Rafael Goldchain, Self Portrait as Doña Balbina Baumfield Szpiegel de Rubinstein; b. Ostrowiec, Poland / d. Santiago de Chile, 1964, 1999, C-print.

Rafael Goldchain, “Self Portrait as Doña Balbina Baumfield Szpiegel de Rubinstein”; b. Ostrowiec, Poland / d. Santiago de Chile, 1964, 1999, C-print.

Rafael Goldchain

Familial Ground is an autobiographical series that explores my connection and fascination with the meaning and effect of ancestral history. In the series I pose as my ancestors [from found photographs] and then further digitally alter my images to suggest that we look at family photographs in order to recognize ourselves.

After my son was born, I realized that, as a parent, I needed to teach my son about his familial and cultural roots. As I attempted to recall and articulate our lineage, I realized that I knew more about the general cultural trends of my ancestry than I did about specific individuals and their private lives. Having both South American and Jewish relatives, stories of individuals are often lost, awash in the mass cultural history of hardship and struggle. Knowledge of the individual lives of my grandparents and their families only exists in pieces, deeply buried within the memories of elderly relatives. Thus, it became important for me in this project, to not only retrieve basic historical facts such as family names, dates, and genealogical relations, but to also attempt to know the world of my ancestors as a basic foundation of an identity that I could pass on to my son.  

This work explores the relations within family portraiture, mourning, remembrance, history, memory, justice, and inheritance. Just as I am the carrier of memories and fragments of my ancestral history, the self-portraits in Familial Ground visually articulate a process of identity representation. These images are the result of a reconstructive process that acknowledges its own limitations – the construction of an image of the past unavoidably involves a mixture of fragmented memory, artifice, and invention – and this mixture necessarily evolves as it is transmitted from generation to generation.

Born in Santiago, Chile, Rafael Goldchain (Toronto, Canada) earned his MFA in Canadafrom York University. His work has been exhibited in Canada, the US, Italy, Germany, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Czech Republic, at venues including Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto, the Canadian Museum for Contemporary Photography in Ottawa, O.K. Harris in Birmingham, the Photographic Resource Center in Boston, and the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. His monograph,Nostalgia for an Unknown Land, was published in 1989. Rafael was a 1991 artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts and has received eleven Ontario Arts Council grants and five Canada Council Artists’ grants. His work is in collections at the Biblioteque National, Museum of Fine Arts Houston,Museum of Photographic Arts San Diego, and NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. He teaches at the Sheridan Institute of Technology and YorkUniversity.