“Photography: A Critical Introduction” Pt. 3

Personal photograph.  Much of this chapter was the history of personal photography and the reading and positioning of others photographs. It traces the cameras move from studio to home. From technical and chemical expertise to the mass market. From male to female? Its use as memory or instead of memory. Public to private and for some back again. It almost fits against the surveyors of the last chapter…….now the surveyed document themselves. But they are also projections and desires and the facts are few. (Why the concern that the digital will undermine the truth of photography it was always a selection, lies and projections).  The albums and tins of the world, the scrawled notes on the back “me and Cath”. Summer oranges tanning before cancer. A life full of leisure. No work. On holiday, in the park. Smiles not frowns. “SMILE!” collections of places we saw to prove we were there. Posed moments or the candid shots of intimacy. Icons and shorthand for place and thing.  Personal photographs can bind those separated by time or distance. Important ties to other lands. Conversations of bonding over tins and albums. Stories springing to life. Or tears welling. Time repositioned by the quality of emulsion. Sitting in polish sunshine with my partner’s parents looking at pictures, tales in translation. The living room in Gdynia looking through albums as conversations flew around. Meeting the Aunt half way in german. There is history even in these presentations and wishful thinkings. Strikes and divided families. And in a jolting division from my family’s collections, pictures of the dead. Laid in the coffin. The funeral. A different tradition, important events not just happy events.

There are rules and fashions.

The insistence of events seals off some of the everyday. It hides as well as reveals. Are there other stories behind and unspoken? Hidden memories behind. Can we raise them to the front. The chapter talks about using personal photographs to examine these histories. Both by using photos from the past to examine history and share the tales that surround them to photos which are personal examinations of the self. Adding words and pictures that explore the previously un-photographed.

The personal photograph is not fixed in this realm. It can emerge from the biscuit tins. To museum or gallery or book. It can be guided by those they feed down into, by the individual, or by the finder (here). Do they cease to be personal photographs at this point? Are photographs therefore all personal even if they are taken/made with intent to display outside the personal realm? And vise versa, proof afterwards that we lived once, for display to history, to unknown eyes.

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Filed under May 2011, Readings

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