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In this book, Kurgan begins with a family snapshot made by her Polish grandfather in 1939 on the eve of the war. Presenting this evocative image as a repository of multiple histories—public, private, domestic, familial and generational—she sets off on a series of meditations on photography that give us startling insights into how photographs work: what they conceal, how they mislead, what provocations they contain.
Each essay takes up the thread of the story of her family’s epic journey across Europe as they flee—country by country—Nazi occupation, until they reach Cape Town, South Africa. But Kurgan takes detours, circles back, diverts attention elsewhere, enriching and also disrupting the narrative with digressions on the way Google has changed our relationship to photography, on her grand-father’s eloquent daily journals, on the shipboard flirtations of her fascinating grandmother, on vanity, on self representation, on loss and return, home and exile. Kurgan’s richly satisfying essays are part memoir, part travelogue, part analysis and they demonstrate her sophisticated understanding of a medium that has long engaged her as an artist.
Kurgan has achieved something rare in this book: a truly dynamic fusion of text and image. She brings a deep knowledge of craft to everyday images, whether she’s teasing fugitive meanings from a creased pre-war snapshot or taking the pulse of an apparently impersonal digital image. The result is both a moving family memoir and an illuminating reflection on photography and memory.
Ivan Vladislavić, author of Portrait with Keys and Double Negative
On the basis of a detailed war-time diary and a collection of family photos left by her grandfather, Terry Kurgan builds a gripping family memoir/detective story that takes us from Poland through Romania, Turkey and India to South Africa. Balancing her account of this global Jewish refugee journey with illuminating microscopic readings of seemingly ordinary images, Kurgan invites us into the intimacies of family in conditions of extremity, even as she zooms out again to explore the revelatory power and the frustrating limits of photographs in our search for the textures of past lives.
Marianne Hirsch, author of The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust
Terry Kurgan is an artist and writer based in Johannesburg. Her work frequently explores the medium of photography. She has exhibited and published widely in South Africa and internationally, and received numerous grants and awards, including the FNB Vita Art prize and the inaugural Mbokoda Photography award. Her previous Books are Johannesburg Circa Now (co-edited with Jo Ractliffe) and Hotel Yeoville. Everyone is Present is her first work of creative non-fiction.
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