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Penny Wolin: American Photographers of Jewish Ancestry's video poster

Memoirs and photographs of, and by, the most influential Jewish American photographers of the 20th century. Read more

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This project was successfully funded on May 2, 2012.

Memoirs and photographs of, and by, the most influential Jewish American photographers of the 20th century.

About this project

    WHY PLEDGE MORE? More Funding = More Finished Product, Period.

Is it possible to go viral with just 22 hours remaining? Could we possibly hope for more funding to pay for graphic design fees, hiring a wordsmith at the end of this first edit, CAD design for 3D visualization of the exhibition, plate work for offset reproduction, large exhibition prints of our ancestors,???!  Kickstarter Pebble Watch at $7 million; move over!

REDUCED REWARD LEVEL – There is only one category that has not garnered a donor–HONOR YOUR ANCESTORS. This is designed for me make your portrait, (or someone of your choosing) conduct and interview, record historic images and discuss your family history. In short, I will treat you like one of our photographers! I will edit and prepare the work ready to frame.   I want to meet you, so I will lower the price to $4900, a $600 savings from before..

NEW REWARD The REAL DEAL for a minimum pledge of $200.00 you get THREE rewards. Revel in the near-classic, "The Jews of Wyoming: Fringe of the Diaspora,"  enjoy your daily brew with our beautiful DESCENDANTS OF LIGHT ceramic mug, and be one of the first to receive what we all want: THE BOOK: Descendants of Light: American Photographers of Jewish Ancestry." Please do the math, this is a bargain reward!

DESCENDANTS OF LIGHT: American Photographers of Jewish Ancestry is the result of my six year odyssey traveling across America, to photograph,  interview and gather ancestral memoirs from over 70 of the most influential Jewish  photographers of our time.

THE KICKSTARTER GOAL — This phase of Kickstarter funding will allow me to devote the mandatory full and uninterrupted time to finalize the content of all of the visual and written material. It will place the project in position to prepare for the next phase of publication and exhibition.

The Project

“To be a great photographer,
It is first of all necessary
to be Jewish.”
— Garry Winogrand

In no other visual art form except cinema has there been such a staggering number of influential figures of Jewish ancestry as in photography. For over 100 years, in reportage, portraiture, fashion and street photography, Jews have excelled in the medium.

In 2006, I began multiple trips throughout the United States to photograph and interview photographers of Jewish ancestry, while questioning whether their identity as Jews did, or did not, matter to their photographic work. As with my previous documentaries, especially The Jews of Wyoming: Fringe of the Diaspora, (as exhibited solo at the Smithsonian Institution,) my fascination with Jewish culture continues, and is brought forth by bearing photographic witness to this golden age of American Jewish civilization. 

To Date I have created over 70 interviews and portrait sessions with:

Peter Aaron, Sid Avery, Lillian Bassman, Stephen Berkman, Nina Berman, Gay Block, Gary Brod, David  Burnett, Cornell Capa, Jo Ann Callis, Elinor Carucci, Jake Colman, Judy Dater, Bruce Davidson, Jill Enfield, Jason Eskenazi, Larry Fink, Abe Frajndlich, Robert Frank, Jill Freedman, Anthony Freidkin, Noah Greenberg, Lauren Greenfield, Lori Grinker, Philippe Halsman, Marc Hauser, Gregory Heisler, Ryszard Horowitz, Yale Joel, Ed Kashi, Sid Kaplan, Claudia Kunin, Gillian Laub, Annie Leibovitz, Herman Leonard, Helen Levitt, Ken Light, John Loengard, Jay Maisel, Norman Mauskopf, Joel Meyerowitz, Nickolas Muray, Arnold Newman, Ira Nowinski, Walter Rosenblum, Eva Rubinstein, Laurence Salzmann, Steve Schapiro, Joe Schwartz, Ron Seymour, Maurice Seymour, David Strick, Arthur Tress, Toba Tucker, Roman Vishniac, Al Wertheimer, Joel-Peter Witkin, Garry Winogrand, Jeffrey A. Wolin, Penny Wolin, Lloyd Ziff

By working with these great photographers — the witnesses of our time— my results reflect a surprising account of their motivations and methods to photograph, as well fascinating discussions of photographic artistry itself. Additionally, the work shows an extraordinary view of how Jewish culture currently survives and thrives within American culture.

I am uniquely qualified to execute this documentary. I am a photographer of Jewish ancestry. This positions me to be a window and a mirror into Jewish culture, as well as understanding the nature of the photographic process itself.

Tumblers In The Tumult The time period of the history of photography closely parallels that of the arrival of large numbers of Jews to America. This fortuitous intersection provides a rich opportunity to explore a multi-generational verbal and visual accounting of American Jewish history. I now see deeper meaning to familial resemblance: If we look like our ancestors, might we not behave like them, too? Might we not carry forward their survival methods into our own time period? Might the alchemical form of a photograph be in fact, a reliable but overlooked source of information about our own identity?

You cannot spend your
entire life dealing with
light and not get some
perception of the mysterious.

                                                   — Richard Avedon

Move It Forward Though I have had generous angels along the way (you know who you are), I have primarily self-funded this documentary with other photographic work. I am well over half-finished with the editing of hundreds of hours of audio recordings and the printing of nearly 200 photographs. But, there are still more transcriptions to edit, more photographs to print and more of the photographers' words to perfect. There are a few elusive photographers that remain to be interviewed. The work has revealed more depth, more complexity and more wonderful material than I ever imagined. I need financial help to finish.

DESCENDANTS OF LIGHT: American Photographers of Jewish Ancestry, will showcase the photographs made by the photographers. By photographing wars, famines, political movements, celebrities and the street of America, these photographers have been the touch point, the witnesses to the icons and iconic events of our time. Surprisingly, though their images are famous, their authorship often remains unknown. Through extensive biographies, DESCENDANTS OF LIGHT will make known the creators of these photographs.

This Kickstarter campaign will have a great influence beyond a single project.

  • It will make known what has often been seen as a tiny photo credit; giving credit to artists who created so many of the iconic photographic images etched into our collective consciousness.
  • It will explore the relationship and effect our ancestors continue to have upon our daily lives. It will encourage others to honor their own visual and verbal stories within their familial histories.
  • And most importantly, DESCENDANTS OF LIGHT: American Photographers of Jewish Ancestry will create an added appreciation of cultural and religious diversity in America.

The Thin Threads of Destiny — Anyone with an interest in the history of photography, modern art, American history and a fascination with this remarkable period of Jewish civilization will find this work to be of great importance.

  • Please send the link to this Kickstarter page to the important people in your life, encouraging them to donate.
  • Please suggest they match your own contribution, and that they send this Kickstarter page to their own people.

Every donor will be listed on the project website, final publication and at the exhibition sites. Each donor will receive project updates via an exclusive newsletter and a first-in-line opportunity to purchase, at a special pre-publication price, autographed copies of DESCENDANTS OF LIGHT: American Photographers of Jewish Ancestry. They will make generous gifts for your family and friends, and welcome contributions to add to your community museums and libraries.

To my dear supporters, far and wide, old and new: May we feel ultimate satisfaction, not by what we acquire in life, but by what we give in life to make the world a more tolerant place to be.

Thank you for believing in the power of this work,

Penny Wolin


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  • You selected
    Pledge $10 or more

    17 backers

    PUT YOURSELF IN THE PICTURE – Your donation at this level will make you a full partner in this exciting visual documentary of American Photographers of Jewish Ancestry! I’ll keep you up to date on the project’s progress, for now and forever!

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  • You selected
    Pledge $25 or more

    24 backers

    PURE GRATITUDE – Receive a personalized snail mail photographic notecard from Penny Wolin and know that every single donation counts toward getting us to the finish line. You will also receive continuing email updates.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $40 or more

    16 backers

    MUG OF GRATITUDE– Receive a beautiful ceramic beverage cup especially designed by our book designer, Hartmann Design Group, and incorporating design elements from DESCENDANTS OF LIGHT, including a beautiful quote from Richard Avedon. Read the continuing project updates with a cuppa' hot brew steaming from our mug!

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  • You selected
    Pledge $60 or more

    20 backers

    THE JEWS OF WYOMING – Receive a hardbound, first edition, signed copy of “The Jews of Wyoming: Fringe of the Diaspora,” by Penny Wolin. 9x12” duotone, 196 pages, published by Crazy Woman Creek Press and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution. Library Journal called it "A unique and important contribution to our understanding of Jewish life in the United States." Shipping outside of US, please add $15.00.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $125 or more

    58 backers

    OUR BOOK – You will be one of the FIRST to receive a hardbound, first edition of “DESCENDANTS OF LIGHT: American Photographers of Jewish Ancestry” by Penny Wolin. This book is planned to be a 9 ¾ x 13 ½” 250 page volume with 200 black and white duotone and four color reproductions. Signed, with love! Shipping outside of US, please add $15.00.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $155 or more

    7 backers

    THE BOOK AND THE MUG – A daily reminder of our project by enjoying your favorite brew in our beautiful ceramic mug, which SHIPS SOON, while you eagerly await our beautiful book, which ships later, upon publication. Something to have and to hold for now, and something to look forward to. Steaming, ahh… Shipping outside the U.S, please add $20.00

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  • You selected
    Pledge $200 or more

    7 backers

    THE REAL DEAL - 3 ITEMS: The book “The Jews of Wyoming” right away, our beautiful mug, in short order, and eventually, the book we are waiting for, “DESCENDANT OF LIGHT: American Photographers of Jewish Ancestry.” This is an Extraordinary Value. Shipping outside of the US, please add $30.00

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  • You selected
    Pledge $250 or more

    3 backers

    ARNOLD’S FIRST PORTRAIT – Receive a 16x20" print of Arnold Newman’s baby portrait, along side his bris announcement, with his most wonderful description of the Yiddish language you shall ever know. This photograph, featured in the forthcoming exhibition, is printed on chromogenic Fuji Crystal Archive photo paper and signed by Penny Wolin. Please go to the link under the project description to view. Shipping outside of US, please add $15.00.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $500 or more

    5 backers Limited (40 left of 45)

    CONTACT! – Receive a 20x24" contact sheet, as seen in the video, that includes many of the photographers’ portraits made by Penny over a five year period. Each photograph is signed and numbered by Penny Wolin and printed on chromogenic Fuji Crystal Archive photo paper. Edition of 100 with only 50 available at this time for this Kickstarter campaign. Shipping outside of US, please add $15.00.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $1,000 or more

    2 backers Limited (16 left of 18)

    ARTIST'S PROOF – Choose one of only eighteen vintage 8 X10” fiber based gelatin silver black and white artist’s photographs made by Penny in the course of producing the exhibition photographs for DESCENDANTS OF LIGHT. These archival photographs are hand made in the darkroom and signed by Penny Wolin. First come first served from a limited selection of available images. Shipping outside of US, please add $15.00.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $2,000 or more

    1 backer Limited (1 left of 2)

    METHOD TO THE MADNESS – Be with Penny for a full and glorious day during the summer of 2012 at her ArtBarn chicken farm in Sonoma County, California. Wolin will discuss her process as a photographer as it combines with the written word to become a single visual and verbal communication. Many of the photographers and work included in DESCENDANTS OF LIGHT will be thoroughly explored. Goals for your own work can be discussed. We will enjoy a locally grown slow-food Sonoma County lunch. Bring sturdy shoes for a trek in the vineyard and a walk up to the chicken coop. Bring your camera, photographs and lots of questions. If you wish to bring a friend, please add $200.00.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $3,600 or more

    1 backer Limited (49 left of 50)

    VINTAGE EXHIBITION PRINT – You will own a limited edition 16x20” vintage fiber based gelatin silver black and white exhibition portrait of one of the photographers photographed by Penny in DESCENDANTS OF LIGHT. These hand made darkroom photographs are archivally printed and signed by Penny Wolin. They are encased in a 20x24” acid-free mat. Each print will be a number 3 from an edition of 10. First come first served to select your choice of image. Shipping outside of the US, please add $30.00.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $4,900 or more

    0 backers

    Penny will tell YOUR story by making an original photographic portrait, conducting an interview and by using your important ancestral photograph. These materials shall be edited and formatted into an archival 16x40” silver photographic print. This would be an extraordinary gift for someone special in your life. Reasonable travel expenses beyond Northern California are not included but shall be estimated before our session date. Please confirm scheduling before January, 2013.

    Estimated delivery:

Funding period

- (27 days)