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Exploring Ethiopian Diaspora Through Collaged Portraits

Yodith Dammlash mines decades of her family photo archives to create surreal images.

In her series The Names We Bear, Ethiopian-American photographer Yodith Dammlash collages images of her family’s past together to create multilayered images that span generations.

Dammlash looked through the photo archives of her mother’s family in Ethiopia to find photographs from decades as far back as the 1940s. “I’ve scanned and archived over 300 photographs, negatives and slides and used my family’s oral history along with my own imagined reality of the subjects, some of whom I’ve never met, as the basis for selecting which images to combine and superimpose,” she says.

The result is a series of photographs which look like double exposures, but are actually digitally collaged images. Group shots are superimposed on top of each other to create the feeling of a larger crowd—a whole family tree captured in one image. Layered portraits raise questions about identity within a family history. Does a black-and-white image of a young man and woman show a sister and brother? Or is it a mother and son, captured at different points in time?

“Not many people of my parent’s generation in the Diaspora have this wealth of old photographs, due to lack of resources or the displacement of personal items during exodus. Reworking these images allows me to make sense of the stories I’ve been told over the years, from the carefree moments to the tragedies.”

Find more of Yodith Dammlash’s photography at her online portfolio, built using Format.

More photo series:
How I Used Photography to Connect with the Family I’d Never Met
Joel Isaac’s Dizzying Kaleidoscopic Street Photography
The Kaleidoscopic Visions of Annie Briard’s ‘Paracosms’

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