Signs of Your Identity

Photojournalist Daniella Zalcman Discusses Canadian Residential Schools
Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Documentary photographer and Columbia Unversity alumnus Daniella Zalcman discussed her project Signs of Your Identity, a series of composite portraits created to document the legacy of Canada’s Indian residential schools, at Columbia University on March 30, 2017.

The residential school system was a network of Canadian boarding schools founded on the principle of forced integration of indigenous children into Canadian culture. During the operation of these schools from the late 19th century all the way until the late 20th century, over 150,000 indigenous children, often kidnapped, were thought to have been in attendance. Sexual assault, violence, forced labor, and student death were commonplace. It is estimated that at least 6,000 died children while at the schools. The last of these schools closed in 1996.

With support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Daniella began documenting survivors of the residential schools in Saskatchewan, leading to her book Signs of Your Identity, a 2016 FotoEvidence Book Award winner. Daniella uses the technique of multiple exposures to overlay a portrait of a survivor with an image depicting the struggles of Canada's indigenous peoples, both past and present.

"These portraits are my attempt to get to the root of historical trauma. Each of these double exposures layers a former residential school student with something related to his or her experience: the sites where schools once stood, the cemeteries where over 6,000 indigenous children are buried, the documents that enforced strategic assimilation," says Daniella.

Daniella is a multiple grantee of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a fellow with the International Women's Media Foundation, and a member of Boreal Collective. Her work focuses on the legacies of western colonization, from the rise of homophobia in East Africa to the forced assimilation through education of Indigenous children in North America. In addition to the FotoEvidence Book Award, she won the Magnum Foundation's Inge Morath Award, and the Magenta Foundation's Bright Spark Award for Signs of Your Identity.