9 Jan 2017 2016 CONTAINER

Emily Schiffer’s photographs and sculptures reimagine the concept of a family album to explore how history and memory are passed between generations.

Featuring: Emily Schiffer 

Presented by
Emily Schiffer

Supported by

University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design

Emily Schiffer Logo

Through photography and sculpture, Haul reimagines the concept of a family album to explore how unspoken histories and traumas are passed between generations.


Schiffer’s work draws upon research about the children of trauma survivors, who often grow up feeling but not understanding their parents’ trauma. Using her family as a case study, Haul explores the fullness of silence.


The exhibition consists of three parts:



Drawing upon documentary images the artist took of her family, Schiffer pairs unrelated images to create fictions that imply truth. These new narratives probe questions about intimacy and silence, youth and aging, cultural norms, unresolved relationships, and love. The pairings were placed into family albums (a familial context), sliced into small pieces, and reconstructed. This fragmenting and reassembling mimics the natural process of memory, in which small, imperfectly fitting pieces come together to create larger, cohesive narratives.



This sculptural work explores the physical space of memory. Rather than immortalize her family’s faces in photographs, Schiffer physically records their presence by casting wax impressions, which, due to the sensitivity and malleability of wax, reference memory by slowly changing over the course of the exhibit. These casts showcase negative rather than positive space. Illuminated from behind, the empty spaces that Schiffer’s family once filled change shape depending on the viewer’s perspective, often taking on the illusion of being a positive rather than negative form. By inviting the viewer to use his or her imagination to connect the missing pieces, the artist brings our attention to the impossibility of reconstructing the real whole.



This sculpture considers photography’s role in the creation of family narratives. Hanging from the ceiling in a giant net are the contents of family photo albums, owned by the parents of the artist and her husband before they were born. Thousands of hand-framed images burry each other, emphasizing the impossibility of understanding one’s history, and posing questions about photography’s role in what is remembered and forgotten.


Emily Schiffer holds an MFA in Art from the University of Michigan and a BA in Fine Art and Afro-American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2005, she founded the My Viewpoint Youth Photography Initiative on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. In 2011, she partnered with the Center for Urban Transformation and the Magnum Foundation to create SEE POTENTIAL, a community engagement project on the South Side of Chicago, which installed documentary images on abandoned buildings to advertise community-driven redevelopment plans. SEE POTENTIAL built an interactive SMS texting/mapping platform to track the support for each idea. In 2014, Schiffer co-created Danube Revisited: The Inge Morath Truck Project, in which eight female winners of the Inge Morath Award converted a truck into a mobile gallery, retracing Morath’s footsteps along the Danube, and expanding her project by producing new imagery. This project was exhibited at Espacio Fundacion Madrid as an official exhibition of Photo Espana 2016.
Selected awards include: an Audience Engagement Grant from the Open Society Foundation, a Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund Grant, the Arnold Newman Prize for New Directions in Portraiture, the Inge Morath Award, and a Fulbright Fellowship in Photography.