'Ghosts in my own space': Artist connects with lost relatives

Story highlights

  • Leah Miriam Cooper found a way to connect with the family she never really knew
  • She took their old photos and projected them onto her home

(CNN)Artist Leah Miriam Cooper never met either of her grandfathers; they died before she was born. And both of her grandmothers died before she was able to know them very well.

The 26-year-old remembers the jealousy she felt growing up with peers who were close to their extended family. So when she had to come up with a thesis for her master's degree, Cooper had an idea to connect with her late relatives the best she could -- through old photographs and modern technology.
"I have always been interested in working with projections and the concept of combining two spaces into one photograph, and (I) decided to use this technique to learn more about my familial identity," she told CNN via email.
    Artist Leah Miriam Cooper
    Cooper gathered old family photos and scanned them into 35-millimeter slides. She then projected the images onto her apartment and her parents' home. It created the illusion that her paternal grandmother was sleeping in her bed, for example, or that her mother's family was celebrating Passover at her dining-room table.
    "I went through many stages of experimentation with different types of photographs, mostly candid versus posed," she said. "I ended up enjoying the apparition quality the candid images provided. I loved feeling as if they were ghosts in my own space."
    Cooper said it has helped her feel closer to her family.
    "I always thought that it would be impossible to get to know them, but through this project I have," she said. "I feel as if I'm mending the tear in my familial history by going through the family archives."

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    Cooper has since found her grandmothers' diaries, and she has realized that she and her paternal grandmother share a sense of humor. And that she highly resembles her mother's side.
    "When I started the project I had always felt as if I had nothing in common with the people in the photographs," she said. "But now, it's apparent that we share many traits -- from physical features, how we set up our homes, to small bits of humor."