move over the table, across the walls. This light. Its movement. The passage of time and the place I came back to. A new house in Queens. We started our lives in Queens in a small one-bedroom apartment in Kew Gardens Village. Charlie recalled the address. They had you in the dining room and I guess I was in their bedroom at first. A nurse came to help Audrey and Charlie with us. We stayed there for my first six months and then moved to the suburbs where we had a backyard, our own bedrooms and lots of friends our age to play with.
I look out the window and see the trees, the warm light. The moon. A plane flying over. There’s a bunch of young children, siblings, friends on this block who play together. They are sharing our memories. Noise of ball playing from the playground a house away. I hear the same noise I had in my bedroom growing up. My window looked out at the backyard with the basketball hoop. We were happy there. Mostly. I’m happy here. There’s a big sky and birds singing and we are 15 minutes from Manhattan. I wish you could visit. Well, in the flesh. Your presence is felt.
"Lori Grinker’s quiet, poignant, grim vision of war is a document of the ineradicable scars left on combatants all over the world. War finds ingenious ways to inflict damage. Grinker finds ingenious ways to depict it."
- Vicki Goldberg photography critic for The New York Times, and author of The Power of Photography: How Photographs Changed our Lives (Abbeville).
"I am enormously moved and impressed by Lori Grinker’s work. It parallels closely much that I have written about, and conveys powerfully the principle of what I call a “species mentality,” an outlook and sense of self bound up with a strong awareness of being part of humankind."
- Robert Jay Lifton visiting professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (University of North Carolina Press).
"This project makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the high cost of war and the men, women, and children who suffer in it. Afterwar is one of the most compelling visual projects that I have seen on the subject of war and peace."
- Bill Moyers broadcast journalist and former press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson.
"Lori Grinker reveals to us the wars that never end. Her photographs bare visions of both sympathy and condemnation. They bring war home from the battlefield and give it a human face."
- James Nachtwey war photographer and author of Inferno (Phaidon).
"You quickly realize – both from her photos and from observing how she works – that her level of involvement is out of the ordinary. In short, Lori Grinker is one of those special journalists who merits our attention and our support"
- Sydney Schanberg Pulitzer-prize winning journalist whose work on the Cambodian genocide inspired the film, The Killing Fields.
"The span and scope of war, of some of the recent sufferings that human beings have inflicted on one another; it is valuable to be reminded of this, as we are by these lucid, irrefutable pictures."
- Susan Sontag essayist and author
"Grinker's camera uses the human body as the narrative device to tell of the horrors of war. We are asked to look at something which we for the most part see from a distance, which we hear about, but never have to confront. We are asked to look at our own humanity, and its inherent contradictions."
- Deborah Willis Chair and Professor of photography at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Artist, Author and Curator
Review by Debora Kuan Art in America, June-July 2008
Lori Grinker at Nailya Alexander
"At least in Iraq you die only once," an Iraqi refugee, "Zahar," one of the subjects of photographer Lori Grinker's recent exhibition "Iraq: Scars and Exiles," said about seeking refuge in Amman, Jordan, after the U.S.'s "freedom" mission. Like all these urban exiles, she is afraid to reveal her real name. To date, there are approximately 750,000 such Iraqis in Jordan, 1.5 million in Syria and 1.5 million in Iraq's Kurdish region. Regarded as enemies by their neighbors and living without work, schools or money, they are little better off now than before leaving their homes. "Among them are people who helped the U.S. with their mission, and many were happy to receive the U.S. forces in 2003," Grinker said in an interview. "I want the world, especially Americans, to know that we've abandoned them."
These color photographs (2007)--for the most part modestly sized at 12 by 18 or 19 1/2 by 25 inches, with the exception of Clothes Drying in Window, which is 33 by 42 inches--offer up harrowing proof of that betrayal. One image depicts the wounded arriving on a bus from Iraq on their way to receive care from Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders). Another captures 16-year-old "Omer" post-surgery, wheeled out on a hospital bed, his arm and shoulder entirely scarred by burns, one of his eyelids cracked open to reveal its white. He appears dead; only the caption in the checklist allowed us to believe otherwise.
Grinker's most haunting images, however, are her interiors, which eschew the more predictable sensationalism of war and its traumas to provide intimate glimpses into the mundane dailiness of brute survival. Untitled, Living-sleeping Room depicts a chamber with couches and armchairs pushed against the walls and every inch of the floor covered by rumpled bedding, pillows and cushions. From a star-shaped ceiling lamp a few deflated pastel-colored balloons hang limply. The caption informs us that this is where the male members of one family sleep. In another image, "Muna," 37, whose husband was killed in Baghdad in front of their children, sits on a bed in the room she shares with the rest of her family. Behind her, in the shadows, a garish Bugs Bunny doll can be seen smiling on a nightstand; its kitsch poshlust acquires a subtext of audacity and humiliation when one considers the source of Muna and her compatriots' "liberation." Another image, The Mystery of Natalie Wood, which includes a television showing Peter Bogdanovich's 2004 biopic in a seemingly uninhabited room, operates in a similar vein, but here, Hollywood and Western cultural hegemony feel not so much offensive as eerie and achingly hollow.
When I was a student at Parsons School of Design I decided to do a project about young boxers who lived and trained with Cus D’Amato, the legendary boxing trainer. On weekends during the semester I stayed with Cus and his protégés. My main focus was on Billy Hamm, a nine-year old boy, and a young woman, Nadia Hujtyn, who worked out at the gym in hopes of becoming a boxer. But there was also a big kid named Mike Tyson. Cus, and boxing manager Jim Jacobs, told me that Mike would be the next world heavyweight champion. I was most interested in Nadia, but people weren’t ready for female boxers back then. My story on Billy Hamm ran in Inside Sports Magazine. I continued to photograph Cus’ trainees, including Mike. I traveled to Las Vegas, Miami, Atlantic City. I began working for Sports Illustrated. I photographed Roberto Duran and Wilfredo Benitez. I spent time with Muhammad Ali. I worked for Don King and Al Sharpton. I did stories with Joyce Carol Oates, became a friend of Jack Newfield. I was in my mid 20s and the world of boxing was an exotic land.
I was interested in who these fighters were, and how their lives led them to this path. Where did they come from, what did boxing give them? Most were poor, or, like Mike, came from juvenile detention centers or prison. What drew me to the sport was the discipline it requires of body and mind, but I also saw grace and compassion. Later I witnessed what happens when a 21-year-old becomes a superstar, a sports superstar, the celebrities’ celebrity. Ultimately, my interest lay in a story larger than boxing or an individual athlete.
Stay tuned for the book to be published by Powerhouse Books
the invisible thread
Interest in my Jewish (Russian-Lithuanian) heritage was sparked, after spending time in the former Soviet Union. There, I ate foods that my grandmother had always cooked, and as I traveled around I imagined what life must have been like for my grandparents and how their lives changed after coming to America. For the next five years I crisscrossed the United States in search of the connecting fabric of contemporary Jewish American life. Working with writer Diana Bletter, I discovered the complex tapestry woven by Jewish women; sixty women, of all ages and backgrounds, shed light on the multifaceted reality of being Jewish in the late 20th century. These compelling individuals regard themselves, their heritage, other Jews, and the society in which they live; their comments and conditions are both exalted and humble. Wealthy or on welfare, orthodox or ambivalent, white collar or blue, state governor or prison inmate, each woman shared herself with me as part of this revelatory, collective portrait.
The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989, followed by six editions). An exhibition of photographs from the book traveled from 1989-1993 throughout the United States, and selected works appeared in group exhibitions in Israel and The Netherlands.
Gregg Mozgala, a young actor with Cerebral Palsy, had been working for about a year with choreographer Tamar Rogoff when I met him. Since he started to walk (at age 2), Gregg’s heels had never touched the ground. Before he began to work with Tamar, his lurching gait sometimes caused him to fall, he spilled his coffee, and his dragging shoes quickly wore out in the toe. In December 2009, he made his debut as a professional dancer in Tamar’s piece, Diagnosis of a Faun. In June 2010, he performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.
In 2012 Gregg formed a theatre company, The Apothetae. The descriptoin below is from his website: http://www.theapothetae.org/about.html
“One of the reasons I started this company is to continue the work that John was dedicated to achieving in his work. In homage to him I am naming the company, The Apothetae. The term literally translates to, "the place of exposure," and one of my company's primary goals is the creation of new full-length plays that will make visible the Disabled Experience, both personal and collective, throughout history.
I believe in the transformative power of theatre. Through the collaborative experience of the artistic process I believe the "Disabled Experience" can be more sincerely and accurately reflected on stage, that new communities can be forged, perceptions changed and barriers to understanding and empathy can be shattered." - Gregg Mozgala
As Gregg’s theatre company develops, our collaborative work will continue to expand.
Hart Viges, Mark Wilkerson and Jessica Goodell all volunteered for the military. They all chose to go to war, and they have all suffered from PTSD. But none of them fully recognized it until after they were home.
The war’s smells and sounds, and the reflexes they developed to survive in Iraq stayed with them in their home life.
People experience trauma in different ways, and in some cases their backgrounds can come into play. Viges hailed from a family of veterans who valued military service. Wilkerson, also from a military family, was deeply affected as a young child by seeing his mother being beaten. Goodell believed “real” Marines were the ones who experienced combat.
This multimedia essay is only part of their story. I first interviewed Wilkerson and Viges in 2007 and then revisited with them this fall, and I met Goodell in October.
Some updates on their lives: Viges, on disability for PTSD, is studying massage therapy with help from the GI Bill. He plans to move to Jamaica and work as a masseur upon graduation. Wilkerson went to college and currently teaches in a private school in Taiwan. Goodell wrote a memoir, “Shade It Black”, about her service in Iraq. She is studying for a doctorate in psychology and is interning with the local Veterans Administration, where she plans to counsel people with PTSD.
A recent Defense Department study shows the suicide rate in the military hit a record high in 2012 as 349 service members in all four branches took their lives. The military has launched several programs to target the problem including setting up a crisis line: 1-800-273-8255 for active-duty members and their families to call if they see mental-health issues developing.
Firefighters Raise the Flag: On the morning of September 11, 2001, I left my apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. On my way to the subway, I saw the Trade Center towers on fire rising over the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. I ran back to get my camera gear and began photographing. I made my way to the Williamsburg Bridge, and walked to the site of the attack. Later in the afternoon I was photographing bodies being brought out of the rubble when I noticed three firefighters walk from a sailboat with a flag. I ran back inside and up to the second floor of Two World Financial Center. Leaning on the edge of a bombed out window I photographed as the three firefighters proceeded to raise the American flag over the smoldering ruins.
Lori Grinker's photographs published in this issue were all taken on September 11, 2001. Aesthetically they are not what we recognize as "news photographs," but images that in the powerful silence of the small rectangle remind us of what happened at the World Trade Center in New York City that beautiful sunny Tuesday morning. They need no captions. The images mirror fleeting moments and discrete details, sometimes almost mundane, that cry out the magnitude of the devastation that has changed the world forever. Lori Grinker's pictures raise questions and express the mood of a nation shocked in the depth of its soul. Together the photographs form—as they accompany the texts—a chain of instant personal impressions that narrates in a quiet and subdued fashion that day's horror. They become precious tools that allow us to highlight some of the complex psychological and cultural ramifications that few, if any, could have foreseen.
Robert Pledge President and Editorial Director, Contact Press Images