Selling off the family silver

Memory is priceless. Many of us have first hand experience when we ourselves or with family members or friends suffering from memory loss – the anguish, the frustration, the confusion, the lost loves and shared memories. These experiences are painful because we treasure our shared memories and the joy that shared narration brings. In the retelling of our shared memories we fill in the gaps for one another, expand and exaggerate, so often the original memory becomes a fictional narrative blown out of all proportion, where individuals remember slightly different experiences. A collective memory helps us share fun times or work out inexplicable traumas together. Photography helps to jog our memory, we only need think of family photo albums or the impact of images such as Eddie Adams’ “ Street Execution of a Vietcong Prisoner”, 1968 or the momentous occasion of the first images of man on the moon.


Accompanying this text are three sets of images that raise questions relating to the perception of collective memory. The first series are copies of photographic slides whose original purpose was to present an inventory of assets: silverware. The two other series are works made by my hand: found photographs embedded in hand-made paper and selectively waxed out to reveal fragments of subject; and screen-printed collages where I have conveyed my interpretation of visual information archived from personal photographs and found material. The later series of editions makes comment on the production of mass media and culture, collective and personal identity. How we perceive memory, when the experiences are not explicitly our own is under discussion here.


The images of silverware are loaded with symbolic references, the actual use of the lens over reality however raises questions of subjective consciousness, and the use of the images as documentation to record an individuals seemingly, and historically in the case of family silverware, treasured possessions and safeguards against hard times, calls for a dialogue relating to context. Taken out of context, for example if I were to exhibit these copies of slide photographs, the images might require such accompanying narrative as this. Ultimately, it is only the owner or beneficiary of the silverware that would appreciate the ‘value’ of the slides, for insurance purposes or during probate. The images themselves are dark, almost foreboding, with hopeful glimpses where the flash has emphasized the polished surface of the objects. Whilst the law is the tool of property, the camera is the ultimate, definitive tool for lawyers recording possessions who believe they are copying the real image ultimately, intimately and truthfully.


During times of austerity, such images of the silverware become monetarily worthless if, like many today, you are selling off personal treasure for survival. Such images may become histories of a prosperous past or aids to recall stories relating to provenance. Such images, taken and filed on behalf of a client, only to be viewed again when either dreaded event detailed above arises and often presented in case of contention are thus artless. Similarly, the use of the camera as an authoritative representational tool is open for contention. For you and I these images may conjure personal memories that identify with the original purpose of legal documentation or on levels more disparate than a sterile copying of objects.


The transference of memory is interesting, and one we encounter each time we enter art institutions. The very nature of artwork is to record, emote and convey, and spectators may accordingly adopt the role of subjective participant. On the whole, exhibited imagery needs no accompanying narrative: the viewer often requires no translation other than what her mind perceives. Artwork offers the viewer dialogue and the opportunity to share a memory, given that we are intrigued by, or sympathize or identify with what is depicted.


Both the Paranoia Paradise and Re: sets of images, arranged by me, comment on collective memory. Both recall defining moments in our lives conjuring memories from childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Both sets of images use found imagery to create a discourse between the past and the future, artist and receiver. They are fragmented, mostly copied images: Paranoia Paradise is made up of fragmented histories, simultaneously objective and subjective, whilst Re: reveals the memories of unidentified people. The images are collectively laden with fictional narratives for the viewer to personally perceive. So, whose memory are we encountering when we look upon these works? Suddenly these works become a collective memory, for we gaze upon a finished object and absolutely personal in that we bring our individual experiences and memories with us in our observations of these expressions of memory.


Unlike the Silver images, copyright is unequivocal – these are my images having altered the original use of the found photographs and materials. In the event of disappearance, these are not images that indicate ‘worth’. Like memory, they are transient, endless and like the flood, the barrage, the wave that knocks us for six upon its visitation. Collectively, Re: documents actual experience that could never be fully captured by the individual taking the snapshots. Assuming many of these images are holiday snaps we can recall that family holidays are often laden with voluptuous fun and confilct yet these images defy any story with a beginning or end. We can find irony in the possibility that they were taken using a “disposable” camera. Memory is far from disposable: we value our memories like we value our health, our family and friends. Memory, traumatic or not helps us construct cultural, social and individual identity and I believe has a bearing on our future.


Paranoia Paradise and Re: are works open to interpretation, whereas the original slides of silverware were once required as legal evidence and were in the control of the lawyer. The lawyer is thus also in control of wealth and information. The reverse is also true of the desecrator, and I would suggest family photographs are sacred. Here we need only look contemporaneously: the August riots, when we witnessed the destruction of property and assets. I noticed from video clips that, after the loss of their homes and concern for their family safety, particularly traumatic for the individuals caught in the brunt of this destruction is the loss of hard-copied memories. Stills of our memories, immortalized by photography, whilst historical markers also serve to address our temporal ambitions our hopes, fantasies, dreams, desires and present us with optimism. Viewing family albums more often than not represents a collective experience and a bond for the individual as we provide intimate evidence of significant stages, events and people in our lives. These imprints of our histories cannot be commodities – unless, for example, the artist, sociologist, curator, anthropologist deems them to be of intrinsic value, in which case the ‘memories’ move into the sphere of the spatial and visual. How you interpret the images presented here is indisputably personal to you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s