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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Photographs and Emotional Memories

Even though my dad was a convinced pacifist, traumatised by his experience as a boy in World War II — or maybe because of that — I was obsessed with toy guns and forming imaginary armies. Now, looking at this picture taken in our backyard, it becomes clear to me that not all of my friends shared my fanaticism.
Jan Adriaans, romka #8

Another example of somebody using the archive in a smart way is Joscha Bruckert at Romka Magazine. The latest issue is a sharpened up version where people submit pictures and the also write the story behind them. It's more focussed on how the image connects to emotional experience. So it's vernacular photography but with 3 dimensions.

A lot of the pictures are to do with family and relationships, with people who the writer has lost touch with, who they have quarrelled with, who they have lost or then found. Some provide a background to the image to explain where that seascape, that graffitied wall, that motorbike fit into people's lives.

The memories are emotional and so provide a deeper narrative link into the pictures. And because they reflect particular emotions through the picture and text combination, so they open up in our minds particular images. And because the images are recognisable and familiar, we do respond to them in kind. It's an interesting effect to see different ideas of emotion, memory and recollection interact.

This connects to the idea that when we are happy we are more likely to store happy thoughts in our memory and when we are unhappy we are more likely to store unhappy thoughts in our memory. Likewise for recalling; when we are miserable, we enter miserable memory land, when delighted we enter delighted memory land.

And so it goes for pictures. Most of our reading is very unconscious and connects to a falsification of memory and emotion.This is one of the basic ways pictures work on us, getting beneath our skin and shaping our viewing experience without us even knowing it. I think Romka is tapping into that. I think all the sophisticated archival and vernacular experiments are tapping into that. I don't think anyone exactly knows how it's tapping in, because it's not an easy thing to tap into and itt takes a certain kind of picture. But it's happening.

So it's all about how non-rational we are, how emotional we are, how false photographs can be. In one sense, I suppose it is. But I like to take the opposite track and regard that emotion, those lizard brain twitches to visual stimuli as evidence of how truthful photographs essentially are. They only become non-truthful when we put them under the control of our rational brain. All photographs express a truth; but that truth is often a lie.

Romka is made in Leipzig's Institut für Buchkunst which is also a happening place in book arts or it could just be that I'm feeling all DDR today.

The images below are from the Yesterday's Pictures series but also have a look at Jens KIein's wonderful four book set from the Stasi archive, Hundewege. Index eines konspirativen Alltags, a cold pack of surveillance images that comes with all edges attached.

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