Essays on Photography, Memory and Family

This book project has grown out of more than twenty-five years of a multi-media, visual arts practice about photography. My aim was to try a different medium as an approach to certain preoccupations that have been with me for as long as I can remember. The ‘book object’ felt like the right form. Fourthwall Books’ press release reads as follows: “In this book, Kurgan begins with a family snapshot made by her Polish grandfather in 1939 on the eve of the war. Presenting this evocative image as a repository of multiple histories—public, private, domestic, familial and generational—she sets off on a series of meditations on photography that give us startling insights into how photographs work: what they conceal, how they mislead, what provocations they contain.”


“Each essay takes up the thread of the story of her family’s epic journey across Europe as they flee—country by country—Nazi occupation, until they reach Cape Town, South Africa. But Kurgan takes detours, circles back, diverts attention elsewhere, enriching and also disrupting the narrative with digressions on the way Google has changed our relationship to photography, on her grandfather’s eloquent daily journals, on the shipboard flirtations of her fascinating grandmother, on vanity, on self representation, on loss and return, home and exile. Kurgan’s richly satisfying essays are part memoir, part travelogue, part analysis and they demonstrate her sophisticated understanding of a medium that has long engaged her as an artist.”

Kurgan has achieved something rare in this book: a truly dynamic fusion of text and image. She brings a deep knowledge of craft to everyday images, whether she’s teasing fugitive meanings from a creased pre-war snapshot or taking the pulse of an apparently impersonal digital image. The result is both a moving family memoir and an illuminating reflection on photography and memory.

Ivan Vladislavić, author of Portrait with Keys and Double Negative

On the basis of a detailed war-time diary and a collection of family photos left by her grandfather, Terry Kurgan builds a gripping family memoir/detective story that takes us from Poland through Romania, Turkey and India to South Africa. Balancing her account of this global Jewish refugee journey with illuminating microscopic readings of seemingly ordinary images, Kurgan invites us into the intimacies of family in conditions of extremity, even as she zooms out again to explore the revelatory power and the frustrating limits of photographs in our search for the textures of past lives.

Marianne Hirsch, author of The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust, Columbia University.

Read a review by Andrew van der Vlies, published on the literary blog ‘Africa in Words’  here.

Read an extract published in The Johannesburg Review of Books here.

Read a review by Alexandra Dodd, published in The Journal of Visual Culture here.


In South Africa, the book is available to purchase through Jacana Media. For orders please email: sales@jacana.co.za

In the UK, USA and the rest of the world, the book is distributed by Idea Books in The Netherlands.

You can also find it on www.amazon.com.

Everyone is Present: Essays on Photography, Memory and Family
By Terry Kurgan
ISBN: 978-0-9947009-6-4
220 x 160 mm
280 pages
Hard cover with dust jacket, full colour
R460 incl VAT