I have started to sketch out the structure of the talk I am delivering in July. The following is my first stab at an introduction which I have timed at around four minutes. The time allocated is between thirty to forty minutes, so I have clearly got to develop the ideas and expand the text to meet the criteria.
When I started the work “I keep looking for him, I think I always will”, I was, as many students of the photographic artform are and continue to be, heavily influenced by Camera Lucida and Barthes’ concept of the Punctum. I wanted to test the idea that the photographer’s eye, trained as it is in formal construction, tones, contrast and so on, would indeed be guided by the sub-conscious to ‘happen’ upon images. As Barthes puts it in regard to the “Operator” as the author denotes the photographer where he states in his “little book”:
“I might suppose that the Operator’s emotion (and consequently the essence of Photography-according-to-the–photographer) had some relation to the “little-hole” (stenope) though which he looks, limits, frames and perspectivizes when he wants to “take” (to surprise).”
A photograph is, as Barthes reminds us, a mediated conversation with memory and this talk will examine the relationship memory – or perhaps in particular, my own memory – regarding a father/son relationship that continues despite his passing almost a third of my lifespan ago. A generation ago perhaps.
Many have studied Barthes’ ideas around the Studium/Punctum, however Burgin’s proposition regarding the relationship between the childhood occurrence and adult remembrance, is one that I found particular relevant to my work on the project. Burgin suggests:
“Psychoanalytic theory has described how, in the primitive stages of [the] emergence of language, …imagery around certain early encounters … establish[es] “elementary signifiers” of the unconscious: certain “image fragments” become associated with certain early experiences which make a “lasting impression” on the infant/child; these images, and the emotional charge they carry, remain in the subconscious mind of the adult; from time to time, some conscious event (for example, looking at a photograph)… will allow it to…spark across to conscious perception, investing it with a “feeling” for which there is no rational explanation. It is in this way … that I would account for Barthes’s “punctum”.”
There are clear allusions in Burgin’s statement to Freud’s notion of the “Mystic Writing Pad” regarding unconscious psychological responses and suppressed memories of childhood trauma. It is the malleability of memory which often displays a callous disregard for historical that I want to focus on in this talk.
In many ways this work started with a memory, and this is, as best as I can recall it, the way it was relayed to me:
It started in the Kitchen and quickly developed into a physical fight, my father and I seemingly trading blows and wrestling, spilled into the sitting room, through the hall and into the front-room. My siblings, some of whom attested to this episode were stood, apparently, on the stairs, very much like the Von Trapp family, as spectators (I have six sisters and a brother). I had no memory of this fight – the outcome of which I had clearly no knowledge of either, as my response to his violence had always been passivity – which whilst being a precarious strategy as it often inflamed his anger, further allowed me to hang on to a measure of control.
Whilst I have ne desire to dwell on the scenes of my childhood, there came to be no doubt that those sub-conscious memories re-surfaced – became ‘un-screened’ as it were – perhaps when I started this work based in an unsettled place called Purgatory.