Thanksgiving Tradition: Gillian Laub’s Turkey Day

Gillian Laub
Gillian Laub
Dad Getting Ready to Carve the Turkey, Chappaqua, 2005

Update: One year after LightBox published ‘Four Generations’, photographer Gillian Laub’s project documenting her family’s annual gatherings, Laub added another chapter to the story — a fifth generation. Laub, with husband Tahl Raz, welcomed newborn Shiloh Isadora on November 16th, 2012, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Gillian Laub with husband Tahl Raz and newborn Shiloh Isadora. (Photo: Ilona Szwarc for TIME)

For as long as she can remember, Thanksgiving has been photographer Gillian Laub’s favorite holiday. “So many of my memories from childhood are around Thanksgiving because I have a huge family, and that was when everyone from all sides came together.” Ten years ago, Laub began photographing her family’s annual gatherings—which take place at Laub’s childhood home or her sister’s house in upstate New York—an experience she says has allowed her to watch her family grow up and record the process for posterity. “I really started photographing Thanksgiving because there’s something incredible about the time of the year,” Laub says. “The changing and transitioning of the seasons and the aging of my family members—there was something symbolic that I wanted to mark and document.” Beyond the photos, Laub also created a poignant video of her family titled “Four Generations”, which premiered at LOOK 3 photo festival this June.

There’s one gap in the decade-long series. In the summer of 2007, Laub’s grandfather Irving passed away, and that November, she found herself unable to take any pictures. “Everyone felt a marked change that Thanksgiving,” she says. “It was my grandfather’s favorite holiday, and he was the patriarch of the family. I just remember it was almost like a religious ceremony—his carving of the turkey—and the whole family just felt an incredible sense of loss that year.” Since then, her grandmother’s health has also deteriorated, which Laub says has made looking through the photographs painful at times. “The photographs mark the aging process, which can be beautiful and difficult at the same time,” she says. “But that’s why I have this annual tradition of documenting the holiday. It allows me to really reflect on the year—what has changed, what has been lost, what has been learned, and what we have to be thankful for.”

Gillian Laub is a photographer based in New York and a frequent contributor to TIME. She is currently working on a project about the American South. See more of her work here

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