Daniella Zalcman’s photo of Elwood Friday, who attended St. Phillips Indian Residential School.
An American photo project that captures images of Saskatchewan’s residential school survivors is getting new life.
The “Signs of Your Identity” project, by Daniella Zalcman, has won a grant through the website viewfind.com. Not only has she received $5,000, the website has given a new platform for her photo essay.
On Thursday, that same project was featured by National Geographic on its Proof: Picture Stories page online. Along with publishing the photos, National Geographic also features journal entries from Zalcman about the experience.
“This is by far the most difficult story I’ve ever worked on,” Zalcman wrote, as she recounted her time in Regina’s All Nations Hope. That’s where she photographed and spoke with a woman names Janet, who had been repeatedly molested by a priest at Marieval Residential School.
It’s been a few months since Zalcman unveiled the photos she took while in Saskatchewan. She had spent time with people like Jamie Rockthunder and Marcel Ellery, talking about the intergenerational trauma caused by the residential school system.
Zalcman’s unconventional photo essay involves double-exposure of images. The final product is multiple layers of historic images and the residential school survivors.
The combination of photos with images of church texts and shattered glass, among other things, evoked an emotional response from the selection committee for the grant.
Zalcman’s methods impressed Mike Davis, an advisor for viewfind who is also Syracuse University’s Alexia Chair for Documentary Photography.
“That’s the goal is just reaching deeper, trying to express things in ways you’ve never been able to say before,” he said.
Davis said Zalcman found a unique way to inform people about the damage done by residential schools.
“Certainly you can read stuff but it seems like increasingly 1) people are less willing to ready lengthy things and 2) the visual acumen of the population is growing,” he said, adding that photography is reaching an audience in a way that is powerful, engaging, and informative.
In an industry that’s driven to document the present, the historical subject matter for “Signs of Your Identity” required stepping outside of the norm, Davis said.
“In some sense (it) has greater value for pushing the boundaries a bit.”
The image-centric viewfind.com highlights unique methods of documenting the world around us.
Both viewfind and National Geographic online have given people a new way to learn about residential schools.