For 25 years, Frédéric Brenner traveled the world, finding Jews to photograph. In every place he went, whether it was a singles weekend in the Catskills or an ancient stone dwelling in Yemen, he sought to uncover a buried trace of his own past. “What had been silenced and ignored by my family, I had to excavate,” he said during a visit to New York last month.
Only after finishing the project did he comprehend his motivations. He had been raised in an assimilated intellectual household in Paris by parents who ignored their Jewish heritage. But the Six-Day War in Israel in 1967 awakened their ethnic consciousness. Against his wishes, Frédéric was sent to a Jewish day school for three years before entering university. There, he became fascinated by Judaism — and, as he grew older, by the ways in which a portable identity had assumed varied forms in different cultures. The product of his wanderings with a camera appeared in 2003: “Diaspora: Homelands in Exile,” a weighty two-volume work of black-and-white photographs and Talmud-like outside commentary.