Jennie Milne used her personal search to uncover her Polish Grandparent’s journey of survival against the odds during World War II as the inspiration behind her photography project, which will be on display at RGU’s upcoming Gray’s School of Art Degree Show.
Jennie, who lives in Inverallochy near Fraserburgh, is studying Communication Design at Gray’s School of Art and said the past four years of studying – two years at NESCol studying for her HND in Photography before joining RGU through degree link - have led her to discover that her interest lay in the human story.
Jennie knew very little of her heritage as her mother had been abandoned during the war. It was her desire to uncover the truth which led to her search and became the inspiration for her current work.
Speaking about her project, she said: “After uncovering my family’s incalculable losses during the Holocaust, I began to look at the issues of anti-semitism in the world today. Drawing on connections I’d made during my search, I learnt there are thousands of Jewish victims of terrorism in Israel, but this is not widely known or reported outside the country or the Jewish community. At this point, I realised there was a need for these stories to be told honestly and with compassion.
“In October 2018, as part of my Honours project, I travelled to meet with nine survivors in locations throughout the country. My focus was on the humanity of these victims and the need to highlight the issue of terrorism and its devastating effects.
“I considered carefully how to present the stories; my work photographically is very honest and the portraits I made were a reflection of each meeting. I chose not to emphasise the trauma and in consequence, the images appear passive and non-confrontational in most cases.
“In addition to being sensitive to my subjects, I wished to draw viewers in by the normality of the image by creating a connection. I feel strongly that by creating a visual connection through a still image, we create a space in which someone may become willing to listen and engage with the story – and hopefully place themselves in the narrative.”
Jennie welcomed the challenge of balancing her studies with her family life, and her husband and two youngest children even travelled to Israel with her.
“Although I was working most of the time, it was a valuable experience we shared. Considering the nature of the work I was doing, my teenagers who joined me for several interviews, showed an amazing degree of sensitivity and I was very proud of them. My husband was my driver and a great support.”
Jennie added that there was no way to describe how humbling and enriching this has been personally for her and that she hopes to continue with her project to take it to another level.
She explained: “It’s been an amazing privilege and tremendous responsibility to be entrusted with telling someone else’s story. I feel as if I have the best job in the world.
“I have applied to return to RGU to complete a Masters. The work I have begun over the past four years is not completed and I would like to develop it further, taking my interest in oral history and the vital work of documentation to another level.
“This would include publishing my own family story. I hope to exhibit and present my work in oral and visual presentations to increase awareness of the issues I have covered. In addition to my work in Israel, which I hope to continue, I have also been recording the lives and descendants of Holocaust survivors and Polish soldiers who were unable to return home after WW2. This work is urgent due to the ages of those involved. Whilst there are few WW2 soldiers left, the memories of their children must also be recorded. I believe this is now the generation which must be heard.”
The Gray’s School of Art Degree Show runs from 15-22 June and will showcase work by students of all disciplines.