Old family photo albums are fascinating. If you're lucky enough to own one, you've probably spent hours poring over half-faded black-and-white portraits of your ancestors, searching for similarities in their facial features and wondering what their lives might have been. Unfortunately, not every family has such easy access to their own history. Photographer Rafael Goldchain's Polish-Jewish ancestors emigrated to South America in the 1930s, and many others perished in Poland during the Nazi regime. Also lost in the turmoil of war and emigration were most of the portraits of his extended family. When Goldchain became a parent himself, he decided to make up for this lack of evidence and recreate the lost generations of the past, in the present.
Rafael Goldchain's I Am My Family is a family album of traditional portrait photographs with an unconventional twist: the only subject is Goldchain himself. In an elaborate process involving genealogical research, the use of makeup, hair styling, costume, and props, Goldchain transforms himself into his ancestors and captures their personifications with the camera. Taking some liberties with historical accuracy, Goldchain has assembled a fascinating cast of characters: from his short-story-writing grandfather, to his great-aunts Pola and Fela, to the Rabbi Gur's nephew in wedding dress, Goldchain reinvents himself over and over again. These beautifully reproduced self-portraits trace the evolution of Jewish culture from tradition to modernity and invite us to engage the history of a family decimated and scattered by the traumatic events of the 20th century. Featuring an insightful essay by curator Martha Langford, the portraits are complemented by a selection of the archival images on which they are based as well as selections from the artist's handwritten sketchbooks.
Born in Santiago, Chile, Rafael Goldchain received an MFA from York University and a BAA from Ryerson Polytechnic Institute. He is currently Program Coordinator of the Applied Photography Program at Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Oakville, Ontario.
Goldchains photographs have been exhibited in Canada, Chile, the United States, Cuba, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Mexico. His work is in private and public collections including France's Biblioteque National, the Canadian Museum for Contemporary Photography, New York's Museum of Modern Art, Houston's Museum of Fine Arts, and San Diego's Museum of Photographic Arts.
Toronto Globe and Mail:
"In the work of Goldchain, on view at O'Born Contemporary, it is historical memory and identity the artist is after - or the absence of it. An migr to Canada from South America, his family was part of the diaspora of Polish Jews who fled Europe on the eve of the Second World War. With the birth of his own son a few years ago, he felt an urgency to recover what had been lost, but found only a handful of family snapshots to work from. Collaborating with a makeup artist and a photography assistant, he began the painstaking work of recreating the family members he knew about, impersonating them in front of the camera. Soon, though, he embarked on a more fanciful tangent, imagining characters based on scraps of recollection or flimsy shreds of documentation.Thus we discover here both his dapper maternal grandfather and the fictive Dona Reizl Goldszajn Rozenfeld, a tousle-haired depressive woman who was inspired by a wig he found at a second-hand store. (Cindy Sherman meets Yousuf Karsh.) The resulting body of work is as much a record of great performance (not to mention superb art direction and costuming) as it is great photography."
— Sarah Milroy
I Am My Family, The Designers Review of Books:
"The book is beautifully designed. Each photograph has room to breath and is poetically described. Goldchain succeeds in making us interested in his family history. More important to the graphic design community is Goldchains total authorship of his personal project. This is not just a book of photos. Goldchain designed this project from his research into each character and his performance and authorship shows that he is entirely in control. When I started to study photography, a friend told that every picture I ever take will be a self-portrait. I took the comment to be a needless distraction but I Am My Family embraces the adage and helps us to imagine ourselves in the faces of our family history. To read the full review on designersreviewofbooks.com click HERE."
— Andrew Shea
Family: A Self-Portrait, The Jewish Daily Forward:
"The photos are stunning. Shot in black and white, they portray people of all ages and both genders, representing family members in Europe and Latin America. The characters displayed span a wide range of family roles, occupations and stages of life. Brief descriptions accompanying many of the photos provide psychological insights that add to the depth of the characterizations that Goldchain achieves."
— Joel Streicker
"Goldchain inhabits his creations so absolutly, any imperfections seem more ot reflect their character than any failure of process."
— Richard Holden
A picture and a thousand words, The Toronto Star :
"Due to the horrors of World War II, most notably the Shoah, locating adequate source material about the various branches of his family tree, be that photographs or even basic genealogical information, was often difficult. (As Goldchain writes in his artist statement, "I use the word Shoah here because the more common term Holocaust has been adopted to designate other catastrophes such as the Armenian genocide, and in the process has been emptied of its original Jewish specificity.")Goldchain is able to recreate the wistful regret and reproach of his late grandfather. Through the eyes of the artist, a new window opens into the soul of the dearly departed."
— Ryan Bigge
The Morning News:
"Say your family isnt very good about keeping photo albumswhy not create your own? Rafael Goldchains new book, I Am My Family features the artist transforming himself into his ancestors to understand them better. As his press materials state, Photographer Rafael Goldchains Polish-Jewish ancestors emigrated to South America in the 1930s, and many others perished in Poland during the Nazi regime. Also lost in the turmoil of war and emigration were most of the portraits of his extended family. When Goldchain became a parent himself, he decided to make up for this lack of evidence and recreate the lost gene-rations of the past, in the present."
— Rosecrans Baldwin
The Coffee Table, LA Weekly:
"Rafael Goldchain explores a century of Polish-Jewish ancestry by photographing himself in character as members of his extended family, a kind of Cindy Sherman approach to replacing photo albums lost in the turmoil and murder of World War II. "
— Steve Appleford
Portaits of Myself , The Jerusalem Report :
"Every picture in this book is of the photographer himself, taken at his or other Toronto studios between 1999 and 2007. He posed as every member of his family, male and female, working from original photographs, made-up and garbed exactly as each one had been snapped originally.Goldchain is no eccentric amateur: He is the professor and program coordinator of the Applied Photography program at the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Oakville, Ontario. His works have been exhibited in The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Winnipeg Art Gallery."
— Estaban Alterman