Photographing the unseen
Telling another’s story truthfully is essentially impossible. There may be a powerful sense of familiarity based on the story teller’s memories, but one cannot be certain whether they are actual recollections or confabulation due to the passage of time. Time erodes and distorts the memory. “Our memory is never fully ‘ours’, nor are the pictures ever unmediated representations of our past.” (1).
This assignment is very personal and poignant. It is about memories, not mine but my Mum’s. Her childhood memories are severely flawed by events in her home country, Czechoslovakia, during Hitler’s invasion. On recalling her arrival in England as a twelve year old refugee she speaks of mixed emotions and uncertainty. See A2 Planning and preparation for further detail.
My chosen subject has been heavily influenced by the writings of Marianne Hirsch (2), who explains; “Postmemory is distinguished from memory by generational distance and from history by deep personal connection.” Hirsch’s parents were Holocaust survivors and she claims that memories of such traumatic events live on in the lives of those who were not there to experience them. As second generation I have first hand experience of this and feel deeply connected to my Mum’s past. I also found inspiration in the book “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle (3). Tolle states; “Nothing exists outside the now… nothing ever happened in the past, or in the future, only in the now.”
This is about demonstrating through photographs, a sense of place during a period of great disruption. It is about Postmemories, entering into Mum’s world through the eyes of a twelve year old, connecting my ‘now’ to Mum’s ‘now’ in 1940! My Mum’s history is a huge topic so I have selected a small, but significant, segment of her life based in Patterdale, Cumbria. This was the place she felt the most settled and free.
By communicating through metaphors I hope to trigger the emotions and curiosity of the reader. There is nothing in the images to reveal anything about the complicated history of the subject. I want the images to speak for themselves, individually and as a cohesive series, allowing the reader to bring something to the story and ask questions, seek to relate and understand. There was no agenda, it is what it is. My images reflect spontaneity based on intuition and mixed emotions – unseen but not un-photographable.
This is about being my Mum……
Escape was the only option. Her beloved Father could not be with them. Surviving on berries and mushrooms and if they were ‘lucky’, maybe bread and milk too. The family trudged by day and slept in barns by night. It was a big adventure for the little ones, hide and seek in the woods, hiding from the enemy. Eventually a long train journey brought them to a foreign land.
Mum still has vivid memories recalling the trepidation of fleeing to a new country, the seesaw of emotions – uncertainty, laughter, apprehension, joy, sadness. But here there were happier times – freedom to play again, a safe haven, new friends, kindness and support. She thrived on hope, that one day they would return to their homeland. Sadly that was not to be.
Now I find myself occupying the same space that she occupied, connecting to her thoughts and feelings. I feel the presence of absence, brittle fragments of laughter, singing and tears. The space is the same, it cannot change. I feel the emotions of her ‘now’ in 1939 – dread, longing, warmth and finally love. In essence, our individual memories are woven together by stories told, family albums, documents, memoirs and trinkets. This story is framed with photographs of my postmemories.
1. Spence, J. & Holland, P. (2000). The Meanings of Domestic Photography. Virago Press Ltd. England.
2. Hirsch, M. (2012). Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. England.
4. Tolle, E. (2016). The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Yellow Kite. London
Demonstration of technical skills – I am keen to develop my camera techniques further so this assignment and the exercises have pushed me to experiment more. My tripod, and remote shutter release did not leave my side while shooting this assignment, the self timer was well used too, although I did require assistance for the multiple exposure shots as the self timer let me down. I have Adobe Lightroom, with which I am constantly learning new tools. I now have Photoshop too – I must be one of the few who is totally unfamiliar with this programme! Although I like to attempt most techniques in camera, for this assignment I have experimented a little with dodge and burn and layering with some success. I printed my images so I could view them as a series, but was disappointed with the result. The black and white photos were not as crisp as I would have liked and some colour (green in particular) was evident.
Quality of outcome – I feel I have successfully created pictures that are able to draw the reader in and communicate emotions and thought processes without being subjective. This is the series I have created in black and white, necessary to portray my intent. I printed the photos in a standard size to view and appreciate how they would look as a photo essay hung on a gallery wall. This proved very successful and assisted greatly in finalising my selection for the assignment.
Demonstration of creativity – I have given a lot of thought to my tutor feedback from assignment one, “Think about your interests and passions. As a rule, your work will be more interesting the more it reflects your real interests.” Part two of the course “Narrative” has really made me think about moving my photography forward, in particular about being less literal in my images. My feedback has included the need to take risks. I feel I have achieved that and really challenged myself with this assignment, experimenting to portray symbolic and imaginative interpretations within my images. I am interested in the relationship between image and the creative use of text – how they interact with each other to develop strong visual impact. I felt the individual images did not require captions, but took the more original approach of creating a piece of writing to support the series.
Context – I have worked through the projects with interest and recorded my results and thoughts in my learning blog. I have added to my research file, linking my chosen photographers to the current module work. I am currently reading The Photography Reader by Liz Wells. I picked this book up when I first started with OCA and couldn’t make head nor tail of it. I’m delighted to say I am now thoroughly enjoying it! I also researched into Postmodernism which I have to say is not quite as easy to comprehend…yet.