My project has shifted it focus. Recently, I found out that my grandmother had passed away whilst I have been making this project, in May. She had Lung cancer and I was informed by my cousin who I had reached out early on for my grandmother’s address. My grandmother had given instructions that no one can know what was happening until after she had died, including my mother. Off the back of this revelation, I had resolved the fact that I would never fully know her reasons for the rift with my mother.
This weekend however, I was contacted by my cousin to let me know that they had some photographs for me to give to my family, so I travelled down to the West Country to meet with her and also my aunt, my mum’s sister. She was quite candid about the relationship between my mum and grandmother. What happens stems from their Step-Father, and my aunt catalogued a history of domestic violence perpetrated on all of the family and in particular my gran and my mum. I followed this up with a long conversation with my mum who I have not really spoken to about all of this until now. She essentially confirmed what my aunt was saying but also adding that my grandmother was equally as abusive towards my mum. It has taken a few days to start processing what I was being told. I wondered why it has taken until now to know these things, yet as my mum said to me “how do you tell your children,” which I can understand. Given that they did not speak for over 20 years and that we were children at the time of this break down, I can see how both time and distance meant that the opportunity for this kind of conversation never arose.
The uncovering of these things also gives me some context in which I can understand my mum’s attitudes to certain things, such as the pandemic, and her deep mis-trust of any authority, which is because she was unable to rely and trust those in power, those people who were supposed to safeguard her when she was a child. This is at the root of the project that I am creating here. It is the spectre of this culture of domestic violence that has rippled down through the generations and continues to impact all of us in some way.
Although I will never get to hear her side, and from what my mother has told me, cannot excuse, I can to a certain extent understand my grandmother too. My mother’s biological father left when my aunt was still a baby, according to her, with another woman. This was the early sixties where my gran would have had little means of supporting three very young children. I don’t know the backstory on how she got together with the step-dad but can only imagine that there were few choices afforded to her at that time. The abuse suffered by my mother may in part be channelled from an existence of living in fear herself both physically, emotionally, and economically, but this is speculation as I will never fully know.
For my project now
The impact of my parents’ upbringing would have an effect on my own. It is worth pointing out that although I grew up quite poor, my childhood was quite blissful yet there has always been this sense of connection and identity, which I have been keen to explore here. Ideas of epigenetics is something that I am now going to look at again as it related to the things that we inherit in addition to our DNA. There is also elements of Derrida’s Hauntology (2006) that I will need to review and see how it applies to this new direction. This has all come quite late into the process of the work but is fundamental to the project and important that I give it a faithful representation within the work. Another opportunity to revisit the ethics of what I am doing.
There are a few images within the archive that show the step-dad, who is also now deceased. The idea of the unreliable narrator still applied to the project but with a shift in focus towards ideas around abusive relationships – gaslighting a prime example. I have memories of this man as a child, he was an intimidating figure who had tattoos up each arm and that we used to have to call him granddad, but I somehow knew that was not true. It was always uncomfortable to be around, which I guess reflects the relations between everyone at that time. This is the spectre that I referred to in my initial opening statement for the project. Within my sequence, I could use the images but in an abstracted way to highlight this concept. I also do not wish to create agency for this person. There is also the question of memory and how hazy this can be.
At the start of the FMP, I made some experiments by re-photographing archive images of my gran and then printing them onto Basildon Bond letter paper (Fig: 1), which created a physicality to them by showing the grain of the image and the paper that the image was printed on. I felt that these worked quite well but as the project progressed, I wasn’t sure how they fit in. Now I have an opportunity to use the technique in order to abstract these images.
The images from the archive were copied onto a new role of black and white film, which I then printed out onto standard laser jet paper (Fig 2&3). I then photographed the printout using a macro set-up with studio lights to show the grain of the paper. These negatives were then printed in a darkroom onto out-of-date printing paper. Part of the aesthetic of these images was to keep them in line with the faded archive images that I am working with. Some of these produce an outcome that is barely registered on the paper, which adds to the idea of hauntology – the spectre of a person that continues to impact via their actions in the past. The outcome also provides the photographic trace of something that was there connecting to ideas of memory.
Derrida, J., 2006. Spectres of Marx. New York: Routledge Classics.