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A pho­tog­ra­pher chases her ge­netic code around the globe

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Ém­i­lie Rég­nier

A pho­tog­ra­pher chases her ge­netic code around the globe

Iam the el­dest of five brothers and sis­ters. My six­teen-year-old sis­ter, like me, now lives in Paris; my nine­teen-year-old sis­ter and twen­tyyear-old brother live in Port-au-prince; and my thirty-year-old sis­ter lives in New York (though, de­spite my at­tempts, we’ve never met). The five of us are re­lated, yet we are not a fam­ily — I didn’t even know that they ex­isted for nearly two decades. This is be­cause my fa­ther had five chil­dren with four dif­fer­ent women. For a long time, my fa­ther, who is Haitian, was a stranger to me. I had spent half of my life in Africa, the other in Canada, and I only met him af­ter I turned eigh­teen. I was twenty-five the sec­ond time that we saw each other. When I was grow­ing up, I hated my fa­ther for his fail­ures, for his in­abil­ity to be a par­ent to my newly known sib­lings and me. Though, some­how, it was his ab­sence that made him more om­nipresent than any other per­son in my life. I tended to blame him for ev­ery­thing that I dis­liked in my­self, yet I could rec­og­nize my­self in him. Hav­ing spent very lit­tle time with my fa­ther, I know that his traits and be­hav­iours I mir­ror are not due to shared ex­pe­ri­ences but due to shared genes. In this project, DNA is draw­ing a por­trait of me through my rel­a­tives. Cre­at­ing my own fam­ily al­bum is my way of rec­on­cil­ing the past and forg­ing a bond be­tween the mem­bers of my fam­ily de­spite their dis­tances. There is my half-sis­ter and me, as well as my mother and my sis­ter’s mother, both preg­nant from the same man eigh­teen years apart. There are my two grand­moth­ers and grand­fa­thers, both the black Haitians and the white Cana­di­ans. There is my fa­ther and my mother, who I have seen to­gether only once in my life. An­other col­lage shows my fa­ther and me — we have never had our pic­ture taken to­gether. These im­ages are only the be­gin­ning. In 2017, I did a DNA test and have now con­tacted 1,224 peo­ple who are re­lated to me—all strangers who share part of my ge­netic makeup. I plan to do two more tests: one that traces African de­scent and an­other from a com­pany based out of the United States. My goal is to cre­ate a much larger fam­ily por­trait. I want to show that, de­spite great dis­tances, we are all re­lated in one way or an­other.

un­ti­tled, 2017 This is the wed­ding por­trait that my par­ents never had. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of my two fam­i­lies. Hav­ing grown up with a con­stant won­der about my iden­tity, I feel a sense of be­long­ing in putting ev­ery­one to­gether: black and white and mixed, bour­geois and work­ing class, my Me­tal­licalov­ing cousin along­side my great-grand­fa­ther from Saint Thomas. I firmly be­lieve that, through my dna, I am able to de­pict the con­tem­po­rary face of our so­ci­eties.

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