Early one morning, on a sunny July weekend in 2007, we asked beachgoers in Brooklyn’s predominantly Jewish and Russian-speaking Brighton Beach to define their own identities.

Each participant could pose for a photograph with any of three signs (on which we had written the words “Russian,” “Jewish,” and “American”) or come up with his or her own self-definition by creating a unique sign. By the end of that day, 52 people posed for us and we took 44 portraits.