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 is an artist who uses the camera to investigate how society’s biggest questions are often writ large in our most intimate relationships. Laub has spent the past two decades exploring political conflicts, complex family and community relationships, and challenging assumptions about cultural identity. Laub’s first monograph, Testimony (Aperture), began as a response to the second intifada in the Middle East. This work is comprised of portraits and testimonies from Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, Lebanese, and Palestinians all directly and indirectly affected by the conflict. Laub spent over a decade examining issues of racism in the American South. This work became Laub’s first feature length, directed and produced, documentary film, Southern Rites that premiered on HBO. John Legend executive produced and wrote an original score for the film. Her monograph, Southern Rites (Damiani, 2015) and traveling exhibition by the same title came out in conjunction with the film and are currently being used for an educational outreach campaign, in schools and institutions across the country (Currently being shown at George Eastman Museum). In her newest monograph Family Matters (Aperture), spanning over twenty years, Laub’s own family becomes a microcosm of a fractured America when the artist and her parents find themselves on opposing sides of some of the most contentious issues in recent US history. An exhibition of Family Matters opened at the International Center of Photography in conjunction with the publication. In her most recent project, Live2Tell, Laub photographed, filmed, and interviewed over two hundred Holocaust Survivors.


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.