What happens in the absence of memory, or if the memory is born from a one sided narrative?
This will be the start of my investigation.
As any family would, I have an archive of images in albums. These were never really displayed around the house I grew up in. If you are to visit my parents now, there are not that many images present. Even within the archive, there are no images from after the mid-nineties. There are practical reasons for this. My dad’s old Russian film camera broke about this time and he could not afford to replace it with newer digital technology. However, even where there are images present, those images of extended family ceased. This was around the time that my parents effectively stopped communicating with them – I don’t know why. There are a number of images within the albums that have been cut as well, suggesting of some kind of family rift that I was too young to understand and never really questioned when reaching adulthood (Fig: 1). Now that I have a family of my own, I am becoming interested in why this has happened and if there are inherent traits that exist as a result.
Objects are an important way of understanding a culture in the absence of first-hand deposition. And this creates a link to my exploration of the photograph as an object in previous modules. What I find intriguing about images that have been cut is the willingness to keep the object that has been so noticeably ‘edited,’ creating a new object of intrigue. The cut print in fact creates more questions about the image where I might have merely flipped past otherwise and is the very reason why I am wanting to investigate it here. Erik Kessels acknowledges this in his series ‘My Family’, where he notes:
“So we opt for self-censorship, hoping that excluding “bad” images will somehow cause the memories themselves to evaporate. This saddens me, because reflecting on an unpleasant occurrence can give you insight and broaden your perspective. I want images that reflect life in its complexity. Sure, that sounds like a mighty demand, and likely impossible, but let’s give it a go.”(Kessels, 2016)
Kessels refers to the forms of propaganda that exists within the family album (Clark, 2013) and this feels confirmed within my own, where persons have been removed. There of course is a precedent in the removal of undesirables from photographs. Hannah Adrendt discussed the vulnerability of truth (Gessen, 2018), referring to the way that Trotsky had been removed from the official soviet record (Fig: 2 & 3), is there much of a difference between this and my own families removal of ‘undesireables?’ Roland Barthes contextualises this within the idea of community, noting the paradox of exclusion within it: “Perhaps there’s no such thing as a community without an integrated reject” (2012: 81) as if it is important to maintain awareness of what we reject to confirm our positioning. This is potentially the reasoning behind keeping a cut image within the album (Fig: 4) to show that control can be exacted over the undesirable, and to be reminded that they can be removed in some form.
Kessels also recently shared a series of vernacular images (Kessels, 2020), noticeable in the way that they have been cut (Fig: 5). There appears to be images in this set, which are similar to the ones that I have within my family’s archive. However, there are others in Kessels post (Fig: 6) that might be something else. It was noted during my first peer to peer session that this might in fact be due to someone cutting a print to place that part of the image into a locket, and suggests that there is a positive outcome from the editing of a print.
During the last module, I started to use constructed narratives more openly and applied traditional story telling structure to my sequencing. Within my family archive the narrative is more political through censorship. This is something that I am really keen to explore here and also utilise. My aim will be to construct a new narrative in the absence of one, or as an alternative to the ‘official’ one that has be told to me through the years. In effect, this is a question that exists in all family archive (an indeed photography) – they are deeply constructed, political and steeped in presenting a propagandised view of the family.
Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of some Everyday Spaces. Translation ed. New York: Columbia University Press.
Clark, T., 2013. The Vanishing Art of the Family Photo Album. [Online]
Available at: https://time.com/3801986/the-vanishing-art-of-the-family-photo-album/
[Accessed 29 January 2020].
Gessen, M., 2018. The Photo Book That Captured How the Soviet Regime Made the Truth Disappear. [Online] Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/the-photo-book-that-captured-how-the-soviet-regime-made-the-truth-disappear [Accessed 29 January 2020].
Kessels, E., 2016. My Family. [Online] Available at: https://www.erikkessels.com/my-family
[Accessed 29 January 2020].
Kessels, E., 2020. Erik Kessels instagram – Collection of photographs where ‘unwanted’ people got removed from. [Online] Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/CJ0ecdShnVP/
[Accessed 28 January 2020].