AJW Staff Report
In the introduction to From Selfie to Groupie, by Jeff Bliumis and Alina Bliumis, who are also husband and wife, David Shneer quotes the co-authors: “In the early morning, on a sunny July 7, 2007, we asked beachgoers (52 in total) to define their identity.”
This first phase of the project took place in Brooklyn’s predominantly Jewish and Russian-speaking Brighton Beach.
“Each participant could pose for a photograph with any of three signs (with the words Russian, Jewish and American) or come up with their own self-definition by creating a unique sign. Confronted by a radically different reality, these new Americans are bound together by pursuing their American dreams and searching for new identities reflective of their new lives. How does one retain cultural roots while creating a new identity?”
In the beach photos, at the front of the attractive, large-format book, the portrait subjects mainly pose by various combinations of the three signs.
And a man identified as Leonid holds his own sign, which reads “COSMOPOLITAN.” He explains: “In the Soviet Union, a ‘rootless cosmopolitan’ was someone who lacks patriotism and betrays his birthplace. They were wrong; a cosmopolitan is someone who believes that all people are equal, no matter where they come from.”
Alina Bliumis will discuss the project and the book From Selfie to Groupie March 20 at the St. Paul JCC. The event is part of the Twin Cities Jewish Book Series, and is presented in partnership with Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council as part of the Rimon Artist Salon series.
University of Minnesota professor Leslie Morris will moderate a discussion with Bliumis.
Beyond the photo shoot at Brighton Beach, the Bliumises spent seven years traveling to Russian-Jewish immigrant communities around the United States, including a stop in St. Paul. They photographed 1,922 people standing proudly with the words they use to describe themselves. For example, Rhoda and Don Mains, of Mendota Heights, posed in front of a placard reading, “100 years ago Grandparents came from Russia.” Text below the photo explains that even though they were both born and raised in the U.S., “our roots go back to Russia, like others in the room who came here more recently. Our parents and grandparents were also immigrants. We are truly one.”
The portraits include Jews (and at least one non-Jew whose wife is Jewish) of all shapes, ages and backgrounds. Joe and Hadassah Lieberman make an appearance on page 186.
In his introduction, Shneer also sketches some of the co-authors’ backgrounds. Jeff Bliumis was born in 1958, in Kishinev, and settled in New York, in 1974, “putting him firmly in the early wave that made Brighton Beach into Little Odessa. Born in 1972 in Minsk, another provincial, Russian-speaking capital of the former Soviet Union, Alina has been in New York since 1994. Both received higher education in the United States and use this project to reflect on their own sense of identity wrestling.”
From Selfie to Groupie also includes several essays on themes related to self-identity, and a “visual survey” that categorizes the collection of “photographs that capture a moment of identity in formation and in flux.”
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