A Different Kind of Family Portrait

Professor of Photography Larry Volk has spearheaded a community photography project that memorializes family stories of immigration, belonging, and identity.

Rose Volk, mother of Endicott professor Larry Volk, was a Holocaust survivor
Est. Read Time

Growing up, Larry Volk didn’t realize that his mother, the late painter Rosette Volk, was a Holocaust survivor.

A Cuban-born Jew living in France during World War II, Rose, as she was known, was interned at the Vittel Camp, which primarily housed foreign nationals like herself.

Rose Volk, mother of Endicott professor Larry Volk, was a Holocaust survivor

Throughout her life, Rose refused to talk about that dark chapter, and by the time Volk learned enough to ask pointed questions, dementia had claimed her memories.

As a way to process and raise awareness about the Holocaust at a time when most survivors have now passed away, Volk, a photographer and Professor of Photography in the School of Visual Arts, began to share his family’s story—first through his own practice with a poignant 2009 series of photographic composite prints titled A Story of Rose’s.

But over the spring 2023 semester, Volk invited the Endicott community to collaborate in Celebration of Lineage, a remarkable community photography project that coincided with World Holocaust Day on January 27 and Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) on April 19.      

With four open calls for participation, students, faculty, and staff dropped in to sit for portraits alongside a treasured item representing their family story of immigration, belonging, and identity. The idea was born out of the annual Holocaust Remembrance Lunch, organized in collaboration with Gail Cantor, Endicott’s Director of Belonging and Spiritual Life.

“I came up with the Celebration of Lineage project as an idea for proactively bearing witness to what we all share and creating an agent for change,” said Volk. “To me, the Holocaust isn’t just a Jewish issue. Holocaust remembrance is really about raising awareness of any number of ways that a group of people can be subjugated. Not everybody has a Holocaust story, but this project is about honoring lineage and offering an opportunity for dialogue about ancestry.”

Rose Volk, mother of Endicott professor Larry Volk, was a Holocaust survivor

The project is ongoing and gaining traction. So far, Volk has photographed 15 individuals whose portraits appear as a diptych with stark black backdrops. Each individual was snapped with their family treasure and given the chance to write a short caption explaining their ancestry and why the object is important. 

For Hunter Scholz ’23, a history major who was born in Cambodia, adopted at a young age, and raised in Augusta, Maine, the project was deeply meaningful.

Scholz first heard about the project on a flier at the Center for Belonging, then turned up at one of Volk’s open calls carrying the wooden prayer house he and his adopted dad built together. The house, stocked daily with Buddha offerings, represents Scholz’s recent decision to embrace Buddhism and connect more deeply with his Cambodian ancestry.

“I’ve started to find out about my early upbringing and … I recently learned that my mother, who was 38, died during childbirth. I was her sixth child,” Scholz explained.

He also discovered that as teenagers, both his biological parents had survived the brutal Khmer Rouge, the radical Communist regime that terrorized the country from 1975 until 1979.

“My Cambodian name is Sám Sámnang which translates to ‘lucky boy’ in English. It astounds me every day that my biological parents were survivors and that I survived too,” Scholz said.

Endicott College Professor Larry Volk

Other community members also brought moving personal stories to Volk’s open calls. Though there is deliberately nothing visually complex about the portraits themselves, they have helped Volk realize what a powerful tool photography is for creating visibility for people whose very existence has been challenged by political regimes, discrimination, and abuses of power.

“I hope that this project might help us to embrace our differences and at the same time recognize our points of commonality,” Volks said. “That is the way to act against the forces that subjugate one group against another.”

With the support of School of Visual and Performing Arts students, the Celebration of Lineage Project will continue through the 2023-24 academic year. Volk is happy to set up a photography shoot for any Endicott community member (alumni included) willing to sit for a portraiture session on campus. Email him at lvolk@endicott.edu.

In Pictures
Professor of Interior Design Andrew Brody shares a wine bottle opener that belonged to his father.
In Pictures
Cayley Oram ’23 alongside a photo of her great-great grandparents in Armenia.
In Pictures
Dance instructor Hannah Ranco with a pair of her great-grandmother’s handmade moccasins.
In Pictures
Made as a collaboration with his father, Hunter Scholz ’23 brought this item with him to Endicott to celebrate his religion.
In Pictures
Julia Vogel ’24 brought a photo of her great-grandmother’s family in Sligo, Ireland.
In Pictures
Kaleigh Halasz ’24 showcases her Nana’s bracelet from Naples, Italy.
In Pictures
This item, received as a gift from where her grandmother worked in Seoul, Korea, contains memories of different dry snacks for family and guests, said Myoung Joo Chun, Director of Interior Architecture Programs.
In Pictures
Stephen Steinberg, an adjunct professor at the Curtis L. Gerrish School of Business, brought in this photo of his grandpa, who saved multiple family members from the Holocaust and is Steinberg’s hero.
In Pictures
Sydney Savery ’25 brought in her great grandfather’s hat, which shows his dedication to country and family.