This will be my final post this month and I thought I would use it to summarise my project and to give you some food for thought.
I began this project with handful of ideas and my faithful ‘Camera Lucida’ by Roland Barthes. A book of which I have grown fond of this last month. It is a book which I had to re-read in sections to fully understand, and for all the information to sink in. I learnt a great deal about the fundamentals of photography and the ever lasting connection with our history, our family and our sentimentality. Barthes chapters in the latter pages about finding the truth in the photographs of his Mother really spoke to me, above all else that I have looked at in this project. Also his description of ‘Vertigo’ really helped me put a name to the overwhelming feelings I had been getting when reenacting, recreating and revisiting the old family photographs.
When visiting London in early May, I visited the Sony Photography Awards and found an iresistable charm in the photographs of Irina Werning who won the portrait prize by reenacting photographs of family and friends. She kept consistent similarity in her work; clothing, positioning and even the hue and shape of the photograph. This inspired me a great deal as it was exactly the feel and ‘look’ that I was aiming for in my own work.
Hamish Gane was also a big influence and if I had more time, I would have experimented with installation and pinhole cameras, using slide film shot through strings of old photographs, reminicent of his work ‘Hard Cell’.
As my project follows on from the last; of which I discovered my Grandmothers box, creating a body of work in her memory based on Alzhiemers, I looked at the work of Judith Fox. Her work is all about her husband who also has the disease of which is called ‘I Still Do’. The photographs help her to “touch him” through the camera lens.
Fox’s body of work is extremely moving and through my own investigations came across many books and websites which explain ‘reminisense therapy’ where photo albums are used as cue’s to remember faces and places. I thought this was extremely interesting and it was at this moment I decided I would create a photo album based on my family – now and then.
Whilst reading into photography and collective memory, I found out that more often then not, photographs replace and form new, false memory. In a psychological experiment;
“They showed some adults three real childhood photographs, and one fake photograph depicting the participant in a hot air balloon as a child… By the end of the study, 50% of the participants remembered something about the fabricated balloon ride in vivid detail” (Wade et al., 2002)
This formentioned experiment made me stop and think about all the photographs I had been sorting and filing. How many of them could I actually remember being taken? At most I could remember the day, but rarely anything specific. This is what led me to impose myself into old pictures, using photoshop and to look at the work of Chino Otsuka with her finely detailed double self-portraits.
Marcella Anwandter is a scupltor/photographer and a former student of the University of Pennsylvania. Her project entitled ‘Frames of Mind’ was incredibly useful in context, exploring the concepts of memory and photography;
“I have always been facinated by photographys’ ability to translate the raw materials of our fleeting moments – light and time – into tangible objects.”
After obtaining her accompanied essay and pictures of her work I was enthralled by the detail and workmanship she had put into her final show; using chemicals to peel the ink from paper and sticking it to plexiglass, creating a subtle translucent image very much like a memory of which she then suspended (about 100 of them) on different levels so that the observer is ever changing in position in order to maintain aspect. This led me to think about the ways in which I could display my own work and ultimately led me to hanging old photographs on twine and pegs (which I thought was more visually appropriate).
In the latter of this project I also read a book by Susan Sontag called ‘On Photography’. I found it easier to read then ‘Camera Lucida’ but equally as opinionated. She shared views with Barthes about the photograph being ultimately an objectified death, both feeling that a person becomes history when their photograph is taken. Looking at photographs knowing that the end will inevitably come. They also share the views of the ‘sentimental’ love we have for our own photographs of family, and that we are all looking for the ‘ideal’ photograph, one that will conform to what we believe to be ‘right’ in our minds, of which will project our desired ‘image’ for the rest of the world to see.
Interestingly, Anwandter discusses this ‘image of self’ in her essay connecting all three writers completely by context;
“By constantly manipulating the objective gaze of the camera, through what we choose to focus on and how we choose to present ourselves (posing), our photographs become fragmented glimpses, only capable of suggesting, never capturing, the reality that existed behind the physical remnant. “
Taking my parents to Tintagel was a very rewarding experience for them and for me. It took us two days to find all the places where the old photographs were taken in order for us to reenact them. Baring in mind there have been almost 40 years of environmental degredation to these places, it was fantastic to see the contrast in things that had completely changed and others that had not changed at all.
Above all, I learnt from this trip that memories cannot be captured on a photograph. When presenting their old photo album back to them, I naively expected them to take me to the places with vivid knowlege. This was not the case. Not even close. My Parents had no idea where any of the places were. Yes they remember that they went there, but to them, it was all a blur to think back on it from this present time. So from this I can safely say that to bring true ‘life’ to a photograph, one has to remember it being taken; the sights, sounds, smells. And as these eventually diminish, so does the accompanied memory.
The remeniscent nostalgia and ultimately the ‘vertigo’ of being in these places and seeing with my own eyes the changes in my parents as a direct comparison was unreal. It made me think about my own life and whether I would be looking back with my children, taking them to places I visited in the past.
Overall, I have had a great deal of fun with this project and have learnt a lot. The wise words of all the writers have opened my eyes to a new world of photography, a world where you can separate yourself from the rest of the masses. It has helped me identify myself with the photograph, and how to ‘see’ others work, by revisiting it again and again in order to comprise a visual punctum.
Anwandter, M. ‘Frames of Mind’ [Online] http://www.arthistory.upenn.edu/vlst/vlstcat2006.pdf [15th May 2012]