Susan Marie White

Strands

In a large envelope, shoved tightly into the mailbox of my New York City apartment building, were the immigration records of my late grandmother. The photocopied paperwork included a list of all known displaced-persons camps she resided in Germany after WWII, as well as the oldest known photograph of her, completely obscured to black, the shape of her hair deeply familiar. Over a decade later I’d visit her homeland of Poland with little information about her past. I’d visit Auschwitz on a Monday, having witnessed a fatal car accident along the way. And I’d stand in a room facing a large glass enclosure that was once filled with the hair of the victims at the death camp, only a fraction of which remained.

In the years since seeing my grandmother’s picture and having my experiences in Poland, I’ve come to study my own children relentlessly. I try to memorize their ever-changing shapes, the scent of their hair, the hum of their voices. These thread-like locks that emerge from their scalps have captivated me since their births. For my series Strands, I bedim their faces on scanned Polaroids with ashes burned from clippings of their hair. Then I repeatedly photocopy each of their images until they are almost indistinguishable from each other. Do I still know them? Am I still able to tell them apart? What persists?


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