I pick up a photograph and am instantly transported back to when it was made. It induces a memory which surrounds the act of making the picture; a memory which is not significant in its own right, being generally banal and unimportant, but one that is part of my history. The same memory pops up every time I look at that image; it is etched in my mind – an association that I cannot unmake. (Rancière, 2009)
Previous generations preserved their photographs either in a family album or a series of boxes, depending on how organised they were. The images show a remarkable degree of similarity, regardless of the circumstances of the maker – births, parties, holidays and family occasions and thus the family album has the iconic status of memory container. (Barthes,1981; Hirsch, 1997) Current and future generations will preserve their memories on the computer and the Cloud in online libraries such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which can be accessed anytime, anywhere, so long as the owner can recall where they were stored, but which cannot be handled and passed down the generations. But what of the memory container itself – the iconic object that holds the photographs and preserves them for future generations?
In this work, I explore the idea of the computer as the physical replacement for the family album. Using all the images I made and uploaded to the internet in 2018 alongside parts of the deconstructed computer tower on which they were held, I consider what we are losing by the transfer of our photographs from paper to disc. The cherished and much thumbed family album has been replaced by a complex tangle of wires, microchips and motherboards, which can only be read and understood by a tiny fraction of people and I question whether we are losing an important element of our collective history which will be impossible to recover in future. Are we reverting to the pre-photographic age when visually triggered memories were highly unusual?
This work brings together the concepts that were explored in earlier assignments, including:-
• Family photographs and lost memories (assignment 1)
• The elements of the digital image (assignment 2)
• How we access the digital world (assignment 4)
In this final series, I question whether, despite the enormous increase in the number of images we all make and share, the role of the photograph in the family archive is being lost irretrievably and unremarked. The images contrast the physical and unwieldy nature of the computer parts, which contain the images and memories, with translucent prints from my own recent family archive. The performative act of selecting and positioning the images on the background sheet was reminiscent of making up paper albums, and the re-photographing and printing of the results unifies the conceptual framework, bringing it into the real world.
Barthes, R. (1981). Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Hill and Wang.
Hirsch, M. (1997). Family frames : photography, narrative, and postmemory. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.
Rancière, J. (2009). ‘Notes on the photographic image.’ Radical Philosophy 156: 8-15.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills
The materials used in the final version of the assignment were specifically chosen to put the ideas across. I use digital film transfer overlays in much of my experimental work, to indicate overlapping concepts, and in this case also the fleeting ephemerality of memories, which have no concrete physical reality. By contrast, using the very solidly engineered and three dimensional computer parts draws a clear distinction between the container and what is contained within. The final action of rephotographing the collages was a conscious decision to reclaim authorship of the individual elements in a way that bound the elements of the project together, and to overlay a further meta level meaning.
Quality of outcome
The final outcome is much more precise than I had originally anticipated. The process of experimentation and iteration was enjoyable and led me down numerous paths of research before the exact nature of the final concept became clear. I am satisfied that the final series is coherent and cohesive, although I wonder whether the bounding images (the massed archival ones) are strictly necessary to the story. However, they offer a different, larger viewpoint and visual concept and so I kept them in.
I am pleased about how the various assignments along the way have fed into this final piece of work. At the time, I had concerns about how my assignments 1 and 2 fed into the whole, but this has become apparent in Assignment 5 in an unexpected and satisfying way.
Demonstration of creativity
Most of the creative aspects of the assignment occurred while I was refining the ideas, rather than appearing in the final series, but were necessary to get me to where I finished. I have collected the interim images in my scrapbook, some of the relevant pages being shown below.
I must thank fellow students in ‘The Collective’ study group for their suggestions about what was visually interesting and what was not, which informed the choices that were made along the process journey that was this assignment. They are a constant source of ideas and support. The larger OCA Digital Image & Culture hangout group was also involved in my decision making and the Photography Reading hangout group’s regular book discussions provided much food for thought in the assignment’s philosophical background.
Visits to the following exhibitions and formal study events were also informative: