One of the triggers that set me thinking about the day was Rachel (object not presenter – see later) and this notion seemed to be confirmed with Derek Trillo’s search to comprehend how a building might best be described – which was, I think, the point of his presentation.
However it was Keith Roberts’ work with a “jobbing photographer’s” archive that set the idea into flow. Roberts has inveigled his way into a Liverpudlian archive and has been working to find ways to interpret/investigate its meaning/purpose as it relates to contemporary practice. In amongst the long dogged hours of cataloging and re-presenting these portraits and landscapes emerge relationships with people both dead and alive. Stories of ‘unseen’ relatives, new ‘views’ of people long lost or never known. Tears shed at faces no longer recognised but connected undeniably by catalogue number. ‘Yes, that is your son/brother/lover/husband lost at sea, crossing the Atlantic during the war’. Never mind that you don’t ‘know’ him, this effigy re-presented, probably on a screen via email (I’m thinking of Rachel again), ‘is him’. And so this new vision is accepted and perhaps re-mourned over, dredging memories from the deep past and replanting this new perspective into a memory alongside others that have no doubt been refreshed.
In considering this reaction to an archive, which again re-states the reliance society places on the indexical nature of the photographic image, I recall my current research into ‘false memory’. These ‘untrue memories’ are introduced into a subject’s memory with nothing much more than a photograph or, as other research has shown, by a willingness to believe another account of one’s personal history (which can equally be benign or malign).
Roberts presents portraits in a selected sequence, and that mediation directs the audience to project a narrative flow – was it a story about the war, was it a story about gender representation? Questions were also raised by the way in which the edits were further illustrated by Roberts’ own creative work within the archive. The ‘work’ leading us, the audience, to question the narrative behind the monochrome façade re-invigorated by the salvage work in the laboratory.
So who were these people? We are informed that quite often there were several images from a session in the archive and that some subjects came back many times over the years for additional portraits to be made. Maybe in the war years lots of identity papers were needed.
I wondered about the notion of a ‘false indexicality’, the idea for example that the catalogue number invited the viewer to conceive that the ‘new’ photograph was indeed that ‘long-lost loved-one’, even though on inspection they weren’t recognised. The possibility that someone unconnected to the viewer had developed an identity through innocent deception and the concomitant understandable emotional desire to be connected.
Rachel (not Smith) is a fiction, a fiction that perpetrates further fictions as part of complicit commercial arrangement between client and consumer. Dawn Woolley introduced Rachel Wong as a “micro blog celebrity”? I may have that terminology incorrect, however the idea is that pseudo celebrities create pseudo validations for products. These messages are deemed ‘innocent’ recommendations and therefore free of commercial influence and appear via social media – Twitter/Facebook and no doubt other places. I remember very well when I first started to work in China and being introduced to Lucy in the office as my internal contact. All went well until a few months later I called the office as usual and asked for Lucy and was told that Lucy didn’t work there anymore. I couldn’t understand this at all, had she been fired, moved to a new department? However after a short pause I was informed that my new contact was Susan and my call would be put through to her. Well it turned out that Susan was Lucy, or perhaps vice versa and a little while later I was informed that it was quite common for people in China who ‘faced’ the West to reconfigure their identity with a western name. This identity flipping was based on any number of ideas, but most often it was the latest screen or pop idol to appear from the West.
Rachel was almost certainly a construct, a fiction for consumption to drive consumption, much as the ‘hysterical selfies’ described by Woolley are fictions, perhaps delusions designed to accommodate themselves into a society of their own selfish illusion.
Les Monaghan’s work was on the one hand a project about existentialism, about providing a voice to people who are largely overlooked. In a project that incorporated a democratic perspective by providing a similar platform of image projection. The volunteers of Monaghan’s project were all asked to say what they would like. The subjects seemed to answer the question in the first person ‘I would like…’ And whilst Monaghan, who clearly has a wider perspective on this work, suggests a ‘collective reading’ can be gained I was concerned by two things. Firstly it seemed to echo so much of what the consumer society is suggesting that we can all have we want, as Adam Curtis so articulately describes in his documentary “The Century of the Self”. And secondly how these subjects become, to a certain extent, identified by their expression, creating a fictional construct of the viewer’s making between image and text. These portraits becoming fixed in an archive to be ‘mined’ for meaning by a future Keith Roberts perhaps?
I was fascinated by Rachel Smith’s paper on Materiality and whilst identity was in question when, for example, the digital portrait disintegrates creating someone ‘anew’, it was a paper that questioned other aspects of photography which I have yet to come to terms with.
Derek Trillo’s presentation was on the one part about identity – that of a building and how to represent it – but it was a curious meandering around the subject for me that seemed to flounder for lack of foundation. Representing architecture – in architecture magazines – is surely about the commodification of buildings? Whether designed by Le Corbusier, FLW or Wimpy! As remarked from the audience, food photography doesn’t taste very good, its not meant to. The same with buildings for advertising purposes; they may indicate their potential as spaces with the absence of habitation and users, but their identity for a consumer society will unlikely stray far from displaying their fictive potential in it.