Atheist at the Machine, 2018

11x16 in archival pigment print

The oldest photographic record in my family is of my paternal great great grandfather Yosef Wolfson. Not much is known about Yosef except that he lived inside the Pale of Settlement in the late 19th century Imperial Russia. Most Jews were not allowed to live or travel outside this perimeter nor receive a higher education under the tsar. Inside these ghettos they kept their ways of life observing the holidays, speaking Yiddish, reading from the Torah.

 

By the time I was born any trace of Yosef's village had long been gone, erased by tumultuous events of the Revolution and wars, followed by decades of government sponsored anti-religious propaganda. My parents grew up in a truly godless state. And then it too had collapsed. People were left spiritually starved in the post-Soviet fast changing political climate of the 90s. When I turned five, my mother christened my sister and I in a Russian Orthodox church. When I asked her recently why she did it, her answer was simple: “Everyone was doing it.” Religion was back in style and I received a tiny silver cross to wear around my neck.