Project 3: The digital family album

Exercise 2.3

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.

Exercise 2.3

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.


PDF Version



Material used


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.





Playing with Ideas

Playing with ideas towards Exercise 2.3 and then Assignment 2 

Having overcome my reluctance to play around with old photographs (well, at least partly) I felt more able to broach Exercise 2.3. The brief for this Exercise is 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.  I decided first to experiment with forms of digital montage techniques to build upon techniques such as those I used in Part One Project 1 here   layering and merging images in different ways.

I had been looking at Alma Haser’s work here . She  is probably most known for her Cosmic Surgery series   and I had been reading how she had experimented with a particular form of origami to transform portraits into paper sculptures, using herself as her own model to begin with. If you link in with her news page you can see what a creative mind she has. I looked at her shop page and noticed that she offers a Fold Your Face Kit for a small price and so I sent for it.

Using a photograph of myself


I then created a grid image in Photoshop and folded as per instructions. After many attempts I produced this


and played around some more.

This was a theme I thought I could develop by placing photographs of me at various ages into the grid – fitting with self-identity and how it evolves over time, also with the concept of the “inner child” . It looks much more 3D-like in the real and so I need to find a way to photograph it more realistically.

Continuing with the theme of identity, I have had my DNA analysed on two occasions. Several years ago I obtained information on my mitochondrial DNA – that which is passed down unchanged by the mother to her children, both male and female, although it can then only be passed down further through the female line. Apparently I descend from Haplogroup H. I recently read an online article written by a photographer who had established how many well-known people belonged to her Haplogroup and then photographed herself as them but, unfortunately, I now can’t find it again.  This took me back to my concept of The Apple Tree and creating a project around the women in my maternal line-vwritten about here . Recent DNA analysis by Ancestry, which I think relates to the last few hundred years –  revealed that I am 73% native to the Great Britain Region whereas a typical person is 60% native. Maybe that explains why I just don’t feel ‘European’ even though I enjoy travelling there.  I had the idea of creating an identity document to show my roots and develop my story from there


The artist Daniela White has created photomontages and 3D structures from family photographs    and one Floating Memories  really appealed to me with its folding and layering of memories .  Thinking about my more remote ancestors and how they might have travelled to this Country, I created a boat from my identity document, and then used the Warp filter in Photoshop to elongate it further.


Obviously, this technique would need much refinement but I do like the idea of more experimentation with creating sculptural objects from photographs.

Turning back to something more traditional, whilst still thinking of ‘inner child’ I created a Gif. The link is below, once the GIF appears click on it again to reduce it.



The other day I read about a 17th Century map found shoved up a chimney in North East Scotland. It was in a ball shape and had perhaps been stuffed in the chimney to stop draughts coming down. The heap of dusty fragments was painstakingly re-constructed and conserved at the National Library of Scotland – each delicate piece heap by heap. There’s more here  on page 15and I watched a video about it here during which the point was also made that all maps are fiction and decisions have to be made as to what gets put in and what left out, which pretty much seems to me like a family album.

We’ve never had a tradition of family albums in my family so I just inherited more old photographs and letters to add to ones I already had. I know who the people are in most of them. I even know about them from stories told me, but how much truth did these stories hold? There are facts and there is truth and the two don’t necessarily coincide. People tell stories in the belief that they are true and I still hold to the belief that there is truth to be found. The same can be applied to photographs and documents – are they indexical, how far do they represent reality?

Museums and other archive collections are now paying much more attention to family archives of ordinary people. During my own research I have, for example, accessed the Sheffield City Council Archives  and also archives concerned with experiences during World War Two. I have my own memories of that time – not many because I was very small then. And so I circle round and round following the labyrinth of history – my history as experienced and told to me by those who knew me then and also their histories of my most recent ancestors as told to me. I have become a living archive. As I write this I’m imagining myself as something similar to the goddess Kali with many arms and hands holding those photographs and letters that date back up to a hundred years ago. Not long in the general scheme of things but a part of the ground that supports my sense of identity, my perception of my place in the World.

In my mind I had a vast archive but have realised that that’s because I had also attached all the stories about my grandparents and great grandparents and built myself the equivalent of sitting by the fireside with them. Around fifteen years ago I decided to research my family background and build a family tree to add to this memory bank I was now conserving. I accessed census, birth, death information etc via but soon got stuck. I discovered that one paternal great-grandfather was born in Huntingdon Workhouse – father unknown – and his mother subsequently married a young man by the surname of Chattell. Was he really the biological father but his family had disapproved of the liaison – hence the Workhouse? The couple moved North to Sheffield – added to the family – identities changed. Chattell became Chattle – the identity of the first child changed from step-son to son and his surname from Wesley to Chattle. I had spent most of my life believing I was a Chattle and now it seemed I might not be at all. I can’t say I was shocked because it didn’t really matter (I’ve had the surname Banks for much longer than I had the previous one) although I was curious.

The maternal side was even more puzzling. There is no father’s name listed on my grandfather’s birth certificate. The story was that his mother had been married to a Mr Davison, had several children with him and then went off with another man and had several more children. My grandfather’s next brother in age emigrated to Canada as an adult, changing his name to Noble because he said that was what their surname should be. I’ve spent considerable time recently back researching on the internet so there’s more, but I wouldn’t want to bore my readers. Does giving oneself a different name change self-concept? I changed my name when I got married – it was the tradition then and it took me quite some time to get used to that, but that went alongside taking on a different role – that of being ‘a wife’, with the role of ‘mother’ soon to be added. ‘Naming’ can often be quite a profound process. I do keep thinking of Fontcuberta and his chapter on “Fugitive Identities” – ‘fragmented identities in motion …. Like a flowing ever on, never staying in one place’ (2014:92). The digital world does enable people to take on other identities, changing avatars, but how different is that really from the past – it’s the same process but developed in a different way.

I’ve referred to Census information etc but how far can that be relied upon to reveal truth and what can these old photographs of mine really tell me?


I’m sifting through the old documents, trying to piece them together to make them speak to me, but I’m thinking I might end up creating a new map instead of re-constructing an old one. I’ll add more notes on archives and family photographs later.



Fontcuberta, J (2014) Pandora’s Camera, UK, Mack


Project 3 : Notes on Suggested Reading


The photo album as an archive for significant events and people. With the migration from the physical album to the digital archive we are more likely to view photographs on a smartphone than an album page. However, images are often viewed fleetingly via swiping on a screen – e.g. Snapchat and  its 10 second showing. We look, consume, move on.

Kessels installation of  photographs uploaded to Flickr within 24 hours is referred to as here and I wrote about this after seeing it at the Arles Festival here . In this Phaeton article here he makes an interesting point regarding the paradox that everything is moving towards perfection in digital photography, “Yet we have these applications on our phones to fuck up our photographs, to make them look overexposed or with flares on them”. I hadn’t looked at it that way before.

The emergence of the ‘selfie’

Kessels installation images look as if ripped from family album, but they are from a day on Flickr. With the use of the camera phone there has been a rise in the popularity of self-portrait to introduce oneself to others – aided by the front camera so you can see your pose. this creates a whole new set of dilemmas – what type of self-portrait to pose, how should I look etc. A quote from Fontcuberta, I Photograph Therefore I Am – (2014 p.17) reminding us how far back the ambassadorial use of portraits as a form of introduction goes in arranging noble marriages.

Inserting self into pictures in unusual ways – Irish artist Trish Morrissey (staging herself and her sister in ‘tightly controlled fictional mise en scene based on the conventions of family snapshots” and Dutch photographer Hans Eljkelboom, who rang the doorbell in the afternoon whilst the husband/father of the house was away at work. If the wife and children were in, he photographed himself between them as the father of the house. He also set himself the task of being a bystander in images appearing in the same newspaper. Erik Kessels reviewed Eljkelboom’s work here

Vibeke Tandberg

 Manipulated self-portraits/representations through photomontage and collage works of photography and film, examining issues around identity, the dislocation of the subjects and the interrogation. the video is slow-moving. Eyes flowing as tears fading into Skull behind the face. Young person growing from tree. Woman peering down at pile of film flowing from her eyes. 3.36 painted snake (slowly becoming darker) , with face underneath. Triptych – Contact sheet between two portraits, turns into pieces of a naked woman masturbating. Overlaid and then taken over by a girl with sewn up lips and no nose. Crossed/rubbed out by wire or something similar that looks like scribbles. A hanging light then becomes predominant. The triptych darkens so only the light is seen.

Joan Fontcuberta (2014) Fugitive Identities

At the beginning of this chapter in his book Pandora’s Camera  Fontcuberta looks at motivations for and responses to political graffiti in both Europe (slogans on the walls of the Sorbonne in May 1968) and America. “To establish power and to narrow minds, raffiti was not a form of protest but a criminal activity that had to be stamped out” (2012:92) whereas the thrill and risk of it acted as a rite of passage; marking of territory: definition of areas of influence and statements of identity – “fragmented identities in motion …. Like a flowing ever on, never staying in one place.” Continuing with this theme, Fontcuberta then considers artists who have looked at identity and how it might fluctuate for the same person according to place/space.

Isabelle Eshragi  portrayed how she changes “identity” on her journeys between Paris and Tehran. In her series Reservate Sinje Dillenkofer  photographed senior female executives dressed for work then invited them, in their own home, to stage and enact some secret fantasy. Fontcuberta proposes Annie Sprinkle, an ex Porn star, as a post-feminist who encourages women to take on males where they are most vulnerable – in their desire. With The Transformation Salon Sprinkle took advantage of a commission to produce portrait photographs of participants in an amateur striptease contest. She used a Polaroid camera to take deliberately rough before photographs to show the two realities of everyday life and the world of desire that can be bought. Exaggerating to make a point – well, that’s one way I suppose. Her website is an eye-opener so I’m choosing not to include a link here.

Fontcuberta then looks at photographers who have used digital techniques to such as cloning and layers to examine the notion of identity. Vibeke Tandberg (referred to above) produced Living Together   an album of memories of a non-existent family. She produced a series of snapshots of two young sisters – identical, but too identical – raising the question of which one was real and which a double and adding a “diffuse fear that perhaps we can no longer distinguish between appearance and reality, reality and simulacrum, or original and reproduction” (2012:96). Fontcuberta also refers to Wendy McMurdo’s work around this topic. In 1995 McMurdo produced In A Shaded Place  where ‘Doppelgangers were created through the use of multiple images to arouse a sense of the ‘uncanny’ in the viewer and there is a very interesting article here  where she discusses this with artist Sheila Lawson. I’m finding it interesting that, on the one hand, we humans might have these fears pointed towards by Fontcuberta and yet, on the other hand, on many occasions we have the desire to dress like other people; behave in similar ways, so as to belong conform to a notion of group identity as opposed to individual identity. Paul Smith explored what is ‘masculinity’ and his desire to join the Army in his degree project Artists Rifles  . There are further examples – Dalia Chauveau’s cloning agency that produces virtual clones to order (after several searches I cannot find this on the Web), and, in fiction, Stanislaw Lem and “The Star Diaries” voyages of an astronaut who, on his thirteenth journey  ends up on a planet where the inhabitants all have exactly the same face. The story is here on YouTube if you wish to listen.

Fontcuberta touches more upon new digital technologies at the end of the chapter and how this touches upon all aspects of abstract construction of reality and this is something I will return to later in the Module whilst retaining the notion of ‘Windows’ and how many can be kept open at any one time – “The life practice of Windows is that of a decentered self that exists in many worlds, that plays many roles at the same time” (2012:102)


 Fontcuberta, J. (2014)’ Fugitive Identities’ In Fontcuberta, J. Pandora’s Camera, UK, Mack pp. 91-103.