Vardi Kahana | One Family
Vardi Kahana’s iconic photographic series One Family (1992-2007), was first presented at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2007 as a one-person exhibition, and since then has been the subject of major museum shows around the world. A curated selection of 21 images from the series was collated into a printed portfolio, with signature and edition numbers in a clamshell box including a colophon and an essay by Meir Shalev. This portfolio is part of the collections of several institutions and museums worldwide.
A poignant and timely body of work, One Family depicts the various strands of Kahana’s family and their geographical and ideological dispersal. An incisive documentation of the artist’s own kin, this photographic series is also an astute reflection of Israeli society, and more broadly of Jewish genealogy and identity in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The point of inception for this deeply personal project is a single photograph depicting Kahana’s mother and her two sisters as mature adults (Three Sisters, Tel Aviv, 1992). Here, the three women are seated frontally, embracing, their gaze directed back towards the camera. However, the seemingly innocent family portrait enshrouds a sinister yet triumphant past; as teenagers, the three women were sent together to Auschwitz — evidenced in the photo by the consecutive identification numbers tattooed on their forearms. Together the three girls survived the horror of the camp, and together they moved to Israel to start their lives anew as young women. These women are the roots from which Kahana’s family emerged, developed and grew, its various branches scattered around the globe and the political map.
As a body of work, One Family chronicles the evolution of Kahana’s own tribe— from three young women to a large and diverse clan. It documents how the tight-knit unit of three sisters evolved into an extensive family torn asunder, its different strands ranging from ultra-orthodox to converts to Christianity, from fervent right wing believers to radical leftists, from Kibbutz dwellers to West Bank settlers, with several members refusing to talk to one another because of their religious or political beliefs.
Shot in traditional portraiture style, in black and white, the direct and uncompromising nature of the photographs accentuates the distinctions within the family; the variety of lifestyles, opinions and beliefs present within this one clan. Devoid of voyeurism, hierarchy or criticism, Vardi Kahana’s family album is an intimate account of her kin, and the rifts and chasms caused by ideology, religion and politics.
Inasmuch as it is a personal history, this affecting body of work is a reflection of the Israeli collective; a physical and psychological embodiment of a national narrative. It is, in the words of writer Meir Shalev a “family album [that] serves as an additional map of the annals of a land with more maps than any other.” This is the story of one family, but ultimately it is the story of us all.
Vardi Kahana is Israel's foremost portrait photographer; she is best known for shooting the iconic images of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and many well known figures. She has been a staff photographer at some of Israel’s leading publications including Haaretz, Yedioth Ahronot, Monitin Monthly and Hadashot. Kahana’s One Family has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions around the world including at Princeton University, NJ; the Cummer Museum, Jacksonville, FL; Paul Lebe House, Bunestag, Berlin; Sinti and Roma Museum, Heidelberg; Amsterdam Public Library, Amsterdam; Arts Depot, London; Musée Juif de Belgique, Brussels; the Fotomuseum, Antwerp; the Akademie Der Kunste, Berlin; Centro per L'arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato, Italy; and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art among many others.