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Emily Schiffer

Graduate
My great-grandparents left Guardiagrele, Italy for the United States in 1909, and a powerful longing for that town—and for Italy in general—has been passed down through the generations. I am interested in my family’s nostalgia for a place it has not experienced. This series, stills which accompany my first experimental film, investigates the concept of constructed memory and explores the impossibility of knowing what my life would look like if my family hadn’t emigrated. Ideas of belonging, identity, fantasy, and memory guided my work.

My mother’s family is Italian-American, and my Father’s ancestors are Ukrainian and Austrian Jews. The fact that I can never actually be solely Italian or from Guardiagrele is part of what makes this fantasy intriguing to me. I find the act of imagining a clear cut identity—one that would eliminate the layers of my American whiteness, Jewishness, and Italian-Americanness—both unappealing and compelling. This tension between my conflicting desires to simplify and complicate my identity led to a fragmented, illogical, and imaginative way of working that is quite different from my usual documentary photographic practice. In this work I explore the origins of these opposing urges, and examine their push and pull.