Nadine Epstein’s photo exhibit takes a close look at life in shadows

Nadine Epstein — Carol Guzy

It was a transformative moment for writer, editor, and artist Nadine Epstein when she first really noticed her own shadow in any sort of meaningful way. Epstein was on assignment in the Ukraine, walking to an appointment with a former dissident whom she was to interview for the magazine Moment, when she spied her shadow on a leaf-strewn sidewalk. “I was overwhelmed with thoughts of my ancestors, who had fleetingly called this land home,” she writes on the website iShadowproject.com. “It was a few-centuries stop on the 5,000-year trajectory of Jewish wandering.”

Epstein felt compelled to stop and snap a few shots of the shadow image with her iPhone. A few days later, while covering an annual Jewish pilgrimage in the Ukrainian city of Uman, Epstein was again stopped dead in her tracks by the sight of her shadow — this time intermingled with a chain-link fence. She examined the shadow photographically from various angles, once again fascinated by the many things that the image represented. “I vanished into what I can only describe as my first iShadow trance,” she writes.

Epstein has been chasing her shadow all around the world ever since. As editor and publisher of Moment magazine (a publication founded by Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and activist Leonard Fein) her work takes her across the globe. “I had to find my shadow,” she said in a recent phone interview. “It’s become an obsession for me to mark myself in all of these different places.”

Starting this weekend, a number of photographs from Epstein’s iShadow Project will be on exhibit at the Cousen Rose Gallery in Oak Bluffs. There will be an opening reception and book signing with Epstein on Saturday, July 13, from 6 to 8 pm. Richard Michelson will also be there signing his book, “The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew.”

Some of the straightforward shadow photos were taken on the Vineyard. Epstein spends as much time on the Island as she can, and she loves nothing more than exploring the Vineyard’s trails and beaches — especially in the up-Island areas. One of her favorite locally shot images features a long shadow of the photographer in a wide-brimmed hat cutting across a pond overgrown with lichen in Menemsha.

Along with these representational photos are a series of abstracted shadow images that Epstein creates in Photoshop. She calls these images iShadow foldings because of the way the images are collaged together through a process of combination, repetition, and reversal. The “folded” photos tend to revolve around a theme. One is built around the Hebrew letter Shin. Another uses images of shadows cast against the Berlin Wall. Yet another features images of some of Berlin’s Stolpersteins, brass plaques commemorating Jewish lives lost during the Nazi extermination.

In many cases, Epstein herself appears in these collage images in the form of a hand with splayed fingers or a silhouette. In a way, she has used the project to put her stamp on places that she has visited.

“Photographing shadows has become much more for me than just a way to capture the fleetingness of existence,” she says. “It’s a way for me to mark myself on the earth.”

Photos from the iShadow Project have previously been exhibited at galleries and other venues in Boston and New York.

As an awardwinning journalist, Epstein’s work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other publications. She has co-written three books and a documentary. Her most recent book, “Elie Wiesel: An Extraordinary Life and Legacy,” features photos and text based on over 30 interviews with friends and colleagues of the acclaimed author and activist, along with Epstein’s own memories of the man she came to know as a friend and mentor during his lifetime. The opening for Epstein’s show at Cousen Rose will feature a book talk by the author.