BA Phot

I&P Part 1 - Exercise 1.4

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Project 1, Historic photographic portraiture - Exc 1.1 - Project 1.2 Typologies - Exc 1.2 - Exc 1.3 - Exc 1.4 - Conclusion - Upsum

New online course material - Exc. N1 - Exc. N2 - Exc. N3 - Exc. N4 - Exc. N5 - Exc. N6 - Exc. N7
Spence and Martin portrait analysis - Bate, five elements

Arbus - Bellocq - Bey - Bird - Callahan - Cameron - Campt - Cohen - Evans - Fiskin - Hardman - Höfer - Hoppé - Huebler - Mapplethorpe - Medley - Mertin - Nadar - Sander - Schmid - Zaidi -

interpretation - Reflective Writing - Square Mile - Standard Six - Surface - Typologies - text - text

Preamble - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Asg.1 - Asg.2 - Asg.3 - Asg.4 - Asg.5 - C&N - EyV

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Archival intervention

Memories evoked by a photograph do not simply spring out of the image itself, but are generated in a network, an intertext, of discourses that shift between past and present, spectator and image, and between all these and cultural contexts, historical moments Kuhn, A. Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination (2002) London: Verso. p.9

Look through your own family archive and try to discover a series of portraits (four or five) that have existed within this archive, but have never been placed together before. The portraits can contain individuals or even couples; they may span generations, or just be of the same person throughout the years (chronotype). Whichever way you wish to tackle this exercise, there must be a reason or justification for your choices. What message are you trying to get across about these portraits?

Through doing this exercise, you are physically bringing together portraits that have never been viewed as a series prior to your intervention. Therefore, you need to think really clearly about what your choices are and who you decide to select.

You can either make physical copies of the originals and work with these in your learning log, or re-photograph them digitally (or scan) and post them on your blog. Either way, your thoughts about these portraits will be the key to this exercise. Try to articulate what is happening when you bring these images together for the first time. Apart from the obvious – the subject, perhaps – is there anything else that links the imagery together? The location? Dates? Activities?

Write 500–800 words reflecting on this exercise and include it in your learning log or blog. I&P p.34

There's an extra chunk in the new version,

Moving back to Annette Kuhn again here, think about any inscriptions that might be made on the imagery, detailing whom these inscriptions might have been for, in terms of perhaps owning the memory evoked by the image. In relation to one of her own family portraits, Kuhn describes a caption written by her mother, stating:

This power-play was an attempt by her mother to force other  memories into line with her own. Her mother was pinning the moment  the photograph was taken of her daughter to an event that had  happened in her own life. Her mother thus literally ‘writes’ herself into  the picture (although not being present in it literally), by trying to claim  the right to define the memories evoked by it, she is thus attempting  to dictate the memory to the viewer.  Kuhn, A. Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination (2002) London: Verso. Pg 17-18.

Write 500–800 words reflecting on this exercise and include it in your learning log or blog. 

I&P Np.52

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Box A
Lorna Blackburn, c.1941
Studio photograph, photographer unknown

A family archive is clearly just that. If there are no events on a national scale, be they disasters (a family member on the Titanic), triumphs (a medal, athletic or heroic) or notorious (any number of scandals and forms of violence come to mind) then the only newspaper clippings will be the announcements that the family pays for and the images will chart relationships as they come and go, the minor successes of everyday life, often academic, and visits: lots of visits. And occasional prosaically indexical passport renewal.

Tod Papageorge (1975) observed that '[t]he eye which created the family album is the heart's eye' and describes 'its innocence, its very love-blindness' to imperfections in both subject and execution of the photographs.

Geoffrey Batchen, writing in 2001, criticised the way vernacular photography has been largely omitted from academic histories of the medium and suggests that this is because their range of subjects and approaches makes them difficult to classify and to include in 'a formalistic art-historical narrative' (Batchen, 2001, p.57).

Photography is around 160 years old and my mother had lived through most of that, particularly the period when photography became readily available to all classes. For a normal, working class family, although the technology of the medium has undergone extraordinary changes in the last 100 years, the subject matter has altered very little.

Lorna, 1923 Lorna, 1955 Lorna, 1990
Box B
1. My grandmother holding my mother, 1923
2. Album page, my mother holding me, 1955
3. My mother holding my son, 1990

My mother never had the chance to hold the next in this line, my grandson born in October 2019 as by the time he was old enough to travel, Covid restrictions were coming in and she was reaching the end of her life.

I have assembled what the course material refers to as a chronotype (Boothroyd & Roberts, 2019, p.47) a series of images from my mother's life. The sources are my own collection and a video of images displayed at my mother's church to celebrate her 90th birthday in 2010 (Newport Gateway Church, 2010 and fig. C1). I was not involved in compiling the video and so the images there would have been from my sister, my mother herself, or her friends. The full collection is shown below.

Gateway
Box C
Church newsletter, 2010

My mother's name was Lorna Betty Blackburn. I called her Lorna, most people called her Bett.

The limited and repeating range of subjects in the normal family archive has already been noted. There are babies, holidays, weddings, landmark birthdays, parties, the occasional ID photograph, but no funerals: the culture in which I was brought up does not photograph funerals. At least that used to be the case, but I videoed my mother's funeral in June this year because the Welsh Covid restrictions only allowed a few to attend. I will not be showing any images from that and so the cultural inhibition remains.
There is one image that I wish I had, simply because it is so unlike the others. While in her 90s, Lorna tripped and fell on an uneven payment. On the advice of friends, she took a photograph of her cut and bruised face and complained to Newport Borough Council. She showed us the photograph at the time but it is not in my collection and, not surprisingly, it did not make it into the church video.

Another common theme is school photographs, clearly already a tradition in the 1920s (fig.D1). I remember taking part in them, but have not kept any of mine and so the second exhibit is one from my son's prep school taken in 2000, 75 years later (fig.D2)

Lorna, 1925 Merton Court, 2000
Box D
1. Church Road Infants School, Class V, 1925
2. Merton Court Preparatory School, Class S3S, 2000
Photographers unknown

With all types of family photographs, identification of the subjects and the circumstances is all that prevents them from becoming meaningless miscellanea for anyone who was not there at the time. I used to know which child in fig. D1 had been Lorna, but I have forgotten (it might be first left in the front row): fortunately, there is a blackboard inscription to remind us of the occasion. Annette Kuhn, quoted in the exercise brief, takes exception to her mother's inscriptions on family photographs, describing them as a 'power play'. Lorna's descriptions are pleasingly precise, benign and helpful as shown in fig. B2,

All taken at Rosemary's second birthday party. (Nicholas almost six months). Lorna Blackburn, Family Album, c.1956

The family archive is not restricted to simply album photographs, there are also memorabilia, including the more documentary items. It is unfortunate and also, to me, surprising, that wartime photo-identity cards did not include photographs

Wartime ID Passport Passport Passport
Box E
1. Wartime registration document, 1943
2-3. Passport photographs, 2000
4. Passport, 2000
Photographer unknown

Although family photographs are now taken by the million (or should that be billion? ), they are rarely printed, mounted and labelled. Images might be uploaded to social media with an inscription but there was a lag between the beginning of digital photography and the rise of the media so many images would have gone unlabelled and that still applies to the majority of photographs taken - discarded or lost with hardware failures or changes in technology, either personal (switching machines) or general (changing formats). One remaining advantage of digital media is the retention of EXIF data which can at least date the image and (if GPS is deployed) locate it too.

There is a significant difference between the care and deliberation that used to be part of using a film camera — brought out for special occasions, not always to hand; results eagerly awaited after a visit to the chemist (sometimes months later when the film was finished), not instantly available; unrepeatable moments and events, so if the few photographs typically taken didn't work, the chance was lost. The ubiquity and excess of the mobile camera has diminished the value of the image, perhaps proportionally.

Papageorge wrote, 45 years ago, of family snapshots being created from the heart and that is my experience, and while Kuhn describes how such images can be weaponised through false inscriptions, she nevertheless acknowledges that this is only possible because of the special affection that families hold for their albums. The additional connection felt by families viewing their family album when they have actually lived the events being depicted can, in my view, constitute a strong and collectively reinforced version of Barthes' punctum and a more direct experience of Tina Campt's haptic image effect, described in the course material (Boothroyd & Roberts, 2019, p.50).

While Batchen's comments on the absence of vernacular imagery from the 'formalistic art-historical narrative' remains largely correct, there is some flow of archives into gallery spaces. Items from the Peter Cohen collection (vernacular images assembled by subject matter) appeared in the inaugural exhibition at the new V&A Photography Gallery, opened in 2018; the work of Nicky Bird and Broomberg & Chanarin was introduced in the Context and Narrative course (Boothroyd, 2017, pp.118-120) and work on several photographers' archives has been discussed in Identity and Place (Boothroyd & Roberts, 2019, pp.46-48). But while I find æsthetic interest and kindly amusement in the Cohen Collection and academic interest in the others mentioned, recycling archives, especially other people's family archives, is essentially a cold and perhaps cynical process because their true meaning can only be realised within the family context.

To end, this is the last photograph that I took of my mother while she could still converse with and recognise us, fig. F2. Coming full circle, this is paired with fig. F1, my grandmother, institutionalised in the early 1980s, a few years before her death (that's what we did with dementia patients before Margaret Thatcher's care in the community reforms). They are, of course, the subjects of fig. B1.

Nan Lorna
Box F
1. My grandmother and niece, early 1980s
2. at Cedar Lawns Nursing Home, 22nd March 2019

According the Stephen Heyman writing in 2015 in the NewYork Times, 'Kodak announced that consumers around the world had taken 80 billion photos' on film in 2000 and in 2015, 'according to the market research firm InfoTrends, global consumers will take more than one trillion digital photos'.

1203 words


Previous workings


Geoffrey Batchen, writing in 2001, criticised the way vernacular photography has been largely omitted from academic histories of the medium and suggests that this is because their range of subjects and approaches makes them difficult to classify and to include in 'a formalistic art-historical narrative' (Batchen, 2001, p.57).

Annette Kuhn (2002), quoted in the brief for this exercise, emphasises the additional connection felt by families viewing their family album when they have actually lived the events being depicted. This which would, in my view, constitute an strong and collectively reinforced version of Barthes' punctum and a more direct experience of Tina Campt's haptic image effect.

 

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[10Oct p.24 Np.52] The initial quote from Kuhn maps to the Sue Sontag quote at the beginning of these notes and which resonates deeply with me,

photographs do not seem strongly bound by the intention of the photographer Sontag, On Photography, quoted in La Grange (2005) p.37

Kuhn, effectively, picks this up and runs with it, noting that when the viewer knows the subject of the image intimately, the associations generated are not just those relating to the person as depicted in that instant (as would be that case with an image of a stranger), but a panoply of additional triggers deriving from the relationship and shared experiences.

This is why the humble family snapshot, so often derided in academic, æsthetic and commercial discourse is, to those who make and appear in and keep them, as important as any front-page photograph. Perhaps this is an example of a haptic reaction: it also brings to mind Proust's madeleine, where the taste of a biscuit soaked in lime-flower tea evokes an avalanche of associated memories.


[30Sep20 [I&P p.34] My first thought, following on from SqM2, is to look for a set of photographs of my mother. It is a job that needs doing in any case for a memorial service if and when Covid restrictions are sufficiently relaxed. I will look for a group of images that map the various phases of her life.

In terms of 'articulat[ing] what is happening when you bring these images together for the first time', it is intended as an attempt to document the milestones of a 99-year life.

I can recall a school group photograph from the early 1920s and a large formal portrait age 21 (1941). After that I will look for a marriage photograph (or one with my father, not necessarily on the day of their marriage), one with her young family (i.e. including me), one with her grandchildren and the last photograph I can find that portrays her with dignity.

More than 'four of five' then, but it was a long life.

The essay can reflect on the changing technology, styles, frequency, storage and presentation and value attached to the personal and family portrait.


logo
Box B
Lorna Blackburn, c.1941
Studio photograph, photographer unknown

Initial thoughts

[10Oct p.24 Np.52] The initial quote from Kuhn maps to the Sue Sontag quote at the beginning of these notes and which resonates deeply with me,

photographs do not seem strongly bound by the intention of the photographer Sontag, On Photography, quoted in La Grange (2005) p.37

Kuhn, effectively, picks this up and runs with it, noting that when the viewer knows the subject of the image intimately, the associations generated are not just those relating to the person as depicted in that instant (as would be that case with an image of a stranger), but a panoply of additional triggers deriving from the relationship and shared experiences.

This is why the humble family snapshot, so often derided in academic, æsthetic and commercial discourse is, to those who make and appear in and keep them, as important as any front-page photograph. Perhaps this is an example of a haptic reaction: it also brings to mind Proust's madeleine, where the taste of a biscuit soaked in lime-flower tea evokes an avalanche of associated memories.


[30Sep20 [I&P p.34] My first thought, following on from SqM2, is to look for a set of photographs of my mother. It is a job that needs doing in any case for a memorial service if and when Covid restrictions are sufficiently relaxed. I will look for a group of images that map the various phases of her life.

In terms of 'articulat[ing] what is happening when you bring these images together for the first time', it is intended as an attempt to document the milestones of a 99-year life.

I can recall a school group photograph from the early 1920s and a large formal portrait age 21 (1941). After that I will look for a marriage photograph (or one with my father, not necessarily on the day of their marriage), one with her young family (i.e. including me), one with her grandchildren and the last photograph I can find that portrays her with dignity.

More than 'four of five' then, but it was a long life.

The essay can reflect on the changing technology, styles, frequency, storage and presentation and value attached to the personal and family portrait.


First draft

Gateway
Box A
Church newsletter, 2010

[16Oct] There are two sources of images of my recently deceased mother being tapped for this exercise: firstly my own and secondly a video of stills created by my mother's church in 2010 as part of her 90th birthday celebration.
I was not involved in the church's video and so the images must have come from my mother, my sister, or members of the church. I have asked my sister whether she has the originals and she has passed this request on to my niece, who has done some work with my sister's collection of family photographs.

Here's the video (not working yet)


Lorna, 1923
Box A
Lorna, 1923 with Mother
photographer unknown

1. 1923

I have not seen this image, other than in the church video. Assuming the subjects are as stated, it might have been taken by my grandfather who died in the following year. My mother never mentioned this photograph, so far as I can recall, or that her father had a camera.

This could pass for one of Sander's, with its precise framing and differential focus.


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Box A
Church Road Infants School,
Class V, 1925

2. 1925

I once knew which child was Lorna, but I can no longer recall. Almost certainly one of the better-kempt ones, possibly front row left.

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Lorna 1938
Box A
Lorna, c.1938
photographer unknown

3. 1938-39

Again, I have not seen this image, other than in the church video. Lorna's birth date was 8th September 1920 and so it would have been taken in 1928 or 1929. As a studio image, it might well have been taken to celebrate her 18th birthday.

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Box A
Lorna, c.1941
photographer unknown

4. c.1941

This photograph was on display for as long as I remember at the family home in Newport. I have always thought it to be a 21st birthday studio portrait.

Absurd though it may seem, it was only when preparing for this exercise that I realised that my mother would have turned 21 during WW2: I had always perceived her as older during those six years. As already mentioned in the Square Mile exercise my parents experienced far more violence, fear and trauma than I ever have and the realisation that this coincided with Lorna's coming to maturity is even more chastening.


5. 1940s

My parents met and married during the War. I'm not sure of the year.

text

Wedding Wedding Wedding
Box B
Figs. n
photographer(s) unknown

Wartime ID
Box A
Wartime ID

6. Wartime ID

It is unfortunate that wartime ID papers did not include a photograph.

 


7. 1950s

Children arrived.

And also the first colour photograph to hand, taken, presumably by my father in the location of so many family photographs, in front of the coal shed. This is late 1950s or early 1960s.

Lorna 1950s Lorna 1950s Lorna 1950s
Box B
Figs. n
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Lorna GM Oz
Box A
Lorna, her mother
and an Australian visitor

8. c.1970

This is Lorna, her mother (my grandmother) and a visitor from Australia. Of my grandmother's 11 siblings, around half migrated to Australia in early C20th and my generation of distant cousins began visiting the UK in my later school years.

This is the first photograph in this set that I have taken.


There is a clear trend emerging that - context family


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Passport, 2000

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Wartime ID Passport Passport Passport
Box B
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Box A
Lorna, Jan and me, 2011

x. 28th April 2011

Lorna, Jan and me in the garden at Caerleon Road. The coal shed door is now red.

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Box A
at Cedar Lawns Nursing Home, 2019

x. 22nd March 2019

Lorna at the Cedar Lawns Nursing Home, Stratford on Avon, just over a year before she died.

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Box B
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I&P Exc 1.4 References

Batchen, G. (2001) Each wild idea. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Boothroyd, S (2017) Context and narrative [C&N]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Boothroyd, S. and Roberts, K. (2019) Identity and place [I&P]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Heyman, S. (2015) Photos, Photos Everywhere [online]. nytimes.com. Available from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/23/arts/international/photos-photos-everywhere.html [Accessed 22 October 2020].

Kuhn, A. (2002) Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination London: Verso.

Newport Gateway Church (2010) Happy 90th Birthday Faithful 'Auntie' Bett. Newport Gateway Church. Issue 6, August 2010, p.1.

Newport Gateway Church (2010) Celebrate Bett 2 - photos [DVD] Newport, Gwent: Newport Gateway Church.

Papageorge, T (1975) The Snapshot. Aperture. Vol. 19 No.4, pages 24-27.

author, (year) Title. Location: Publisher.

author (year) title [online]. website. Available from url [Accessed nn January 2020].


author (year) Title. Location: Publisher.

author, (year) Title. Location: Publisher.

author (year) title [online]. website. Available from url [Accessed nn January 2020].

author, (year) Book Title. Location: Publisher.

author (year) Title. Journal. Vol, pages.

author (year) Title. Newspaper. Date. pages.


Page created 30-Sep-2020 | Page updated 31-Dec-2020