What would you do if you had 24 hours to leave your home, what would you take, who would you go with, how would you leave and would you, in effect go?’
The year in which photographer Jillian Edelstein turned 40 she came across an image of her great aunt Minna, of whose existence she had been unaware. The photograph of Minna became the catalyst for a journey to unearth her family history and the discovery of an unknown branch of her family living in Ukraine. Here and There documents Edelstein’s family odyssey and expands to encompass photographs made throughout her career, inextricably linked by the thread of human displacement.
In 2002, the same year that Edelstein had discovered Minna's photograph, she was commissioned to photograph the South African Sangoma shamans, whose rituals employ the intermediary healing powers of their ancestors. A shaman told Edelstein that her own ancestors were in conflict, fuelling her growing determination to untangle her family's hidden history. Thus Edelstein began a journey that took her from her home in London to the heartland of the Ukraine, and to her grandfather’s birthplace in Latvia. In turn the journey led her to the shores of Lesvos, the West Bank, the Jungle in Calais, to the boat graveyard on the island of Lampedusa. In Here and There, Edelstein refracts images and stories of displaced people through the lens of her family’s own mystery—reaching the refugee history we all have in common, whether its details are known or not.
‘And that’s the theme that runs through my family. A veritable diaspora. South Africa, Israel, Canada, Colombia, United States, Australia, Italy, Mallorca, Ukraine. How many continents can one family possibly inhabit? … I wonder how I would feel if, from the age of my late teens, I never got to see or hear of my siblings ever again.’
Edelstein’s grandfather, two brothers and their sister Minna had grown up in Sassmacken, Latvia, were separated as teenagers and never saw each other again. Minna’s life was a series of escapes from Germans in World War I, the Red Army in the Russian Revolution and during World War II from Ukraine to Uzbekistan where she died, the same year that Edelstein was born.