I was particularly interested to read Dr. Jennifer Good’s review of the exhibition ‘Conflict, Time, Photography,’ where in her final paragraph she states: “If one of the aims of this exhibition is to demonstrate how the photograph of conflict evolves as it passes into history, there is no coherence to speak of here either. Except, perhaps, that as a general rule, in the first few moments and days there is photojournalism and thereafter there is landscape.” Source Winter 2014/5 issue 81. So, that’s what happens to the memory?
I have no particular interest in photojournalism, perhaps even less so after this year’s debacle concerning the WPP ‘competition’, but I am curious about the transition between the ‘what was’ and ‘what might have been’. Between the attempt at exposé – however flawed – and the use of landscape to propel a fiction and whether it is solely the intent of the photographer/artist that arbitrates in the discussion?
The ‘Purgatory’ that I’m considering is developing and I am concerned about finding texts that might help illuminate the path. There are some works that have been suggested; however – and I fully appreciate my lack of breadth – most works that deal with landscape as history (memory), including those that deal with personal memory, deal with it in from a perspective usually (at least) one person removed. What I am trying to do is to view the landscape image as a way of photographing my memory/memories. I want to point the lens at the past, particularly my past, which I appreciate could be viewed as self-indulgent. Conjuring reactions to an image, framed by the viewfinder, that elicit what Bates (and Freud) describes as Mnemic-traces described in “The Memory of Photography” Bates 2010 – traces that reside in either the unconscious or pre-conscious. Freud suggests, from what I understand in what I’ve read so far; that the temporal constituent, fundamental to conscious memory, is missing in the unconscious– though not necessarily so for pre-conscious memory. I suppose I am dealing with pre-conscious memory – from half a century ago – and my intuition is suggesting that these images that I frame, whilst consciously rambling in the ‘place’, are involuntary (punctum) responses that Bates (and Barthes) goes on to discuss in the paper: “As with human memory, we can no longer verify the original experience or sensation of the photograph, but the image provides a scene in which we may bring voluntary (studium) or involuntary (punctum) memories to bear on it. Voluntary memory is like the work of history, but involuntary memory belongs to the personal affect.” Ibid
At the moment I am “seeing” these images, I know what they connote – also appreciating that others are unlikely to and concerned whether that is an issue to be resolved now, or whether I should continue on to see where it ends. Bates goes on to describe ‘mnemic inscriptions, mostly inaccessible, which is the trace “left by the memory”’ (Bates references his research into the work of French psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche which he draws on – not a text that I’ve looked for). My imagery can only be referential; the land that I am working in has no connection to that of my youth, so any connotative elements must therefore come from my sub-conscious, although I know I am looking for imagery with a specific thematic structure.
Good’s suggestion that the ‘Land’ subsumes the event that crossed its path sooner rather than later, surely a similar trait that underlines Simon Schama’s tome ‘Landscape and Memory’. That in the end the land, despite the scarification of it – usually referenced by human intervention, witting or otherwise – will normally revert by natural means to an eventual, albeit possibly new, equilibrium. Altered states that in countries such as England, where much of the land has been continually and extensively modified and which is not that difficult to uncover scars and concomitant memories. There is, for example, an abandoned villages razed to the ground near where I live, detectable only by the slightly depressed level that marks where the main street used to be. Interestingly it is on an old public footpath – now rarely used – that wends it way to Purgatory, providing a possible narrative element and link for the project. But these topographic details are distractions to what I hope will be the main thrust of my project, which is to document/record/describe/narrate a discourse into a period of my life that I have left largely buried and can hardly remember.
Mnemic veracity is something that concerns me. Bates go on to say: “ As in a Freudian slip, where we may recall a name “wrongly”, these more permanent [childhood] memories turn out to be based on a forgetting, the substitution of one memory for another or, indeed, one memory laid over another or embedded inside it.” Ibid. Am I ‘forcing’ remembrances? I am interested and concerned as discussions with siblings have revealed events that I have no recollection of, even though these events have been corroborated by several siblings and my mother, I cannot remember them – despite the strength of the decription. Is the repression of memory part of what I am trying to uncover or should I not be concerned with the tenuous connection to veracity and focus on the meta narrative?
What I have to do is to focus on structure. The post operative incapacity is frustrating – there was a beautiful mackerel sky over Purgatory this morning which I had no way of getting to – denying me of opportunity to make images. However I do need to research and consider the best way to frame the work. Dante’s Comedy has a very rigid structure that I am considering utilising, using threes. There are three Comedies, each volume is set out in 34, 33 & 33 cantos (the very first canto being a sort of introduction), each canto has verses of three lines, so I may integrate the number three into the structure somehow – triptychs? I’ve also not overly considered how to work the text into the narrative. Much to do.