A storyteller’s view of the family archive


When formal documentation is void, unobtainable, where does one look for clues on their heritage? Family stories; dusty boxes of family photographs; speculation? I think it’s all of the above. The story of us, the story of our family is not one way of storytelling, rather an amalgamation of different methods of; communication, memory, and post-memory. The idea of post-memory was coined by Marianne Hirsch in her book Family frames (2002), an insight into the reading of the family album - with the anxieties and tension that go with it.


“Postmemory is a powerful and very particular form of memory precisely because its connection to its object or source is meditated not through recollection but through an imaginative investment and creation.”

 
                        - Marianne Hirsch. 2002.


There will always be subjectivity when thinking about the past. Whom upset whom, the uncle we don’t talk about, the rose tint of nostalgia always making an appearance. We cannot understand our past unless we understand embracing the unknown and speculative thinking. In what way does thinking about the past change how you see the present. How do certain stories alter the remembrance of the past?

If we think in a linear pattern, the aging process of the family album becomes devoid of making sense. Family member A takes out certain images, curates them into their view of the past - While Family member B scratches out their face and throws away photographs that unflatter their image. Take Annette Kuhn for example. In her Remembrance essay, she writes about the confusion that her mother had of a certain image of Kuhn. Her mother remembers one thing, while Annette (the subject) of the photograph remembers another. On the back of the image a conflict of interest with the caption. Her mother's Caption states the date and location that she believes it was, while a correction from the subject tells a different story. The conflict on the back of an image, altered on more than one occasion. Did this happen over years, or at the time of development?

I’m not so much interested in conflict, rather the beauty of a chaotic story. One with no beginning or an end. Just interpretation. Interpretation that can change if one key image is removed, or 50 being cataloged in a photo album. The context changes, therefore the meaning changes. When there are no facts, no concrete evidence, just hearsay, and folklore; the beauty lies in the not knowing.





[1] Hirsh, M. 2002. Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory [2] Kuhn, A. 1991. Remembrance. Family snaps: The meanings of domestic photography, pp.17-25.


01/05/19

Archive focused installation
01/05/19


The Island Gallery, Bristol. 2019
BJP-online feature


“Black Blood traces the 24-year-old’s family history, dealing with the folkloric feeling of being a distant Romani. Roche says that he’s “always felt quite lost in the world” and wanted to gain a deeper understanding of his identity. “The process started as a formal documentary project,” he says. “I visited Cheltenham [in Gloucestershire, where his family used to live] and went through the local library records.” But after struggling to find information, he was forced to re-evaluate his approach.”


Diane Smyth from the BJP Online team, chose my work to be featured on their website. 

Follow this link to read the whole thing - 

http://www.bjp-online.com/2018/08/tom-roche-black-blood/
 
29/08/18

Free Range

The ideal scenario for the grad show is one thing, but reality is another. Time seems to disappear around the flux of deadlines; tutorials; scanning; printing; coffee; travelling. The show you picture in your head is of one standard, but for budget and pragmatic reasons the outcome is something less. I think the restrictions of university can be great in moulding photographers to adhere to deadlines and parameters; working efficiently and thinking on their feet. But I feel at the end of the process, photographers have become more contemplative in their practice, and need a little more thinking time to create outcomes that resemble ones project.


Showing work at Free Range was a rushed experience for me, still in the creative process of my project ‘Black Blood’, but needing to resolve it for the wall. This was more of a mid-way showing of the work, rather than the end piece. A project still in the ether of work-in-progress, but needing to be shown to the London public was challenging. A process however that really made me think about the state of my work, and where the project was going, and where it had gone.


An exhibit and book maquette that received good feedback was one thing, but the time to scrutinise my working process and where my practice was heading, was more valuable than I could have thought.


I think it was Jack Latham that said ‘Never leave university with a resolved project.’


27/06/18


Anne Golaz Corbeau review


Hitting ‘top photobooks of 2017’ lists all over the internet, the melancholic and reserved way that Golaz approaches the subject of her family, could seem too quiet to have impact in mainstream photobook audiences. However, when slowly eating up the book from cover to cover it is evident why it has resonated with so many people. The unnamed protagonist quickly becomes a familiar figure in one’s consciousness. I found myself feeling nostalgic for a story that was not mine. Now, was this done through the varied medium of photography – and the different formats used: 35mm, video stills, black and white, colour etc. – or the photographers eye for the insignificant? Yes, the use of monochrome and colour can be analyzed to create a fully rounded aesthetic of the story, immersing the reader in to Golaz’s world. But after a few pages the aesthetic is ignored, what I started noticing was the details in the work, the feeling. I felt the harsh winters night, as the Farmer and his boy had to help a cow give birth. I understood having to deal with the same thing day in day out. 
[Fig.1]

You can tell that the work was made over a twelve-year period, not just because it says that in the book’s bio, but the work has intimacy that cannot be faked. The nostalgia that is felt, comes from the ghostly presence of the photographer. The image maker is so commonplace to the subject, that they do not exist. There is no otherness, only images that were born out of a deep understanding of feeling. Growing up with the cold winter nights, and how it feels to birth a cow. In a way, the work is authorless. All that exists is the reader, and the unaltered (for the camera) personality of the subjects. The book is genuine; which is probably why, when reading the work, I felt completely tied into the story. Time did not exist, only the fading relationship between the Father and son, that I felt part of. A sequence of 4 pages led me to tear up, and I’m not quite sure why: A short diary entry, a portrait of the son, 2 pages of contact sheets [Fig.1], and finally an image of the father walking away into the distance.
[Fig.2]

“Goodbye to the house, to the courtyard full of rain and slurry, to the trees; goodbye to the other side...”

... This text was used at the start of the 4 pages of heartbreak, the narrator goes on to write “And then, goodbye to the family, but that was done quickly, without ceremony.”

This notion of familial distance is relatable, not only to this situation, but universally about all family life. A son fleeing the nest and the father’s disappointment. Was is that I projected my own feelings, and nostalgia of being someone’s son? Or, was I so engaged with the genuine details shown to me by Golaz, that I then knew what the hardships of being a farmer’s son really felt like.

Ultimately Corbeau is a very mature piece of work, utilizing the visual language of photography extraordinarily well, to give space and emotion to the sequencing of images and text. Adopting different formats is clever in luring in the reader to the world of the Farmer and his son, in the same way a photo album does with its mis-match of formats and colour. Imperfection is human. But, what is quietly more overpowering than the clever use of photography as a medium, is the closeness to the subject. The understanding of the details- the place the photographer has within the familial situation. The photographer is in situ, bringing along their own: tensions, emotions and melancholia felt in Corbeau, that no other photographer could stick their nose in and find.




30/05/18


An excerpt from my dissertation:
Why did my grandmother deface her image from family photographs? - A study of the archive as narrative, in photography.



[Fig.1]
From Anne Golaz’s Corbeau. Page 163. 2­­017







[Fig.2]
From Anne Golaz’s Corbeau. Page 168. 201