Daniella Zalcman

Daniella Zalcman is a documentary photographer based in London and New York. She began her career while studying architecture as an undergraduate at Columbia University, freelancing for the New York Daily News in between classes. After several years of working as a daily assignment photographer primarily for the NYDN and then for The Wall Street Journal, she moved to London where she now focuses on long term projects that explore the legacies of western colonization. She is a multiple grantee of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and her work has been exhibited throughout the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

Signs of Your Identity

In the 1840s, the Canadian government created the Indian Residential School system. This network of church­run boarding schools was developed to forcibly assimilate indigenous children into Western Canadian culture. Attendance was mandatory, and Indian Agents would regularly visit reserves to take children as young as two or three from their communities. Many of them wouldn’t see their families again for the next decade. These students were punished for speaking their native languages or observing any indigenous traditions, routinely physically and sexually assaulted, and in some extreme instances subjected to medical experimentation and sterilization.

The last residential school didn't close until 1996. The Canadian government issued its first formal apology in 2008.

My hope is to make Signs of Your Identity a photo book and a traveling exhibit, featuring not just photographs but also a collection of interviews and first­person accounts, and most importantly, a teaching tool. These images focus on the impact of what it means to lose one’s identity. A disproportionate number of residential school survivors and their immediate family struggle with PTSD, depression, and substance abuse — and this persistent legacy of social and public health consequences needs to be documented and shared. These multiple exposure portraits are an attempt to photograph survivors who are still fighting to overcome the memories of their residential school experiences.

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