Adam Golfer, Kaddish

JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2024 (here). Softcover, 312 pages, with 311 color and black-and-white reproductions. Includes texts and captions by the artist. In an edition of 250 copies. Design by Emily Schofield. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: The American photographer Adam Golfer’s recent photobook Kaddish is a deeply personal project, exploring the loss of three people very close to the artist. In his practice, Golfer, a grandson of Holocaust survivors, often considers the aftermath of historical events, particularly the Second World War, and their effects on our personal lives. Like many Holocaust survivors, his grandparents didn’t talk much with their children about life during those traumatic years, but when their grandson expressed curiosity in learning more about their lives, they were at a point when they were ready to talk. In general, Golfer’s family history guides his work. His first photobook A House Without a Roof (2016), looked at the intertwined histories of violence and displacement connecting Europe to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, wrestling with contradictory narratives and points of view. He continues to explore these themes in this next project.

Kaddish is a softcover book; it has an orange cover and a small rectangle is embossed in the top right corner with the artist’s name and the title. Inside, the photographs vary in their size and arrangement on the pages, creating rather unpredictable visual flow. The book contains five loose sections, divided by gray pages with captions and additional notes, providing context and insights about Golfer’s family. The page numbers elegantly appear in a small font at the edge of each page, and a short text by the artist is placed closer to the end of the book.

Kaddish deals with personal grief, “couched among the anxieties of historical memory and its relationship to violence playing out in the present.” To build his narrative, Golfer acts as a photographer, researcher, and archivist. He brings together hundreds of images and exchanges, collected over the past two decades, from family albums and screengrabs of home movies to various photographs Golfer took over the years. A photograph of his great uncle in Rome in 1947 is the oldest photo in the book, and the most recent one captures Golfer’s shadow on a wall in Germany in 2023. 

The opening pages show a notebook page with dried flowers, a sequence of four images capturing the cutting down of a tree, photos pinned to the wall, and a wooden fence, eventually leading to a spread with the artist’s name and the title of the book handwritten multiple times in pencil, some of them unfinished. The following spread contains one image, a picture of a person solving a jigsaw puzzle; perhaps it serves as a metaphor for Golfer’s project, as he is trying to make sense of the past by putting together visual pieces. Throughout the book fragments of photographs appear on their own, suggesting holes and incompleteness of memory. 

Golfer takes us back to the pandemic years, sharing the time when he learned about the passing of Raisha, his third cousin, and her funeral service over Zoom. Fragmented writings (reflecting his frustration with the unstable Internet connection, obstructed camera views, and the idea of saying goodbye in that manner) and screenshots from the service appear against a beige background, feeling like a journal within a journal. These are then balanced by a photograph of Raisha in a red sweater with sunlight on her face, followed by various images of Golfer and his family: doing yard work with his sister as kids back in 1990, his father seen from the back walking on the street (a week after he was diagnosed with cancer), his mother kissing his father in the hospital. A page with captions (which first appears some sixty pages into the book) then offers more background to the visual narrative. 

As we move through the book, the photographs capture some of the mundane and absurd elements of everyday life: a view on the Murg river on a sunny day, boxes of Seinfeld, his grandmother lighting the Shabbat candles, stuck power adapters, a pastrami sandwich, a reenactment of the Second World War, a girl leaning over in hot pink panties, a baby eating an egg etc. Among these images is a reference to the transcript of the video testimony of Golfer’s grandfather Edward Golfer, recorded by the USC Shoah Foundation. One spread pairs a small shot from the 1930s showing Hitler’s podium at the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds with a bigger image of the same podium (in 2008), this time close up, with kids seen walking. The images gain significance when placed alongside other images and wider context.

As Golfer navigates his family history, there are numerous Jewish references and symbols. There are various shots from family gatherings, Golfer’s grandparents Eddie and Esther at Pesach in 1980, Golfer’s shadow in the gas chamber in Dachau, an abandoned Jewish school, a sign on the building cropped to read “The Jew”. Closer to the end of the book, there is a photo of Golfer’s hand in a blue archival glove holding a black-and-white photograph he found in the YIVO Archive. It depicts a concentration camp prisoner in uniform hanging from his arms held behind his back. A tiny fragment of this photo appears a couple of spreads earlier, and this time it is repeated three times, spread after spread. It is followed by a photograph of the artist at his sister’s bat mitzvah. The book’s open-ended format offers the space to grapple with these multiple layers of information and varied perspectives. 

In general, the layout features plenty of white space between images, creating pauses to think, to reflect, and to return after reading the captions. Interweaving fragments of everyday life and references to various family connected elements, Golfer builds a compelling and engaging narrative. In his text that appears near the end of Kaddish, Golfer reflects on the eradication of his family during the Second World War (almost everyone on the Lithuanian side was killed), and the loss of life in the atrocities in Armenia, Rwanda, and the Balkans; also noting that as he was working on this project “Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank are victims of forced mass displacement, ethnic cleansing and genocide.” He grapples with the idea that those who support this violence, “invoke the memory of the Holocaust to justify the unimaginable destruction and loss of life.” In his view, it is essential to “recognize and condemn this violence as it happens, not after.”

The very last photograph in the book is placed on the inside of the back cover, showing the artist as a little boy in a superman outfit, his father holding him up as if he is flying in front of the mirror. Kaddish is an intelligent and thoughtfully produced photobook, and stands out as an intimate personal project that touches upon universal themes. Without a doubt, this book arrives at a time when sharing the complexity of personal stories, and connecting and recontextualizing them in larger narratives, feels more urgent and necessary than ever.

Collector’s POV: Adam Golfer does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

Send this article to a friend

Read more about: Adam Golfer, Self Published

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Articles

Lyle Ashton Harris, Our first and last love @Queens Museum

Lyle Ashton Harris, Our first and last love @Queens Museum

JTF (just the facts): A retrospective exhibition, hung against white and black walls, in a series of three connected spaces (and their exterior walls) on the museum’s main floor. The ... Read on.

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter