The ishadow project: EXHIBITIONS, PRESS

UPCOMING July 13-20 2019 Cousen Rose Gallery, Oak Bluffs, MA

CURRENT April-May 24, 2019 - Solo Show, Burrison Gallery, University of Pennsylvania, PA, USA

2018 – Group Show, Burrison Gallery, University of Pennsylvania, PA, USA.

2017 – “In A Woman’s Shadow”, The AG Gallery, Washington, DC, USA.

2017 – "In a Woman's Shadow," Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion.


iShadow knows: A woman’s fleeting shadow is captured in the flash of a phone


In the play of shadow and light, sun and shade, photographer Nadine Epstein discovered inspiration.

“I was transfixed by the fleetingness of shadows,” she wrote, “… about how shadows marked my existence as a person, particularly as a woman.” Thus Epstein has made impermanence fixed. Using her iPhone, she has been shooting her own shadow and the shadows of ordinary objects — buildings, trees, window panes, monuments, fallen leaves — for nearly a decade.

At the recently inaugurated AG Gallery in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, 11 of Epstein’s photomontages are on display. The private gallery owned and operated by Washington super lawyer — and artist — Allan Gerson is open weekdays during business hours by appointment only.

The show, “In a Woman’s Shadow,” is aptly named because each work features Epstein — or, actually, Epstein’s shadow. One might call them selfies, but that is far too simplistic for what happens in her well-considered and mediated photographs.

Epstein noted that she had long been a quiet multimedia artist, sketching, collaging, painting, but with the demands of writing, editing and publishing, she had to set aside her sketch books and canvases. The iPhone became her medium of choice for its ease and portability.

By day, Epstein is editor and publisher of the Jewish magazine Moment, but she squeezes in time for art-making, sometimes between, or even during a meeting, or on a reporting trip to Israel or Europe. It might be a breeze through a window in Israel, the light play of the curtains and the shadow of her torso looking like a darkened marble sculpture.

Later she’ll work with the photos as a collagist — aligning them in grids, duplicating them, or flipping and mirroring images, like modern-day Rorschachs. She calls it “folding the photos into each other or even into themselves.” The results: evocative, mysterious, captivating, often mandala-like in the rhythmic repetition of images.

“Uman,” one of Epstein’s first iShadow photos, was taken on Rosh Hashanah in 2008 during a reporting trip to the Ukrainian city where chasidic master Rabbi Nachman is buried. Annually, tens of thousands of chasidic men make a pilgrimage to his grave. But the photo, a self portrait, is not of crowds of black-coated men. It’s Epstein’s shadow on the rough white concrete, a dozen or so fall leaves punctuating the heavy blackness of the cloaked, shadowy figure.

Stolpersteine are the stumbling stones placed on sidewalks and pathways of German cities to mark where Jews once lived or worked. In “Stolpersteine” Epstein captures and produces a pattern — the mundanity of walking steps — by repeating the image until it transforms into something completely different and feels more like a woven tapestry than a photographic image. And, not coincidentally, the geometry of the duplicated image resembles a series of stars of David.

While she does not necessarily set out to craft images with Jewish themes or subjects, because her work and life revolves around Jewish culture, history and politics in producing a Jewish magazine, Jewish themes seemingly foreshadow most of her works.

These works often dance, as motion, light and darkness are captured in a flash of the camera.

“Shin/Heh,” shot in 2011 features silhouettes of the photographer’s hands, her profile and the Hebrew letter shin. “Blue Talis,” too, captures a sense of movement. Epstein describes the shooting, outside her New Jersey childhood home as taking place during the “Golden Hour,” that time of day when sunlight is lower in the sky. She played with the drape of her dress and a scarf to again capture an effect that is evocative of hands poised in a Jewish priestly blessing, enwrapped in the shadowy cloth that resembles a tallit.

Literature, film, even Torah, tend to regard shadows in a negative light. Light equals godliness while shadows symbolize distance from God. Yet, Epstein has found in light and darkness not an allegory, but a metaphor for the interplay between them. Her iShadow Project reveals the beauty, the symmetry, the dance between light and dark.

Rabbi Nachman said: “When you succeed in nullifying the shadow completely, turning everything into absolute nothingness, then God’s glory is revealed in all the world.”

Epstein doesn’t nullify the shadows, she underscores them, to bring to bear the beauty and mystery that shadows convey in the light.

“iShadow Project: In a Woman’s Shadow,” photography by Nadine Epstein through Dec. 4. AG Gallery, 2131 S St. NW, Washington. Open during business hours by appointment only. Call 202-234-9717 or email


Q: How did you get started on this project and what inspired you?

A: I was on a reporting trip to Ukraine in 2008, researching three magazine stories. Ukraine happens to be where all four of my Jewish grandparents were born. They left when they were young, from ages 3 to 20. This was a journey I had thought about taking for my whole life: I wanted to go back and see where my grandparents were from, to walk on the same land that they had walked on, walk on the same paths, roads and sidewalks.

I was on my way to interview a former dissident when I looked down and saw my shadow. It was, as if, for the first time in my life I discovered my shadow right there, in this case, in front of me. It was fall and it was a cold bleak shadow because even though there was sun, it was a cold bleak day. It made me think about how Jews had lived on the land that is now Ukraine for a fleeting period of time. I thought about the fleetingness of shadows. And suddenly I whipped out my new iPhone, which I’d had for all of a week, and I started taking photographs of my shadow.

Q: So they’re all done with your iPhone, but do you use any particular technique? Do you shoot from different angles, is there something special that you do?

A: The overlying theme of the project is shadows, and it’s almost always my shadow. You could say I’ve been taking shadow selfies! I climb into the trajectory of the light source, arrange objects and drape my shadow in various ways, then figure out how to reach the shutter release. I generally don’t want the camera to show so that’s a puzzle to solve. This means I contort my body into all sorts of shapes and experiment with positions. I dance around in order to catch the right slant and moment to block the light.

Q: What do you find so interesting about shadows?

A: When I first started taking these photographs, I was transfixed by the fleetingness of shadows, but as time went on, I began to think about how shadows marked my existence as a person, particularly as a woman. I thought of what I now call the “miraculous permanence of shadows.” Just as women need to find their voice, I cast my shadow to mark where I have been and create a permanent record of my having been there.

Since I travel so much for my day job as a magazine editor, I have now cast my shadow on many historical or pilgrimage sites, and memorials, many of them connected with moments in Jewish time. Beyond that, I have cast my shadow on natural surfaces from redwoods to puddles, and endless man made-scapes. In each case, a unique interaction between shadow and surface occurs.

Q: Is there more to shadows than meets the eye?

A: I’ve explored shadows in philosophy, religion and art. How can a painter render reality without shadows? And writers tend to the mystery of shadows. “How shall I know you, immortal, mild, proud shadows?/I only know that all we know comes from you/And that you come from Eden on flying feet,” wrote Yeats in his poem Shadowy Waters. Shadows often get a negative rap. In his famous cave allegory, Plato equates shadows with lack of education and understanding. In Western religions, shadows are associated with the dark side in the struggle between black and white, evil and good. But in more traditional religions, shadows can be healing, something I find to be very appealing.

Q: At first your images seemed straightforward, but now they’ve become much more complex. You’ve combined images, folding images into one another. How did that come about?

A: Well, one of the most fascinating parts of this project to me has always been the dance of the shadow from frame to frame. I couldn’t quite capture that fluidness with a single image. In the beginning, I organized them into triptychs or simple groupings, but they were still more static than I wanted. By folding the photos into each other or even into themselves, I’ve been able to capture more of the dance.

Q: You’ve had two solo exhibitions so far, one in New York City, and one in Washington that’s still on display. What kind of feedback have you received?

A: The first show was from April to July at the museum of Hebrew Union College in the Village. In it, I showed single images or triptychs selected by the curator, Laura Kruger. This show is still very much alive since it will be traveling around the country. The work in my Washington, DC exhibition at Allan Gerson’s new AG Gallery is completely different. It just opened and I was overwhelmed by, first of all, the number of people who attended, and also by their depth of interest and perceptive questions.

Q: What happens to you when you take iShadows?  

A: I vanish into what I call my iShadow trance. I can stay in this state for hours, and if I don’t have an obligation, it may only ended when the sun sets. Of course, then streetlights come on and the moon rises and new shades of shadows are cast. So it’s really a wonderful place to be and I never could’ve imagined that shadows would bring me there. My iShadow trance is similar to what I felt in the years when I was creating mixed media art; I could disappear into a drawing for hours, or days. But this is more intense. More physical.

Q: So it’s sort of an escape in a way. Is it relaxing or is it energizing?

A: It is both. It is being in a place of joy with endless creative permutations to explore. How do shadows interact with the light? How do shadows interact with the moisture or dust in the air? How do shadows interact with stones or metal or water, or any element?  It’s science and beauty in one. What can be more energizing and relaxing than transcending time with an open-ended quest?

Q: How do you have time to do that and your full-time job? Do you come back with a new perspective to your job?

A: Yes, absolutely, and it fits into my life. For many decades I kept drawing journals but when I took over the magazine, I no longer had the time. I turned my eye to magazine design, which has been fabulous fun, and this helped lead me into fine art photography. My iShadow project is also portable: The camera fits into my purse or pocket, and I always have with me. This means I can shoot iShadows on my way to and from appointments. I’ve even gotten up during meetings to capture a stray shadow hovering in a corner or playing on a table or wall.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the image “Uman”?

A: “Uman” is the only single image included in the exhibition at the AG Gallery and it’s one of the earliest images. I’d probably been shooting shadows for four or five days at that point. I was in the town of Uman in Ukraine, where the Hasidic Rebbe Nachman is buried. On the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, it is besieged by tens of thousands of Hasidic men who converge there to commune with Nachman.

I was there to write a story about the pilgrimage, one of the only women there because women are not invited. One day, to escape the throngs of men and to have a little freedom to breathe, I walked to Sofiyivsky Park, a lovely 19th century garden. There I noticed the fall leaves, a little less fleeting than shadows, but fleeting as well, and began to dance and shoot. I included “Uman” in this show to delineate where I came from where I’m going.

Q: In terms of where you're going now, can you talk about your piece “Narbonne”?

A: Again, I mix my lives. I was in southern France researching a story about a medieval Jewish kingdom of sorts in Narbonne in Languedoc, not far from the Pyrenees. I arrived by train. It wasn’t a particularly picturesque station, but the letters G-A-R-E cast shadows on the floor, walls and glass. I spent a lot of time dancing around the station taking the shadows of the letters and their reflections. I hope that you can feel some of these changing perspectives in this piece.

Q: What’s next for you with the iShadow Project?

A: I have amassed a large body of work over the last nine years and have many more images to process. And as you can see in my most recent piece in the show, “Blue Talis,” I’m propelling myself headfirst into color, and there’s so much natural color in shadows to explore. But in this piece, I add in color—and texture—by shooting through a scarf. I’ve also been taking video of shadows for all these years to capture the mesmerizing dance between wind and shadows. I’d love to create an installation of still and moving shadows, a sort of moveable feast of shadows.


29 Jun 2017

 by Samuel Hughes 

Nadine Epstein was walking along a street in Kiev when she first noticed her shadow walking beside her, its outline sharp enough for her to make out the contours of her clothing.

It was the fall of 2008, and she was on her way to interview a former political dissident for a story. Epstein, the editor and publisher of Moment, a magazine of Jewish culture and life [“Living in the Moment,” Sep|Oct 2005], had dreamed of this trip since childhood. All four of her grandparents had lived in the lands that now comprise Ukraine, and she wanted to see for herself the streets and rural pathways on which they walked.

Kiev in 2008 was a “happening, flourishing city” that had only recently emerged from the Dark Ages of Soviet rule, she says in an interview. “Suddenly it was just very hip, and all the dissidents could talk to everyone, and they were famous and sought after.”


But the darker undercurrents had not disappeared. One of the stories she was investigating for Moment (whose editorial staff includes Sarah Breger C’07 and Mary Hadar CW’65) concerned a since-shuttered Ukrainian university whose worldview can be discerned from having awarded a PhD to David Duke for his dissertation, “Zionism as a form of Ethnic Supremacism.”

As she hurried toward her meeting with the dissident, Epstein found herself “overwhelmed” with thoughts of her ancestors, “who had fleetingly called this land home,” as she put it in an artist’s statement. “It was a few-centuries-stop on the 5,000-year trajectory of Jewish wandering.” She pulled out her new iPhone and began to capture images of her body blocking the afternoon sunlight.

A few days later, on Rosh Hashanah, she visited the town of Uman to observe the pilgrimage of Hasidic Jews to the burial place of the mystic Rebbe Nachman. Women, though not forbidden, weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms.

“I spent Rosh Hashanah in this town, and while I was there I had to sort of escape,” she says. “It was all filled with Hasidic men, and so I went to this beautiful park, Sofiyivsky Park, and that’s where I took the photo with the leaves inside my shadow that’s called ‘Uman.’”

“I vanished into what I can only describe as my first iShadow trance,” she wrote. “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.”

Epstein’s iShadow images were recently displayed in New York in an exhibition titled In a Woman’s Shadow at the Jules Backman Gallery in the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum. On September 10, another iShadow exhibition opens at the AG Gallery in Washington.

“This is a project that I just love,” she says. “There’s a lot of mythology about shadows, and I’ve started thinking about their long history in religion and philosophy and literature and astronomy and painting.

“It’s also a very feminist project. I’ve spent a lot of my life finding my voice. I came from a particular world where I grew up feeling almost voiceless. Part of the trajectory of my life in this era as a woman has been to find it.”

Sometimes, Epstein adds, she will photograph somebody else’s shadow. “But finding my own shadow has been a way of marking myself on the places that I’ve been, and on the Earth.” —SH