My first version of this Exercise was lost/corrupted when my computer froze and I am unable to recover it despite using all the strategies suggested on-line. Therefore, what follows is a more hurried version as I have to get on with Assignment 2.
Brief: To produce a piece of work that either explores the family album and its iconography or reflects on representations of the self in digital culture.
After playing around with some ideas digitally (see previous post) I chose to produce a series of photographs (photomontage, layers) , using found images, including isome from my own family archives etc which reference the family album in some way. I have only inherited a loose collection of photographs and other documents. Nothing was contained in albums so there is no structure which would guide me as to the narrative that my ancestors’ might have wanted to portray of their lives. All I can rely on is my own memory of what I was told, together with the small archive.
I was born from steel, the magnet that drew people towards it and threw them together in its crucible; warming them with its promised glow of riches and success. Maybe for some, but not for my maternal grandfather’s family who laboured hard and lived poorly – at least for the most part (see a YouTube video here .) Love is free they say, though, and perhaps more the stronger when it has to be fought for against what others might think.
Photographs, letters, documents and information downloaded from or obtained through the internet such as Census returns and birth certificates. Below is a contact sheet
I had several aims for this exercise which is partly why I gave myself the latitude of using more than the six images suggested.
- Put into practice some of the knowledge gained from my readings on archives – their purposes, advantages and pitfalls
- Become a researcher in my own archive
- Fill in some gaps and create links between known; guessed, imagine.
- I knew the story I wished to reveal but wanted to test whether I could achieve this by images alone
- Gain further practice in sequencing images
I certainly learned more about using an archive – structure/lack of structure, to take account of the way in which it has been organised or built. How it can be deconstructed and interpreted to create new meanings/narratives, as with the work I refer to here Freud’s linkage of the Magic Writing Tablet with palimpest made me think of layers of time which can also be represented through the use of Photoshop layers. Jacques (J. Derrida 1995) suggested that one should psychoanalyse the archive – written about here and I extended this notion to two aspects. Gillian Rose suggested looking at the family album as a practice (G. Rose 2010) why and how they are kept and the uses made of them. I know that neither my parents nor my maternal grandmother kept a family album and have wondered why. Was there something within the family that made such a practice more difficult. In the absence of an album to serve as archive I decided to treat each individual photograph as an archive in itself. This brings into play the notion that once a photograph ceases to act as a memento mori ,because there is no longer anyone left alive to remember the person depicted (Joel Meir Wigoder 1998 here), then it can be examined to provide new information as described here by Nicky Bird in her analysis of a photograph on a pin. I used this to look more closely at the only photograph of my grandfather as a young man that I have.
He is staring into the distance, looking spruce. Could it be a wedding photograph of him? The cloth of his jacket looks heavy and not expensive – more like serge perhaps – but it looks like a silk cravat tucked into his waistcoat. I am seeing someone moving away from the barefoot boy, becoming more determined and moving towards being the man who became a well-respected Trades Union official.
Punctum in R. Barthes Camera Lucida (1993)
I experienced this visceral reaction during one my internet searches. I had been told that my grandfather had no shoes when he was young but this seemed very distant and I had previously not taken too much note of where he was born – Duke Street, Sheffield – but an idle search on this street led me here For some reason It t really hit home to me that he had been born in such a slum area and could have been one of these children.
I wanted to use a similar presentation to that used by Sophy Rickett and Bettina von Zwehl with Album 31 but decided against this as individual frames make a container around each image whereas I wanted my images free to be linked with each other. Otherwise Angela Kelly’s work Sundays at Sea was the strongest influence with its use of layering – maps, landscape photographs and family photographs .
In the event, I only used layering for the first image but left the other images to speak for themselves. I think the hand-written words I extracted do evoke what was happening at the time. I asked for feedback from one of my Course colleagues and her impression was that the layered image had too many layers and needed to be simplified – perhaps removing one of them. I agree with her and will bear this in mind for the Assignment. I was surprised how long it took for me to edit those few images into Blurb software but I was thinking carefully about how to re-size each one for sequencing and impact. I know I have a lot to learn. Hand-written extracts led me to think that no further text would be needed. I’m still not sure though. If I had added text this would have been to put a date under each image. In fact I had organised the images to allow for a date.
I learned much from this apparently simple exercise which I will take with me into the Assignment, although, I have to admit that I would like to expand on this particular chapter of my background in some subsequent work.
Barthes, R. and Howard, R. (1993) Camera lucida: Reflections on photography. London: Vintage Classics.
Rose, G. (2010) Doing family photography: The domestic, the public and the politics of sentiment. Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishing.