Essay 425 • Jan 26th 2020

Jewish thought suggests that the memory of an action is as primary as the action itself. This is to say that when my hand is wounded, I remember other hands. I trace ache back to other aches - when my mother grabbed my wrist too hard pulling me across the intersection, when my great-grandmother’s fingers went numb on the ship headed towards Cuba fleeing the Nazis, when Miriam’s palms enduringly poured water for the Hebrews throughout their biblical desert journey - this is how the Jew is able to fathom an ache.

Because no physical space is a constant for the Jewish diaspora, time and the rituals that steep into it are centered as a mode of carrying on. The bloodline of a folktale, a tradition, a song, pulses through interpretation and enactment. Treating photographs in ​Kavana​ as such, I explore notions of Jewish memory, narrative heirlooms, and interpretive image making; ​the works position themselves in the past as memories, in the present as stories being told, and in the future as rituals to interpret and repeat.​ To encounter an image in this way is not only to ask what it feels like, but to ask: what does it remember like?


Hannah Altman is a Jewish-American artist from New Jersey. Her work interprets relationships between body, interiority, feminine performance, and lineage, exploring the structures that perpetuate them using photographic based media. She has recently exhibited with the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Junior High Gallery, and the University of Passau Germany. Her work has been published in the Carnegie Museum of Art Storyboard, Vanity Fair, Huffington Post, i-D, and others. She has delivered lectures on her work and research across the country, including Yale University, the Society for Photographic Education Southeast Conference, and Six x Ate artist lecture series. She is an MFA candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University and 2019 recipient of the Bertha Anolic Israel Travel Award.
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