First Place: Amy Kanka
L.A. Photo Curator: Global Photography Awards - 'Where Photography & Philanthropy Meet' First Place: Amy Kanka (click on image for larger view)
First Place
(click on image for larger view)

Curator Susan Spiritus: "Lately, in my personal life, I have been trying to expand the family tree on both sides of our family so that my adult children can get a better idea as to who my relatives were. Both my husband and I grew up in New York and during the entire time of our childhood, until we left home for college, we knew our respective family members….cousins, aunts and uncles; perhaps even some second cousins of our parents and even other distant folks whom I never could understand where they fit in the family, but knew they were related. To help, my mother created a family tree in hopes that it would help, (she was a teacher!) but in truth, I really didn’t care (then) nor understood!

However, today, as I look back on it, and try to explain who these people are/were to my children, I’m still having difficulties. I decided that I would tackle this task of updating it for the generations to come.

Back then, growing up during the ’40’s, 50’s and 60’s, families were of a much tighter group. Kids grew up and stayed in the local area or relatively nearby to where their families were living. No one really ventured very far away.

However, once I left home to go off to college, I never looked back and spread my wings and went west. My brother did the same as did my husband’s siblings. To this point, we all spread out. We had families of our own, but our kids grew up without the close knit family ties. While our kids know their immediate cousins, but certainly not as well as I knew mine, what has been lost is the close interactions and friendships.

We have some photos but they are spread out over years or even decades. My kids' cousins have now married and have had children of their own and another generation has come into and onto the family tree. We’ve lost touch and don’t know who these people are. 

This all leads me to my decision to select Amy Kanka’s image, “I Wish I Knew Her Then" to be my choice for first place in the submissions of “Root”.  “I Wish I knew Her Then” and “All That Remains” spoke volumes to me and are perfect images to illustrate, “Root”.

“I Wish I Knew Her Then” appears to be very old, perhaps even a little tattered and worn from age. I can envision it being faded from lack of proper care and storage. The shoes, too, off to the side appear to be similar to those my mom wore (circa 1915) and a reminder of earlier days.

Who is this young girl? What are those white dots in the image? If they’ve been added, after the fact, they are very effective.

If it is as the result of its age, then all the better. I also love the crack or scratch or perhaps it’s a crease in the emulsion all of which are positive clues for its age and only add to the mystery. What is the date of this photograph? I do not think it is from the early 1900’s, but rather from mid century years, as the girl’s dress looks more modern than from the old days, as we say. 
These are questions that I’d like to know the answers to…."

Amy Kanka: "The image is based on an old picture of my mom taken in Romania when she was a little girl. I do not know the exact date of the photograph, but my guess is that it was captured before WW2 (during the war the family was busy being deported to the ghetto and work camps, hard to believe they had time for photographs).

A scan of this old photo was combined with two of my recent images: a photograph of old girl shoes taken at an estate sale, and another one (the white dots) of specular lights on the ocean.

My mom's photo is rather tattered and creased, Susan you are absolutely right, it was not well preserved. I kept the creases and stains from the original photo in the final image."

Curator Susan Spiritus: "Thanks Amy for your quick reply and as I thought for part, but certainly not for the other parts (white dots!)

Loved your submissions and story- close to my heart and not far from my own history. Thank you."
Kanka says about this work, "I came across it when tidying up the bookshelves, an album put together a long time ago for my beloved grandma. When she passed away, it ended up back with me. Looking at her old photographs, brought back a flood of love and longing. What began as a pure desire to have her back into my life, turned into a process of taking an honest look at myself through her eyes. “Between here and then” is the visual representation of this process.

This portfolio examines the origins of personal identity as it relates to our hereditary, cultural and psychological backgrounds. An intimate exploration of the extent our ancestors, upbringing and own decisions shape us into the individuals we are.

Each image examines an aspect of our "self", collectively they unveil a multi-dimensional puzzle where we are both the pieces and the puzzle solver."

Amy Kanka Valadarsky was born in Communist Romania and raised in Israel. After graduating as a software engineer, she worked in the Telecommunication industry and spent the next 25+ years traveling  around the globe designing software solutions that address the challenges of an increasingly interconnected world. In 2014, after leaving the hi-tech world, Amy returned to her creative roots and began a career as a fine art photographer.
Amy’s work was selected as a Critical Mass 2016 finalist, as well as featured in SHOTS, Black &White Magazine, Lenscratch and exhibited in a variety of galleries and photo festivals such as PhotoLa 2016, Los Angeles Center for Photography, dnj and bG galleries in Bergamot Station, Santa Monica.
She lives with her husband and two cats in Santa Monica, California, while the rest of her family (including the dog) wait patiently for her to return to Israel.
Additional review from curator Richard S. Chow: When I first saw this image, my immediate thought was it looked familiar… I happen to know Amy’s work, which are generally fabulous. I like that she submitted this particular image to the “roots” theme - and therefore quite like her interpretation of the theme. Others had submitted images of actual vegetations, things that look like organic roots, although are very commendable and compelling - I myself indeed was drawn to the many narratives this winning image would allow one to contemplate. The old picture of the girl, was sure to be related to Amy and that picture I imagine would likely have significant value, at least to her. It screams “family/roots” to me. I love the inference of the water reflections which gave me the feeling of the flow of time. And how cute (smart) were those baby shoes at the corner! That adds to the whole composition and the visual frosting-on-the-cake. My congratulations to Amy Kanka.