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Photographer Gillian Laub exposes her family ties and turmoil in the Trump era

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NEW YORK — In January 2017, photographer Gillian Laub and her parents found themselves on opposing battle lines in Washington, DC. Laub, an acclaimed photojournalist, was covering the Women’s March, while her parents were attending former US president Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Their relationship already frayed by politics, Laub and her parents watched TV and napped together in her parents’ hotel room at the Watergate. Laub then photographed her elegantly dressed parents in the hotel lobby while they sat on plush red furniture surrounded by a display of golden bottles. Feminist activists nearby sneered.

In that moment, the chasms in her family felt “maybe too wide to bridge,” Laub writes in “Family Matters,” her new book that was released in tandem with a similarly named exhibition at the International Center of Photography in New York City, which runs through January 10, 2022.

The project is a deeply personal portrayal of her family over 20 years, delving into its simmering tensions that boiled over during the Trump era along with the overriding ties that held it together.

Laub is a veteran photojournalist whose first book, “Testimony,” explored the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with portraits of its victims. Her next major work, “Southern Rites,” focused on racism in a Georgia town and became an acclaimed HBO documentary.

“Family Matters” traces her family story, from her perspective, in four broad acts, presented in roughly chronological order. It is a story of American Jews and the American dream, touching on issues of wealth, class, race, gender and antisemitism, with Thanksgiving and Jewish traditions both recurring motifs.

“Although this is the most personal work I have ever made and it’s very specific to my family, my hope was that it would tell a larger story that people would connect to,” Laub told The Times of Israel.

The story begins with an anecdote that frames Laub’s discomfort with her family’s displays of wealth as she entered adulthood. In 1999, a classmate mocked a group of passersby as “vulgar women in their fancy fur coats.” Laub agreed, before realizing the vulgar women were her mom, grandmother and aunt, who mobbed her with affection.

“I wanted to grab my classmate’s hand and plead their case. You don’t understand! My ancestors barely escaped death from anti-Semitic mobs in the Ukraine! They fled to a foreign country, faced discrimination, worked their fingers to the bones,” she writes.

She describes herself as “the family challenger, questioning the privileges that seemed to characterize our lives. That day on the sidewalk, I wanted both to hug them and hide from them.”

The story focuses on the maternal side of her family, the Yasgurs, who emigrated to the US from Eastern Europe to escape pogroms before World War II. They slowly built up a fortune in New York real estate and expanded out of........

© The Times of Israel

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