The ishadow project: STATEMENT

The iShadow Project got its start in the fall of 2008 while I was on a reporting trip to Ukraine. This was an intensely packed journey I had been dreaming about since childhood: I had two stories to research and three ancestral communities to visit. My grandparents were among millions of Jews who once lived in cities, towns and shtetls that were at various times part of Poland, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Russia. Fleeing anti-Semitism, pogroms, forced conscription and poverty, they had immigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century.

I was walking down a street in Kiev on an unexpectedly cold sunny day on my way to interviewa former dissident when I caught a glimpse of my shadow—hat, mini-skirt, fake fur trimmed boots and all—on the gray concrete sidewalk. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of my ancestors, who had fleetingly called this land home. It was a few-centuries-stop on the 5,000-year trajectory of Jewish wandering. I reached for my brand new iPhone, and began to chronicle the ways in which my body blocked the afternoon sunlight. I needed to capture the fleeting shadows.

I had to rush on to an interview after a few shots. But a few days later I was in Sofiyivsky Park in Uman, covering the pilgrimage of religious Jews to the burial place of the Hasidic mystic Rebbe Nachman on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. To escape the fervor of the 30,000 or so men gathered in the town to pray (women were not invited, but I had invited myself), I had strolled to the park, designed asa 19th-century English style garden. On one path, my eye was drawn to shadows of draped fence chains and then to fallen leaves in my shadow. I vanished into what I can only describe as my first iShadow trance. That was the day I learned that time stops when I shoot shadows: I can continue for hours because there are infinite permutations—that is, until the sun goes down. And even then, there is lamplight, streetlight, starlight and moonlight.

Since then I have taken thousands of shots, on my travels around the world as a magazine publisher, editor and writer. I have come to think of iShadow as human geography with cultural, environmental and even spiritual overtones. Texture and surfaces, natural and manmade; the time of day, the weather; the climate; the topography; attire, the wind; the hair day; hormones and chemicals, bodies of water—a puddle or the moisture in the air—all are variables when combined with the unending line and movement of the human shape, not to mention the filter of light, soul and experience.

As time has passed, I've come to understand that my iShadow Project is also a deeply feminist one. The transformation of the fleeting to permanence is a way of creating a feminine mark on the earthscape, a  mark that is a testament to the female body.

Nadine Epstein