Initial Draft Proposal
The place of photography: memory, time and mortality.
Why do we cherish family photos, why do we feverishly archive; collating and dating old black and white prints in to bound albums, storing iphone photos onto Instagram accounts? These questions I have explored over the last 2 years, drawing on my personal experience, but also investigating and researching the experience of my peers. My research has so far been a journey that has taken me off on several paths, but along the way I realised my interest is honed to the issues which fundamentally flow form these questions: the influence of images on memory, why memories change and why we interpret images differently in time.
From the discussions in the 70’s raised by Susan Sontag in her work ‘On Photography’(1977) of the power of photography in shaping society and Barthes’ photographic inquiry’s in ‘Camera Lucida’ (1980), we have come to understand the significance to personal and social histories of the photographic image. The position of self within personal relationships, within family and in society is often understood within of the conventions of the photographic image. Annette Kuhn, professor in Film Studies at Queen Mary University of London, has provided the work, ‘Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination’, which is an excellent example of the concerns of visual communication, cultural and personal histories. This work is very poignant for the research into childhood memories and is preceded by the influential research on this matter by Marianne Hirsch. In her work ‘Family Frames’, (1997) Hirsch, a leading academic in the research of memories and the transmission of memory writes about the important considerations of photographic representation and the construction of family relationships. Hirsch looks at how photographs can have the duality to represent for us a sense of cultural social security, and at the same time mask social failure and dysfunctions.
Such important questions of the relationship between photography and memory, yet there is another important consideration to make which David Bate raised in his paper ‘The Memory of Photography’ (2010); the manner and capacity one has to remember and recall. Bates asks us to consider this quote from Sigmund Freud:
‘If I distrust my memory – neurotics, as we know, do so to a remarkable extent, but normal people have every reason for doing so as well – I am able to supplement and guarantee its working by making a note in writing. In that case the surface upon which this note is preserved, the pocket-book or sheet of paper, is as it were a materialized portion of my mnemic apparatus, which I otherwise carry about with me invisibly. I have only to bear in mind the place where this “memory” has been deposited and I can then “reproduce” it at any time I like, with the certainty that it will have remained unaltered and so have escaped the possible distortions to which it might have been subjected in my actual memory. (“The ‘Mystic Writing-pad’” 429)
And yet with all the acknowledgements of false and changing interpretations of images of the past we are certain of the place of photography and as an “aide-memoire”, a tool to explore and extract
ideas and beliefs from our subconscious minds. To explore the use of photography in this way; a process more aligned to a psychotherapy is not new. Photo-Therapy was a term coined by Jo Spence in her work with Rosy Martin on the relationship of photography and subject. Adopting techniques from co-counselling, the subject was able to act out narrative and claim ownership of their own representation. Many current collaborative projects using photography to promote self-advocacy have their legacy with the work of Spence and Martin.
My latest body of work (exhibited June/July 2018) was driven from a series of formal interviews with project participants, discussing personal memories linked to photographs and objects. The final pieces were developed as mixed media objects (assorted vintage mirrors framing a collage of old photographs).
‘These mirror framed collages were conceptual representations manifested from a participatory research project concerned with memories.’
This project united for me several themes which that have run throughout the history of photography and into much contemporary practice – our desire to hold onto moments that recede into the past, and to visit experiences as a way of coming to terms with our histories and the present. This will continue be the focus of my practical work going forward.