For several years now, Paris-based photographer, Isabelle Rozenbaum, has been exploring her family’s personal history in connection with the death camps. She lost many of her ancestors, and has been grappling with that horrible fact, and trying to come to terms with it through photography.
She often had nightmares, dreaming about bones and bodies and blood and more bones. So, she had an impulse several years ago to photograph her face as she slept through the night, using a pinhole camera and an all-night-long exposure. If she tossed and turned, the photo would be worthless; if she moved very little, the resulting image would be remarkable. She made a deliberate effort to put herself “into the camera”. She tried this experiment off and on for almost three years, with ultimately great success and surprisingly different results each time.
The range of emotions she captured in her night-long composite self-portraits encouraged her to deepen her exploration, and to try to bring some of the images of her nightmares into consciousness through her skills as a photographer. This again prompted quite a bit of trial and error, ultimately resulting in a collection of 51 photographs which are printed as small, intimate square photos, and stacked in a box like a deck of cards.
It is an amazing experience to open this stack of photos at random, and then to look at one card and then another. The dream-like connections that arise, as you go from one to the next, are simultaneously bizarre and understandable, horrifying and amusing. Certain images stick with you, others surprise you after you have looked at them for a second or third time. They are not simple images — they are rich, multi-layered, disturbing, and definitely dreamlike.
The small format is seductively intimate, requiring that the viewer be alone (as with a book), but in this case, holding each photograph, one at a time, and engaging with each on a very personal level. The entire collection can leave you mute, stunned, and quietly reflective for a long time after "speaking" with them, one on one.
The series of photos is at once an attempt at exorcism, and a celebration of the workings of an inquisitive human mind in sleep and wakefulness.
Based on the enthusiastic response this work generated, she was then encouraged to further evolve the results of her personal inquiry into a 3-screen projection video/sound installation piece, which premiered in Paris earlier this Spring.
We are pleased to present here the 51 original still images.
— Jim Casper