Hard Times are Fighting Times

Alice Proujansky

2017 - Ongoing

Leverett, Massachusetts, United States; Brooklyn, New York, United States

My mom and dad fell in love while planning a 60,000-person protest in 1976. Their friends joked that they would never last because my mom was a Marxist while my dad was an Anarcho-Communist, but they've been married for 40 years. The story of their activism is the story of me.

This project describes the domestic legacy of their participation in radical leftist groups seeking to overthrow imperialism and capitalism through organizing and revolution.

Our family unit was its own political movement, nation-state, culture and system of belief. “Each according to their need; each according to their ability,” my mom wrote beautifully, cut into a ribbon shape, and taped above our pantry door. Adapted to be non-sexist, Marx’s words were even used to resolve family arguments.

I still believe my parents’ ideology is fundamentally good. But their utopian dreams of Marxist-Leninism, feminist rigor, right thinking and fairness are moving–and intensely rigid. How could anyone live up to these expectations? Do I want to? Which parts of these perspectives will I keep, and what will I discard?

I’ve needed to figure out how to be my own person and my own kind of activist, taking what I’ve learned while allowing myself (and my children) flexibility. It’s the challenge we all face: to raise the next generation according to our beliefs, but with room for them to form their own.

Having been raised to be vigilant and emotionally astute, I became a photographer. In this book project, I want to put this watching to use: to comment on my upbringing, to retain and replicate what has been good and right in my family, and to dispose of what I do not need.

Before I was born, the FBI surveilled my father for years because he was a Weatherman. This small group of mostly-white college students bombed the Capitol, the Pentagon, the State Department and the New York Police Headquarters.

My mother’s activism found its fullest expression in our home. Women chopped wood, vulvas were described as such, and women who changed their names at marriage were ridiculous. But an Irish-Catholic upbringing was inescapable despite her best efforts, so sex was not discussed and feminism sometimes smeared into repression. I wasn’t allowed a Barbie, but my brother was. Peaches and Cream: peach chiffon skirt; sparkly iridescent top; big, sexist breasts.

All of this is my heritage, and it is critical now, as the working lives of this complicated and extraordinary generation come to a close. We live in a dangerous era, and my parents have navigated hard times before. I see in my parents a story of persistence, integrity and commitment, but also of a rigidity that I can’t continue to replicate.

The photographs of my parents' propaganda archive, surveillance records, family photographs and current lives depict their activism, and subsequent turn toward family life, from an intimate distance. My role in my family has been to watch and to understand. I invite you to join me.

{{ readMoreButton }}

  • My father Jed Proujansky's FBI file in a box marked with his handwriting.

  • My mom, Joan Deely, holds my 5-year-old daughter as my dad, Jed Proujansky, helps my 8-year-old son in Leverett, MA.

  • My dad's mug shots, taken when he was arrested for mob action during the 1968 Days of Rage in Chicago.

  • My dad roasts a pig in preparation for his 40th wedding anniversary at his home in Leverett, MA. My parents fell in love while planning a 1976 counter-bicentennial protest that drew an estimated 60,000 people to Philadelphia.

  • My mother looks at me in a photograph taken by my father, rephotographed by me.

  • My baby book, with my mom's dedication to the family of an American Indian Movement member who were killed in a suspicious fire.

  • I photograph my dad as he works at home in Leverett, MA.

  • A photograph my dad took of me and my mom in 1979, rephotographed by me.

  • A poster celebrating the outcome of the Vietnam War, screen printed by my mother.

  • My mom directs my daughter at my parents' home in Leverett, MA.

  • A communique distributed by my mom in the 1970s.

  • Mugshots and surveillance images in a 1975 congressional report on the Weather Underground. My dad was a member of Weatherman but did not live underground with the organization's leadership. Ron Fliegelman (pictured) is a close family friend who has been accused of making bombs used by the organization.

  • I hold a photograph of myself taken by family friend Anna Morrison in 1981.

  • My daughter, sister, dad, mom and son celebrate my daughter's third birthday at my apartment in Brooklyn, NY.

  • A flyer urging activists not to cooperate with FBI investigations, from my parents' archive.

  • A childhood photograph of me taken by my mother, rephotographed by me.

  • Buttons from movements my parents participated in and supported: U.S. out of Central America, Native American treaty rights, Puerto Rican independence and others.

  • My dad, Jed Proujansky, at work. He makes databases for a health insurance company: his younger self would not have approved, but he was not able to continue supporting his family as a mechanic.

  • A 1975 poster for International Women's Day photographed by me. My dad wrote the text on the left.

  • My parents celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary with friends at their home. My mom's friends teased her when she started dating my dad because she was a Marxist but he was an Anarchist/Communist, saying it would never last.

PhMuseum Days 2023 Open Call

Apply now for 4 Exhibitions at PhMuseum Days 2023 plus a 40-image collective installation, free applicants pass, and more

Apply now