American photographer Lori Grinker‘s new project “Distant Relations” traces the diaspora–in 8 countries–created by the (largely forced) migration of her 19th century ancestors from Lithuania. Grinkers, most who don’t know of each other, ended up in places as far afield as the UK, US, Ukraine, Australia, Argentina, Germany, and of course, South Africa. A first cut of the project–from photos taken in Lithuania (2002), South Africa (2005), Ukraine (2008), and the US (2011)–can be seen at a gallery in New York City since early September. Here. As her cousin Roy Richard Grinke (an anthropologist) writes in an essay accompanying the exhibit, Lori’s aim with the project, he writes, is is to focus,
more on particular environments than people and practices. Paradoxically, however, the photographs, many without people or faces, challenge us to imagine. Who are the people who made these worlds? And how does someone experience a life through them? There is, in these captivating images, what might be called either a present absence or an absent presence. We are compelled to look beyond the shreds and patches that comprise our memories, like letters and photographs, to the unseen. These images, and the people and places they represent, are fragmentary, perhaps like the Jews themselves, but they cohere around their incompleteness and instability, characteristics that are the essence of diaspora.
As for her South African relatives, she tells The New York Times’ Lens Blog:
In South Africa, she met Anthony Grinker, who had been a politician. He was married to Hilda Grinker, a black woman whose family had been politically active in the anti-Apartheid movement. Mr. Grinker, who contracted H.I.V. as a single man, was the first person in South Africa’s parliament to go public about having H.I.V. The couple had been trying to have a baby when he died tragically in a car crash.
There’s an image of Anthony Grinker and his wife in a slideshow on the Lens Blog page. (He was an IFP MP in Cape Town and later a provincial MP before he briefly joined an IFP splinter group before his death.) I have vague memories of meeting through my old job. Friendly, descent man.
There’s also some video evidence of the South African Grinkers in this short video (the 5 minute mark). Here are some more images of the life worlds of the South African Grinkers (a rugby field, the coast, a synagogue).