Reboot Ideas Conversations

Reboot Ideas Presents: The Art of Visual Activism

March 27, 2023

Watch the stimulating Reboot Ideas conversation between two powerhouses of the photography world, artist Gillian Laub and independent curator Maya Benton. Their discussion explored the ways in which Laub’s work interrogates areas of societal conflict and tension to prompt conversation, empathy, and connection across differences, and how the Jewish values that permeate her work inform her determination to capture nuanced stories. This talk was presented in partnership with the Contemporary Jewish Museum and supported by the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. The program was introduced by Sally Martin Katz, curatorial associate, photography at SFMOMA. We are grateful to our media sponsors, The Forward and J. The Jewish News of Northern California.

Set against the backdrop of Laub’s powerful Family Matters exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the conversation explored the ways Laub combines her personal identity with her work as a photographer, filmmaker and visual activist. In addition to Family Matters, which presents a vulnerable window into the artist’s family during times of joy, rupture, and repair that became tangible in 2016, when Laub and her parents found themselves on opposing sides of the most divisive presidential election in recent U.S. history, this conversation included her work Testimony, documenting  the lives of Muslims, Christians and Jews living in Palestine and Israel; Southern Rites, her long term project about adolescents grappling with the legacy of segregation and racially motivated violence in the American south; and iconic images of public figures from LeBron James  to Dolly Parton. 

Laub and Benton examined what’s at stake and what we can do to ensure a thriving future for Jewish voices and perspectives.

The program was held at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in conjunction with Gillian Laub: Family Matters. Gillian Laub: Family Matters is organized by the International Center of Photography, New York

This conversation is the first in a 2023 Reboot Ideas series of three events in the San Francisco Bay Area, supported by the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. The series, “Art as Counterpoint to Antisemitism” foregrounds the role of arts and culture as acts of resistance to a rising tide of antisemitism.

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Gillian Laub

Photographer and Filmmaker

Gillian Laub (born in Chappaqua, New York, 1975) is a photographer and filmmaker based in New York. She received a BA in comparative literature from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, before studying photography at the International Center of Photography, New York. Her works include the book Testimony (Aperture, 2007) and the book and HBO film Southern Rites (2015). Laub received a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in 2019.


Maya Benton

Curator at the International Center of Photography

Maya Benton is a curator at the International Center of Photography in New York, where she has worked since 2008. She has curated numerous traveling exhibitions, lectures widely, and is a frequent contributor to magazines and museum catalogs, where she writes about museums, photography, Israeli art, and Jewish visual and material culture.

Maya’s 2013 exhibition, Roman Vishniac Rediscovered, is traveling internationally through 2022. The show was heralded as a “revelation” by The New Yorker, ARTnews, TIME, The Financial Times and The Economist, and was praised in more than 300 international press outlets. The catalogue was named Finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, and the Krauszna-Krause Book Award, Europe’s top prize for photography books. She is also the author of the French monograph, Roman Vishniac. Her 2011 exhibition, Ruth Gruber: Photojournalist, is traveling through 2018.

Maya is organized Southern Rites, a traveling exhibition of photographer Gillian Laub’s contemporary images of racially segregated proms and homecoming rituals in the American South. Southern Rites examinesd the legacy of segregation and racially motivated violence through the experiences of African American teenagers.

She is a graduate of Brown University, Harvard University and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.