Helix 1 / East
A helix of departures and returns, a helix of migrations, a helix of visions of my ancestral places / a helix of two families, neither well known to me, whose genes got twisted around one another to form the helix of my own genes / a helix of two towns, whose matchmakers plied the strands of faraway future families with little need for the dead empire and the erstwhile blossoms / a helix of the unknown names and the unknown addresses, the unknown homes and the unknown synagogues, the unknown beds and the unknown doorways, the unknown chairs and the unknown windows / a helix of where we lived and where we did not live, of plush July and silver December / a helix of the world of hope and the world of action, neither the topmost layer of this world / a helix of the ones lying in the mass graves somewhere beneath the snowbank and the ones trudging the frigid embankment with the words “maybe not here” on their winter lips / a helix of the world of immediate sensation and the world of why-bother-reasoning / a helix of the journeys of the quixotic young man who set off for the mountains to seek the sea, and the older man who sets off for the lost corners to seek the central path / a helix of sons and daughters unrevealed to mothers and fathers / a helix of a hat blowing off in the wind and a yarmulke tumbling forward, and Yiddish dreams and dreamers without Yiddish / a helix of generations as blind in their wandering from one another as one dream is distant from any other dream / a helix of the dead strewn in death and the living strewn in life, a summer field strewn in flowers and a winter field strewn in vines, a strewn helix of the self that precedes the self and the self that succeeds the self / a helix of a century of days listening for a photographer who might know just by looking /
Mena and Chernihiv, Ukraine, 2001
Romny, Ukraine, 2018
The Dobkin family of Mena, Ukraine, c. 1915, in its blue details, and entire

Helix 2 / West
A helix of returns and digressions, a helix of impulses, aims and oscillations / a helix of the paths we took from Bessarabia and Ukraine to San Francisco, a helix of known and not forgotten street numbers, where we felt safe and did not disappear voluntarily / a helix of the new ancestral city, its outcrop and its murk, forever the adequate elsewhere and the utopic anywhere / a helix of the voices and the accents and the past pinched to silent nothing, a helix of the mystic difference between forgetting and beginning again / a helix of the bay at high memory and black water turned blue, my shadow riding the pier as the evenings proposed remorse / a helix of euphonic moving photographs and feral stories pressed into lumpen pictures / a helix of grey inaccuracies painstakingly found, some of them blushing color / a helix of the older ones new to age and the younger ones fighting stale youth, and decades spent studying other minds exactly, forcing too much on my own speaking muscle / a helix of the hard and obvious things that intent-filled seekers cannot break / a helix of taking-place and of finding-a-place, sometimes just a seat on the bus / a helix of ontology and counter-ontology, rivalry and co-existence, each one with the discomfort of home / a helix of you as you deem yourself and you to whom it all applies, you and you trading souls the way the city’s fog will give away its wet drifting body for sudden luminance if the wind agrees / a helix of a family in its single moments and numberless years / a helix of aloneness and meek anticipation, a helix of the heart partly glimpsed and the thinking eye’s reach, both to be fathomed not only from within /
San Francisco, 2021
The Francisco family, San Francisco, c. 1946, stills from digitized 16mm film


For Gertrude Fox Francisco, z"l, affectionately known as Gitl, appearing here in a 1992 portrait I made in her apartment on Cabrillo Street, a lifelong San Franciscan and a crosser of borders to the old country, a soul whose memory I carry.
איך ליב דיך מיטן גאַנצן האַרץ

Technical notes: 
The black and white photographs from Part 1 (East) were made with a Hasselblad 500 C/M medium format camera, in two phases.  The negatives from 2001 were made with an 80mm f/2.8 Zeiss Planar lens on Kodak Verichrome Pan, which I developed in Kodak XTOL mixed 1:1; the negatives from 2018 were made with the same Hasselblad with a 250mm f/5.6 Zeiss Sonnar lens on Ilford FP4+, developed in Kodak HC110 mixed 1:31 from the syrup.  The historic Dobkin family photograph is an albumen print from a whole-plate glass negative; I made the details on an Epson Perfection V850 flatbed scanner.  I made the black and white photographs from Part 2 (West) using a first generation Blackmagic video camera with a 10mm Schneider Cinegon lens; to make the video stills into photographs I used Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Photoshop, and DXO's Nik software.  I made the color photographs with a Leica Q digital camera using the macro setting of the camera's fixed 28mm lens.  The portrait immediately above I made using a Nikon FM2 with a 28mm lens, on Kodak Tri-X, developed (as I recall) in Kodak D-76 1:1.